Limitations, Loss, and What is Left

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

This one of my favorite quotes, and I try to follow the advice within.

Last weekend I ran a half marathon.

I almost didn’t. I had a few injuries. I hadn’t run for a couple weeks due to nerve pain. I knew the weather was going to be cold and rainy.

I run at least one half marathon a summer, but I was resigned to the streak ending. However, I woke up that morning and my body felt pretty good. My ever-supportive husband and I got up early and headed to the (social distanced) start.

I almost didn’t run because I knew it wasn’t going to be a personal best. I knew it would be slower than my last race by quite a bit.

I couldn’t run a half marathon fast (for me) but in the end I didn’t let it interfere with what I could do that day—which was run 13.1 miles.

We do this a lot. We let not being able to do something well stop us from doing anything at all.

We realize we cannot clean out our basement junkroom (Does every have one of these? Or just us?) in one afternoon, so we don’t start the task at all. We could commit to working on it an hour a day, but we don’t.

We see our neighbor going for a daily walk. We want to be a person who goes on a daily walk, but our life isn’t at a place where we can commit to everyday. Instead of walking 2-3 days a week, we don’t walk at all.

I knew a guy with dementia who talked a lot about what we used to be able to do. He was a great bowler and a real good dancer. He would talk about it in this sad tone, but then he’d break into a smile.

“But I can still talk!” he would exclaim.

He missed doing the things he used to do but he appreciated what he was still able to do.

People have dementia have a better quality of life if they focus on what they can accomplish rather than what they can’t accomplish…and, while we’re on the topic, this applies to all of us, especially you, caregivers.

Maybe you live two hours away from the nursing home where your grandma lives. You want to visit her everyday. You know it’s just not possible. You stop going at all because you feel so guilty that you can’t go everyday. It’s okay to go once a week. Or even every other week.

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

You can’t go everyday, but you can go once a week.

Here’s a big challenge for a lot of caregivers. Perhaps you can’t visit with your dad like you used to. You can’t have the same relationship with him that you did. But you can have a relationship with him.

Dementia is full of loss. The loss of abilities. The loss of skills. The loss of memories.

I know it’s hard, but we need to look past that loss to focus on what is left.

Maybe a person with dementia progresses enough that they must quit their volunteer position at a childcare. It’s a loss, but what is left? Can they find a new volunteer position that is a better fit for their abilities? Can they play with a neighbor’s children while the neighbors gets some work done?

And caregivers…you have loss as well. You are no longer able to visit with friends because your loved one needs 24/7 care. You let your friendship fall by the wayside, and you become isolated. You can’t visit with friends in person, but you can call one friend a night for 10 or so minutes. And you can send your friends texts and emails–or even cards in the mail.

It’s not that easy, I know. And, for both persons living with dementia and caregivers, the loss is progressive and you see the pile of what you can’t do getting bigger and bigger. I hate the way that dementia limits the lives of those impacted. I am not trying to convince you to “look on the bright side.” Suzy Sunshine I am not.

I am not dismissing that growing list of what you cannot do. You get to grieve those losses. But don’t let those things paralyze you or stop you from doing what you have the potential to do.

I am about to give some advice that you probably never thought you’d hear coming from a college professor:

It’s okay to give 50% to something when you can’t give 100%.

It’s okay to hold yourself to lower standards than you have in the past.

It’s okay to set your goal based on your abilities and skills in that minute rather than challenging yourself to do the best you’ve ever done.

It’s okay to do something and realize it’s not going to work, AND THEN QUIT. (If we never quit at anything, we’d never accomplish anything. Think about it…you have to quit something that isn’t working to start doing something that is, right?)

It’s okay to accept mediocrity. I’d like for to strive to be the best you can be, of course, but most of us are average at most things. I strive to be the best college professor, gerontologist, and wife I can be, but mediocrity is acceptable in many areas of my life—-like cooking.

Accept that there are some things you cannot do. Maybe you could never do these things. Maybe you could do them before dementia or before becoming a caregiver. Maybe there is a point in your future when you can do these things again, or perhaps not. There’s a good chance that you can’t do some things due to the COVID pandemic. Perhaps you cannot do some things right now due to mental health concerns.

But today we just have to do what we can do.

And it’s enough.

8 thoughts on “Limitations, Loss, and What is Left

  1. I suffer depression and tend to be negative, all or nothing. I am encouraged by your article today. I like it so much that I’m copying it so that I can read it more. Thank you for finding so much good.


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