I dealt with Jim Collins’ Stockdale Paradox in part in my second post. But his writing included another statement which I could see as fodder for yet another post on this blog:

Collins had asked Admiral Stockdale about the personal characteristics of prisoners who did not make it out of the prisoner of war camps in Vietnam. “The optimists,” he replied. “Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart … This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This formulation became known as the Stockdale Paradox. The admiral elaborated further on the concept when, at a West Point graduation, he was asked if he dwelt on the end of his imprisonment to sustain him, or if he lived day to day?

“I lived on a day-to-day basis. … [M]ost guys thought it was really better for everybody to be an optimist. I wasn’t naturally that way; I knew too much about the politics of Asia when I got shot down. I think there was a lot of damage done by optimists; other writers from other wars share that opinion. The problem is, some people believe what professional optimists are passing out and come unglued when their predictions don’t work out.”

So I want to talk about Optimism today — and the danger of Optimism in our circumstances as caretaker of someone with Dementia. 

I am typically an optimist, and heretofore thought that was a good thing. I can usually find a positive bent in my circumstances that keeps me on track and sane.  And I imagine that is what I’m doing with this blog a bit, so I need to reflect on that today and “work it through” to make sure I’m not in error. As Stockton noted, we must have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.  

So what are the “brutal facts” of current reality and am I confronting them or doing something wrong with “optimism”?  Since my current reality changed so suddenly in the past few months with my husband’s death, I suppose I am still in a bit of a shock mode and imagine down the road I’ll hit a wall of reality. But right now, I do see much good in the situation, and not so strangely. 

  1. I am grateful Denny isn’t suffering any longer.
    He was in great pain and nausea the last few days, as a second hernia developed and likely grabbed or punctured internal organs. That didn’t have anything to DO with dementia, just added to his difficulties in a major way. So my three kids and I are SO GLAD he is not suffering.
  2. Den’s funeral led to a celebration of his life.
    Den’s death led, of course, to his funeral. I never understood how important a funeral was until this one.  My kids went through old pictures and videos and compiled a slide show/video for showing at the funeral. Seeing Denny in pictures/videos from our whole life together was SO BEAUTIFUL!  I LOVED seeing him as he was in the good years, remembering his WHOLE life, not just the last seven, which comprised his years in dementia.  Click here to see the video.
  3. Reviewing Denny’s impact on our lives
    At the funeral, old friends/relatives shared memories, which were invaluable. My son delivered the eulogy, noting how Denny had impacted his and his sisters’ lives and HOW HEAVILY he had impacted those lives!!! Denny would be SO HAPPY and FULFILLED to know the impact he had on us all. 

    It is interesting, I think, that I was the music major in college. But Denny (whose degrees were a B.A. in History and then from seminary a Master’s in Biblical Studies) taught ME to love music. He taught his KIDS to love music. And now all three are professional musicians—and they “sent him home” with their beautiful music, offered up at the funeral in his honor. Our house was WIRED to put music in every room. [Let me tell you, it was an ADVENTURE to UNDO all that wiring when we had to sell BOTH of our previous homes!! Denny undid the wiring in the first home, but the kids and I had to undo it in the last home, which we sold and closed out on the day after Denny’s funeral. I’ll need to do a post on all that wiring. Be looking for it!]
  4. And Denny’s wish was fulfilled.
    Denny has wanted to “go home” for about 7 years. Way back 7 years ago, he became quite ill. He was suffering from severe back pain in addition to severe lung problems. I remember his pallor as blueish/gray, his lips rather purple. One morning at 4:30 a.m., he surprised me by bounding up the stairs and following me around. I always got up at 4:30, but he was normally a late sleeper. This was highly unusual. But he said God had spoken to him, that his time was short, that he was to “put his house in order” to ready for his death. He was SO excited! He wanted to go meet his Savior. He followed me around with his Bible, reading the verses that described heaven.  He was READY!!!  Then… he started getting better physically. His back healed and his lungs improved. And he became depressed. And dementia set in.

So is it so bad to be an optimist? Am I confronting the “most brutal facts of my reality”?

It is indeed sad to be single now. But I’ve moved close to my three adult kids, who are making sure to keep involved in my life. I get to be by my grandson and help out with him. We got to take him to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to see the giraffes recently! I get to go to the kids’ concerts and operas. I’m searching deep in myself to decide what I have to offer and how to be fulfilled as I go forward.  And many times daily I watch that video the kids compiled about Denny’s life, remembering his joy and his influence. I’m hopeful that I can be as intentional about being influential in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives as DENNY was. I’m finding comfort there.  

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