I’ve had many jobs in my lifetime. One of the most memorable was my time working as a personal assistant providing in home care for the elderly and injured. One specific couple redefined my view of relationships. The husband was dying of cancer and the wife had advanced far into the depths of her Alzheimer’s disorder. Alzheimer’s had caused her to forget many of the important people in her life and on a good day she only had fleeting minutes of recognition. The strength of their connection was one I had never seen before (and have never seen since). Even though she didn’t consciously remember him she lit up when he was around. The connection was there, even if the memories weren’t.
I was there the night that he passed away. The hospice nurse said he would most likely pass in the next 8 hours and told me to check his pulse every 15 minutes. Their room was kept dark and they slept in separate beds. When I checked on one I rarely disturbed the other. As the day progressed into night the house became increasingly eerie. The sound of his wife soundly sleeping in the dark while I waited for his death was a little unnerving. I’ve been witness to moments of death in the past, but being given the responsibility to record it was new for me. I must have checked his pulse at least 40 times and the last was in the middle of the night. His pulse became more shallow and difficult to tell whether he was alive. The last time I took his pulse there was a second of uncertainty in my mind as I tried to decide whether he had passed. The moment I thought to myself, “he is gone” his wife sat straight up in bed and began to wail and cry.
Pulled from the depths of her sleep and through the fog of Alzheimer’s she screamed at the top of her lungs and began to say goodbye. She leaned over, reaching toward him and repeatedly yelled, “goodbye, goodbye, bye, goodbye.” It was one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. The level of connection they shared somehow allowed her to know the moment that he passed. Witnessing this was a timely lesson for me and it shaped my understanding of love, friendship, and psychology. For me their story was about more than the idea of romantic love.
Actually, I didn’t know what to make of my experience of witnessing their powerful connection. I came to see it as proof of the capacity we all have to feel connected to the people and world around us. Witnessing their connection made me more curious about how that connection was made and whether I could ever feel that intimately connected to another person. Can it be analyzed, understood and recreated or is it something more innate and un-trainable? After a long period of reflecting on this experience I’m convinced that we all have the capacity to feel more deeply connected to each other and the world around us.
How to Connect
How does one feel more connected? I think it starts with the belief that it’s possible. The recognition that we humans have the power to create happiness and connection in our lives is a prerequisite for making the change you seek. Our ability to reflect on our own thoughts, feelings, and desires allows us to anticipate, plan, and create the type of experiences we seek. People rarely reflect on why a particular activity or person makes them happy. This often leaves us confused as to how to pursue creating (or increasing) the happiness and connectedness in our life. Luckily there are people out there who study happiness. Read about researchers of happiness and connectedness in the How to Create Happiness blog post.
Another thing that has helped me to feel more connected is to practice looking at my own expectations and beliefs. Building the skill of observing my own thoughts and beliefs made it easier to see how my actions affected others and how others affected my actions. It gave me a more accurate and comprehensive view of my relationships and helped me to be less judgmental, which is something the world desperately needs.