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What My Mom’s Dementia Has Taught Me About Time

We live in fear of time.

“Time is the scarcest resource.”

“You can’t make more time.”

“Time waits for no [person].”

“Time marches on.”

We wrestle with our calendars, we feel the crush of balancing work and other aspects of our lives. We try to fit-it-all-in.

Our relationship with time is one of the great tells of the quality of our lives.

My mom is in the mid-stages of dementia and has had a precipitous decline in six months, going from driving herself to the grocery store to needing help eating. When I sit with my mom, Easter can be in January, Christmas is coming in May, and I seem to appear at her side in moments. While this might be disorienting to some with a fixed sense of time, to her it brings no tension or anxiety. She accepts that this all is true.

And in her presence, I come to understand that time is a construct, and we get to choose how we create it.

When I work with clients who are parents, they stress about the amount of time as in hours or minutes on the clock they spend with their children. And yes, I feel that tension. But what seldom factors in is the quality of that time. Hours distracted and disengaged can never match moments of true presence and connection.

Have you ever spent time with a friend, loved one, or child and chronological time slips away? There’s deep presence, cell-level connection, and a feeling of expansiveness? It’s as if we’ve entered a space in which the present moment is infinite, chock full of everything we need and nothing we don’t.

If you haven’t experienced that, you’ve likely had flow state where you are fully immersed in a task like writing, or playing a sport, or presenting, or creative pursuits. Time passes in an instant, and the quality of your work is exceptional. Under other circumstances that quality would have taken exponentially more chronological time.

With these lived experiences, you can appreciate how time is a subjective construct.

When I’m with my mom, I follow the fantastical adventures of her mind. She’s traveled to Austria, stayed in a castle, has family just down the hall, and reconnects with loved ones long passed. Those moments stretch when we are together.

And sometimes I catch a glimpse of the mom I knew. She’s tender and funny, and she can hear my care for her. I feel lucky to catch these moments, and I savor them. One of these moments counts for hundreds of moments with her earlier in life when they felt limitless. I sit and marvel at my good fortune to see her and her me, even if she doesn’t remember minutes later. That is irrelevant because the moment I just had with her is infinite.

How will you seek out and notice experiences where time feels limitless? And are you ready to take responsibility for creating a relationship with time that serves you?

“Time is expansive.”

“Time is limitless.”

“The quality of my time is what matters most.”

“Time is a gift.”

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