My parents are 88 years old. Well, dad's actual birth date has recently been questioned, but that's a different story for a long evening involving lots of wine and laughter. With this regal age has come the usual list of health challenges and a surprise gift - Mom's Alzheimer's.
My mother has often been called a "difficult" woman, so stubborn her dad nicknamed her "Jenny" after his old mule. That's a true story. But as her Alzheimer's slowly but surely advances through her brain, we have been amazed to see that what is left is mainly her good memories, the places and people she has cherished along the way. Her brain is "unconsciously uncoupling" from recent memories and reverting to a time when she was happier and freer.
Suddenly, we are being offered a completely different perspective on this woman I dreamed of having "disappeared" for much of my life. We are hearing stories we've never heard before that have the ring of absolute truth and finally understanding the fun side of her we knew had to be there. After all, this is the woman who decided at age 19 or 20 to save her money, buy a bus ticket, and head to San Francisco where she spent the next year or so taking art classes at Berkeley (before it was radical, as she used to say), working a job downtown that required her to ride the streetcars to work and wear cute clothes, and creating oil paintings of the breathtaking scenery along the Pacific coast. Not too shabby for a girl from northern Florida.
As her stories have bubbled up, I've seen exactly where my own spirit of adventure and "throw caution to the wind" came from. Where once I thought all my good traits came from choosing behaviors opposite of hers, I am seeing some of my best as direct legacies.
So often, we dwell on our unpleasant memories - the relationships gone wrong, the slights and offenses, the times we embarrassed ourselves, this list could go on and on. Even in our current relationships we tend to cling to the slights, real and imagined, the fights, the differences, rather than zeroing in on what we loved in the first place and maybe still do. What would happen if you looked at the ten thousandth time your Beloved has created the same old mess and reframed your response? Instead of anger and resentment, you chose gentle joy: “The only reason I have this messy pile of dirty clothes on the floor is because this person I cherish lives in my life. Without him/her, there would be no pile and also a million other empty spots.”
The problem isn’t his/her messy habit.
The problem is what you tell yourself about that habit.
We forget, or perhaps never knew, that we can choose NOW to "Consciously Uncouple" from those negatives and focus instead on the times things went right, the people who have helped us and loved us and been kind to us, the moments of joy and gratitude. We can give ourselves the gift of a happier present through the memories we choose to carry. That one act of consciously choosing what to hold on to in our memory banks can re-frame our entire life from "Victim" to "Victor."
The idea of Conscious Uncoupling that burst onto the scene last week can apply to so many areas of our lives - thoughts, memories, relationships. Personally, I applaud Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin for putting their friendship and affection before their differences, for choosing to carry forward the parts of their relationship they both seem to cherish while leaving behind the parts that didn't work so well. In giving each other the gift of a kind compassionate breakup, they give their children two loving parents and a peaceful cordial family who happen to no longer live in the same house.
Can you imagine the transformation that would spread across the globe if we each chose to Consciously Uncouple from whatever was not working in our lives? Simply set down that heavy load and moved forward lighter and freer? Mom's Alzheimer's is forcing her to break up with so many memories, some of which never served her anyway. Yes, there is collateral damage - good ones get swept away as well as bad - but overall what is emerging is a happier, freer, person I'm enjoying getting to know.
There is no need to wait for Alzheimer's or some other catastrophic event to force us to jettison our too heavy loads. Breaking up with our unhappy memories can save or rejuvenate our relationships, our health, and our lives. As Gwyneth and Chris and many more before them are showing, we can choose to do that NOW while we can enjoy the tremendous benefits.