This is my brother-in-law, Michael. As I have mentioned in past posts, he suffers Alzheimer’s disease. He remembers his first name but not his family name. He remembers mt name, but not that of his sister, my wife. As much as we love him, we cannot walk his path for him. He must walk his own journey for as far as it will take him. He teaches me much as I come to this realisation. Michael is mostly a happy person unless he is confronted with choices which leave him stuck, or he is left alone in an unfamiliar place where he becomes fearful and agitated. Yet for all of the anxiety and confusion, he willingly leaves his space to follow me into the countryside. There, he boldly strides down the paths that he finds, even if I don’t see the path.
Michael was a hard worker and like most, raised a family. He was involved in his community and was well liked and well respected. He not only worked in his community, he played as well. He did everything right by any standards of measurement that we could devise. He didn’t allow himself much time or many resources as he felt that they belonged to his family as much as they did to him. He knew that with retirement he would be able to have time for himself. However, retirement came in the guise of Alzheimer’s. Still, he does have moments of peace. Sadly, these moments are not filled with conscious recognition, an awareness of the quiet spaces he treasured when he was younger.
Jung offers us something to think about as we approach midlife if we would stop long enough to listen and reflect:
“The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behaviour. For this reason, we suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them. We overlook the essential fact that the social goal is only attained only at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many -far too many- aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too, they are glowing coals under grey ashes.” (Jung, CW Volume 8, The Stages of Life, par 772)
I am glad that Michael has lost his memory as with those memories gone, he will not experience regrets for all those experiences he sacrificed, experiences he had hoped would be lived in retirement. Now, if only I could learn from his experience, the autumn of my life will be that much richer.