By Kathryn Kozak
The other night, I had one of those famous “Aha!” moments.
I was sitting on a dark, crowded flight headed back to D.C. from four days spent at my grandparents’ house in Florida. My roommate had left the same day for a business trip to New York and there I was flying home with no one waiting to pick me up and an empty apartment to look forward to. And then, just as bright as those airplane reading lights, it hit me. What was there to be sad about?
If you had told a 15-year-old or even a 21-year-old Kathy that at 22 she would be flying back to her own apartment in Washington D.C. with a great job and great friends, she probably would not have believed you. In fact, she would be so pleased and so ecstatic that it would allow for a lot less wasted time worrying about the future.
In that small airplane seat at that very moment, I realized just how lucky I was and that from flipping my perspective from the negatives to the positives, instantly I was reminded just how many blessings I am so fortunate to have.
The whole trip, really, was quite the Aha! moment.
A few years ago, my grandfather, a handsome and proud man, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most unfair and unexplainable destructor of the human mind. He came from a very humble upbringing and after spending most of his life in an orphanage, he was lucky enough to meet my grandmother and together they built a beautiful life together. He has always taken pride in his possessions and his family and was always the first to remind those he loved to do that same.
This disease has completely destroyed his short-term memory and unfortunately has left my grandmother and their children frustrated, confused, and frankly, devastated. In fact, much of the day is spent with him asking the same questions over and over again, which pushes my grandmother’s patience to the absolute limit.
When she does get frustrated, though, I quickly think of the blessings that she is not seeing. Maybe he does ask those incessant questions, but at least his interest and curiosity about the lives of the ones he loves is still very much alive.
He can still talk. He can still question. He can still dress himself and remembers to take in the flag when the sun sets. He still has such a beautiful presence in all of our lives and that, above any frustration, is a blessing.
When his children, my mom, aunts, and uncles get frustrated, my thoughts flip to how amazingly lucky they are to have both parents still active and alive in their lives. It is rare, in this day and age, to be in your late fifties and early sixties and still have both of your parents. Yes, sometimes it is a struggle, but after losing my own father at 16, I am so quick to remind them of how short life is and how little time they may have left.
Blessings come in all different ways and through all different forms. Perhaps the biggest blessing of all? Every time, and it was repeated many times, that my grandfather would ask me about my new life in Washington D.C. he always ended his series of questions with, “Are you happy?”
This man, the one who we and doctors deem sick and diseased, was one of the rare people that asked me the question that is of upmost importance in this world. Everyone is quick to ask about work and my apartment, but it took my grandfather to ask the greatest question of them all. Life can be ironic like that, can’t it? The man who we all are so quick to be frustrated with, is the first one to remind us of what should be a top priority in our lives: happiness.
One of my favorite quotes goes something like, “Change your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” When we take a step back and a deep breath in, we must remember to focus on our fortunes instead of our misfortunes. Our blessings are all around us, all we have to do is remember to count them.[divider] [/divider]
Kathryn Kozak is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and currently resides in Washington D.C. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family but her true passion is writing. Her dreams include becoming a world-renowned writer, having children, and living life to her full potential.
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Great article Kathryn! I love to hear 20-somethings talking about ALZ, it is the most heart breaking disease and one very close to my heart as well. This disease is particularly hard on the caregivers and I pray that God grant them patience, as living with someone requires an extreme amount. I wish you & your family all the best, way to stay positive even during a dark time!