Through a Jungian Lens

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Life Deferred and Regret

with 5 comments

This is my brother-in-law, Michael.  As I have mentioned in past posts, he suffers Alzheimer’s disease.  He remembers his first name but not his family name.  He remembers mt name, but not that of his sister, my wife.  As much as we love him, we cannot walk his path for him.  He must walk his own journey for as far as it will take him.  He teaches me much as I come to this realisation.  Michael is mostly a happy person unless he is confronted with choices which leave him stuck, or he is left alone in an unfamiliar place where he becomes fearful and agitated.  Yet for all of the anxiety and confusion, he willingly leaves his space to follow me into the countryside.  There, he boldly strides down the paths that he finds, even if I don’t see the path.

Michael was a hard worker and like most, raised a family.  He was involved in his community and was well liked and well respected.  He not only worked in his community, he played as well.  He did everything right by any standards of measurement that we could devise.  He didn’t allow himself much time or many resources as he felt that they belonged to his family as much as they did to him.  He knew that with retirement he would be able to have time for himself.  However, retirement came in the guise of Alzheimer’s.    Still, he does have moments of peace.  Sadly, these moments are not filled with conscious recognition, an awareness of the quiet spaces he treasured when he was younger.

Jung offers us something to think about as we approach midlife if we would stop long enough to listen and reflect:

The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behaviour.  For this reason, we suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them.  We overlook the essential fact that the social goal is only attained only at the cost of a diminution of personality.  Many -far too many- aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too, they are glowing coals under grey ashes.” (Jung, CW Volume 8, The Stages of Life, par 772)

I am glad that Michael has lost his memory as with those memories gone, he will not experience regrets for all those experiences he sacrificed, experiences he had hoped would be lived in retirement.  Now, if only I could learn from his experience, the autumn of my life will be that much richer.


5 Responses

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  1. Hello friend. Just wanted to stop by and say hello.

  2. Jung always struck me as someone who was on the verge of understanding some “truth” but without ever quite getting there for whatever reason. The quote you give here is one reason why I say this though before I continue please know that my understanding of Jung is, shall I say, somewhat limited and amateurish so please forgive my ignorance. Jung all too often seems to relate life experiences with memories which is perfectly acceptable since our awareness of all things is based on memories. Even so called knowledge is nothing more than memories of concepts learned. Memories are in effect, relative knowledge and so are not absolute. Memories are always subject to interpretation.
    When we experience something we usually do so in terms of how the experience relates to past events, that is, in terms of our memories but I would suggest that there is a moment, just prior to memories kicking in, where the experiencing is happening free of any thought, label or memory. For most of us those moments are too short to notice but I am sure that all of us have had an occasion where this sort of “moment” lasted long enough to be fully felt. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to replicate this feeling but unfortunately we try to do so intellectually and via our “memory” of the “experience”.
    I guess what I am saying (ever so badly) is that the “aspects of life” that Jung talked of experiencing cannot be experienced in the realms of our memories, or in the realms of the mind for that matter. Mind and memories simply conceptualises the experience rendering it to something inferior because mind makes all things relative. The mind, via our memories, separates the experience into a particular context rather than accepting it as absolute reality or wholeness. And this “absolute reality” is not special in any way, in fact it is exceptionally ordinary. So ordinary that it is easy to miss the simple fact that the experience and “me” are not separate.
    As for regret, while it can be seen as an experience, I’ve always seen regret as a fabrication of the mind, a thought, something that can, for me, be let go. But I suspect that I am simply lucky that I can, as I say, let these thoughts go.
    Anyway, as I mentioned I am no expert when it comes to Jung but I do enjoy this renewed exposure to his writings through your posts. Thanks.


    May 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    • It is to be expected that Jung would only be on the “verge of understanding” to me as that is likely as far as one can ever get. “Truth” is about “SELF” and the ultimate truth is only achievable with full individuation, something that can’t happen while one is living as in being alive means being in relation to the world and that changes both self and world thus changing the truth of one’s self. I think that one can only use Jung’s thoughts as a re-sounding board for one’s own pursuit of consciousness and not expect to simply adopt truths that any “other” has discovered. To repeat your words, “I am no expert when it comes to Jung but I do enjoy this renewed exposure” which I could have just as honestly said. Thank you, Cedric.

      Robert G. Longpré

      June 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

  3. I have read this a number of times over the past couple of days and it has stayed in my thoughts.
    My comment is not framed in a Jungian view as my knowledge of this is somewhat limited and nor do I have any knowledge of Alzheimer’s or the research carried out to better understand it.
    However, one question kept coming back into my awareness every time I read it. Regardless of how much research has been done into the mechanics of Alzheimer’s, how can anyone know if Michael (or anyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) is suffering unless they themselves have experienced it and somehow managed to get back to their state of mind before Alzheimer’s took over.
    It is easy for us to assume that because someone has been diagnosed or labeled with an illness it means they are suffering in some way. Could it be that Michael is not the one suffering but instead the family and friends who are having to come to terms with the change?

    I hope you realise that my comment is coming from a place of compassion and respect.


    June 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    • There are points in time for those suffering Alzheimer’s where the patient returns to near normal awareness. During those brief moments, the patient often is angry with what is happening and expresses a sense of helplessness knowing that they will again disappear into the fog of lack of awareness. You have it right when you say that those who surround the person also suffer, perhaps more than the patient. Likely when awareness is absent there is little or no suffering. But, that isn’t to say that they are comfortable. For example the state of agitation that arises when given choices displays a significant level on dis-ease. Standing on a street corner only one block from “home” and not knowing which way to go sets in a level of worry that does not allow for any sense of the patient being a happy carrot so to speak.

      Please don’t worry about any seeming lack of respect or compassion. Asking questions is good – always.

      Robert G. Longpré

      June 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm

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