The Gift of the Present

We spend a lot of time dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Is it a sign of the times we live in?  Is it a symptom of the human condition?

The Kemper House mission puts aside the past and future and celebrates the infinite worth of the moment.  I was talking to Betty Kemper recently about the story behind the mission statement.  She spoke of folks with memory loss no longer having the capacity to measure life in days, weeks, or years.  “They can, however, measure the joy of the present moment.”

The Alzheimer’s/memory loss journey can be a bumpy one. One never knows what tomorrow will hold—or truly, the next hour—for the person with memory loss.   All we have is this moment.

“Alzheimer’s is about living in the present. To exist outside of memory is to occupy the moment wholly.” -Elizabeth Kadetsky

Betty reflected on some of those joyful moments she shared with her mother-in-law, Helen: “One time, we brought in a tape recorder and played 40s swing music—her favorite—and as soon as we hit the play button, her face relaxed and a smile appeared. She recognized something familiar and pleasing.”  (As many of you know, Betty was the in-town caregiver for her mother-in-law in the 1980s.  Helen lived with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly 20 years.)

Another remembrance was when the family came to celebrate Helen’s 80th birthday. She was far along in the disease process and had been living in an assisted living community for some time.  Her daughter brought a little bottle of scotch, Helen’s favorite, to the party.  At dinner, they poured the scotch into a glass with ice, her preferred drink many years ago.  She hadn’t enjoyed a scotch on the rocks for quite some time.  But when she brought the drink to her lips and sipped, “she smiled and giggled mischievously—she remembered.”

That’s why we look to the infinite worth of the moment at Kemper House: a smile, a moment of intense clarity, a tender exchange, maybe a squeeze of the hand. This moment is a gift.  Truly, “life is not measured in the breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.”

In her workbook I Was Thinking, Diana Waugh, RN, BSN said:  “Sometimes if you ‘give up’ on your loved ones as you knew them, you can ‘find them’ in a different way…When we change our expectations, we can find them as they are…Our relationship, although different, will be so much more fulfilling.”

Put aside your thoughts, your mental bargaining, and your frustrations. Find your loved one, the person he or she is now, at this moment.  Let go of the fight to try and change what is beyond your control. See things as they are and do not waste precious energy and time wishing things were different. Embrace the infinite worth of the person, the infinite worth of the moment.

Eckhart Tolle, a contemporary spiritual teacher, says, “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence.”

How does one get more presence? Well, I’ve heard that awareness and gratitude are pathways to more presence.  Become aware of your thoughts and their impact on your wellbeing.   Determine what is under your control and what is not.  Replace those thoughts with things that you are grateful for right now.  Be at peace with this moment, with yourself, and with your loved one.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” -Cicero

The only moment in which we can truly be happy is the present moment. The only moment that we have control of is the present moment. We cannot change the past, nor can we control the future.

Every year about this time I make a resolution. I resolve to be steadfast in my resolution.  And…  I usually get sidetracked rather quickly.  But in 2012, I’m going to dig deep and find a new resolve to live in and celebrate the present moment.  It’s my hope for you, also.

Wishing you a blessed, present-filled New Year!

-Jenny Kemper

Source: Kemper Konnection January of 2012