It changed my whole perception of reality.  It only took thirty minutes to do it.  Nothing has looked the same since.  “A Time to See” is the name of the educational film made by Reinholdt Marxhausen and published in 1985. 

Reinholdt Marxhausen was extraordinarily gifted in the visual arts.  He saw things others could never have seen had he not pointed them out.  There were bottles on the window sill in his kitchen over the sink.  They were just bottles — not to Reinholdt Marxhausen.  They were an adventure in light and shadows and colors and darkness, changing character at different times during the day, different times during the year. 

Alzheimer’s Dementia has stolen from him his extraordinary gifts in the visual arts.  His impact has continued in many of his students and all who have known him.  I only know him through friends and that film that made such a lasting impression on me. 

What brought the film to mind was writing the sermon for the ordination of Karl into the ministry.  Karl has been a student where Marxhausen taught.  Karl was influenced by the legacy of Reinholdt Marxhausen when he was the the peak of his ability. 

For me, the center of the legacy is the recognition that what a person sees depends on his/her ability to look past the object to its relationship with what is around it.  The capacity to really see, allows the most ordinary found items to become extraordinary as shadows and colors and shapes and textures suggest something far more than ordinary. 

There is a commonality about the story line in the lives of Reinholdt and Karl and PeterT (author of this blog).   Reinholdt has seen his ability to make art diminish as Alzheimer’s has taken its toll.  Karl’s mother died at the age of fifty.  At one point she was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, a form of Alzheimer’s.  Karl’s Grandmother died of what appeared to be a form of Alzheimer’s Dementia.  My wife, Mary Ann, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. 

The objective realities in our lives hardly present beauty to the beholder, at least at first glance.  There is a painful ugliness in the world of Dementia whatever the specific diagnosis.  Karl and I have learned from Reinholdt that it is a time to see.  It is time to look at objective and sometimes very painful realities and see more than the obvious.  We need eyes to see what lies behind, above, below, and beside what we have experienced and are experiencing.  We need to see how what lies before us and around us looks from different angles.  We need to see the colors and shapes and textures, listen to the sounds of what we encounter.  We need to allow the possibility that there is more than meets the eye lurking what we have and are going through. 

There is beauty to be found, there is meaning to be found.  It can be seen if we have eyes to see.  It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I don’t suppose beauty really exists until we add the capacity to see it, to hear it.  If there will be beauty and meaning in our lives, especially those of us who deal with dementia, the beauty will come from within us as we look at what we are experiencing and see it for more than what first meets the eye.

My life has been enriched by taking time to really see what is around me.  Karl has seen what his Mother and Grandmother with through and has grown a gentle strength and wisdom beyond his years. 

Having said all of that, I am now struggling with finding the beauty in three hours of trips into the bedroom every few minutes to deal with one need or another, moments ago (1:30am) the need for some food, followed by the need for some water, after multiple turns in bed, trips to the commode, adjustments of the sheet and blanket and a few concerns with the wildlife in the bed.  Right now, I would find beauty in a wife finally getting to sleep!!

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Are you as tired as I am of hearing “nowhere does it say that life is fair?”  As painful as it is to admit it, those words are true.  The harsh truth of it is, bad things happen to people, both the good and the bad.  Good things happen to the bad as well as the good people. 

Those of us who are dealing with a devastating illness that holds no promise of improving, can get pretty angry and very bitter.  When we do, we begin the search for someone or something to blame.  If we can find a genetic source, we blame those who provided the gene pool from which our Loved One came.  We can search the Internet and the journals and all the information we can locate to see if there is some environmental factor.  Then we look for whoever may have put the toxin in the environment. 

Sometimes we search for something we or our Loved One has done, some lifestyle cause.  If we  happen to believe in God, when all else fails, we blame God.  Oddly, if we do not believe in God, we use the terrible, unfair, devastating disease to prove that God doesn’t exist.  When we are at a complete loss to explain why whatever it is has come into our lives, we often cease to be rational at all.  It is God’s fault and we will punish God by not believing in God.  If we do not or have never had a religious dimension to our life, we are just angry at the meaninglessness that is intruding into our short stay on this planet. 

What I will say next sounds silly, stupid, shallow, and without any value in helping us cope.  Stuff happens!  You have seen the bumper sticker with more crude language.  Stuff happens!  Whether you happen to have a theology or no theology, faith in something or in nothing, stuff happens. 

If you are convinced there is nothing that exists other than what we can see, measure, or extrapolate from what we can see or measure, then having Parkinson’s or ALS or Diabetes or MS or Lewy Body Dementia or Alzheimers, or Huntington’s or whatever comes is just a fluke of nature, with no meaning. 

If you believe in God, however you define or confine that God, finally, the same is so.  Any God powerful enough, of such  magnitude as to be able to bring a universe of immeasurable size into being, containing powerful forces that could snuff us out in a millisecond – however personal that God may be to you, there is no way to begin to have the perspective of such a God to actually find an explanation that fits into our little minds. 

We cannot answer the question why!  It is a waste of precious time and energy.  We can find our way to the most intelligent human on earth, the most sophisticated computer, the most trusted theologian, the wisest guru, and we will not find the answer to the question, “Why, why me, why us?”

Here is what we can do.  We can look and listen, think and read, talk and ponder all the dynamics of what we are experienceing and do two things: One, learn something.  Don’t waste the pain, the struggle.   Learn something from it.  Two, use every ounce of creativity and information available to do things that use absolutely to the fullest everything you and your Loved One are still able to do — while you can do it.  Put those two things together, and you just might make some discoveries that add to the quality of your life. 

Battle the truth of your situation as if it should not be true, cannot be true, must not be true, and bitterness, cynicism will fill your days and  your relationships; the capacity to find joy and meaning in life will disappear. 

After the hospital stay precepitated by Mary Ann’s congestive heart failure, and the heart attacks and angioplasty and stent, followed by another stay for heart problems, followed by the life threatening pneumonia, followed by the stroke, followed by the Dementia, all emerging after years of battling the Parkinson’s, it dawned on me, that I never really felt that it was unfair that so many things came, one after another.  Fair is not a reasonable expectation.  Just because one thing happened to us, did not mean that we were any more or less likely to experience any other problem (except those of course that are a direct consequence of some current debility). 

No one is punishing us.  We are no better or worse than anyone else.  Things happen.  For us, when they happen, they become opportunities to learn, create solutions, develop mechanisms for finding meaning and fulfillment in what is so.  It is just so.  We can’t explain it or understand it or change it.  We can, however, choose to live in spite of it. 

I wonder what battles you have fought trying to come to terms with what is going on in your life as you deal with what has come your way.   Who do you blame?  At whom do  you scream when you are at your wit’s end?  Where do you turn to try to make sense of what your are going through?