I was driving home from my mom’s house one day recently when I sort of had an epiphany. It had been a pretty crappy visit. She wasn’t doing well that day and she seemed agitated the whole time I was there. I was trying to connect with her, but it wasn’t working. I was talking to her, but she wasn’t able to engage with me at all. I heard her yelling at her aide, who was helping her use the bathroom. She was just sitting in her chair looking frail and weak, troubled and confused. It was as sad and difficult as it always is, but the visit was also punctuated with joyful moments here and there. I had been trying to get my mom to spell words, which is something that we do quite often. I asked her to spell the word “sun.” She asked me, “Which one,” as in “sun” or “son”. I was blown away by the fact that she was able to remember that there are two ways to spell the word. It made me smile. We had another happy moment as I was leaving. Whenever I leave, I say to my mom, “See ya later…” and she responds with, “Alligator.” Then I say, “After a while…” and she says, “Crocodile.” It’s hit or miss, but this time she remembered her part. I was so happy to hear her sweet voice say “alligator,” I swear my heart could have burst into a million pieces. Then, as I was leaving, she said, “Drive carefully.” Again, I was blown away that she was able to make the connection that I was leaving in my car and had to drive home. This is something that she used to always say to me when I was leaving her house or hanging up the phone. I hadn’t heard her say it in so long that I had forgotten all about it. It made me melt.
So anyway, as I was driving home that day, I was smiling ear to ear and felt happy. Suddenly, I stopped myself and thought, “Wait a minute. What the hell is happening here?” Just a few months ago I would have left a visit like that, which had been mostly bad, feeling sad, depressed, helpless, and hopeless. I would have felt defeated and emotionally exhausted. I would have come home and thrown myself on the couch, proclaiming that I was too tired and stressed out to do anything. But this time, I was actually smiling on my way home. I put the bad stuff out of my mind. I came home and did things. What was this? Surely it meant that I had finally gone off the deep end and was having some sort of mental breakdown, right? I mean who actually smiles like that to themselves? Crazy people, that’s who. Not me. I never do that. I’m more of a Grumpy Cat. I tend to only remember the bad stuff and I dwell on it so much that I’m unable to think of even one positive thing. So again, what the hell was happening here?
After contemplating it for a little while, I realized that I was choosing to only remember the joyful moments and not the bad ones. Instead of letting all of the bad stuff weigh me down, I was choosing to put it out of my mind and focus on the good stuff. I was focusing on the alligators and the drive carefully’s. I couldn’t even really remember what had happened during that visit that was so bad. I allowed the joyful moments to take hold and radiate through me all the way home and I carried them through the rest of my day. Me, the Grumpy Cat. Who knew?!
This was a total epiphany for me. I never in a million years thought that I could be the type of person to focus on the positive, especially when there was so much negative going on. I realized that this is what happy people must do all the time. Their lives can’t possibly be perfect and without any hardships. Their relationships can’t all be harmonious and they can’t all have their dreams jobs. I certainly doubt any of them are shitting out twenty-dollar bills either. So, what is it about them that makes them so happy? I realized that those crazy smiling fools are choosing to be crazy smiling fools. They probably have just as much bullshit going on in their lives, but they are choosing to focus on the good, rather than the bad. They are choosing joy and happiness over stress and sadness. I realized that it is possible to be happy even if your life or your circumstances aren’t everything you want them to be. You can simply choose joy.
I realize that this might seem obvious to some of you, especially if you’re one of those crazy smiling fools, but it was truly a revelation for me. For years now, I have been trying to bring joy to my mom’s life. I have been trying to give her quality of life in spite of her Alzheimer’s. I try to interact with her and engage her. I do fun activities with her and used to do crafts with her she when she was able to do them. I have her recite the Pledge of Allegiance and spell words. I make funny noises and bark like a dog. I make up songs to go along with whatever we’re doing. I will do pretty much anything and everything to make her smile and laugh. I realized a long time ago that it is possible to bring joy to her life, despite her having advanced Alzheimer’s. But, what about me? What about my joy? I had never really thought about it.
After having this epiphany, I have been working on this concept daily. Whenever I feel myself sinking into negative thoughts and feelings, I remind myself that my thoughts and feelings are my choice. I can simply choose to think happy thoughts and feel joy. It doesn’t have to be a bad day. Whenever I visit my mom, I look for the joyful moments. There are many days filled with more bad than good, but I try to seek out the good. I “hunt the good stuff,” as some would say. Sometimes it is really freaking hard to find anything joyful about your 69-year-old mom having advanced Alzheimer’s. No matter how hard I look, I can’t find anything that even slightly resembles joy. But, I’ve learned that if you can’t find the joy, then you can be the joy. You can create it yourself. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting my mom to smile by telling her something funny my dogs did. If that’s the only joy I can find in the day, then that’s ok. It’s better than nothing. I can just choose to cling to that moment and that smile for the rest of the day. Tomorrow is a brand-new day and there are 1,440 minutes that have at least the potential for being good ones.
Look for the joy in your time with your loved one. You will find it. If you can’t find it, then create it. Hunt the good stuff. Choose joy. Become one of those crazy smiling fools. Know that it’s a process. You have to work at it daily. I’m working on it. Join me.
See, there is hope for us Grumpy Cats after all!