The onset of fall and rapidly diminishing daylight hours reminds me of darkness and light as I continue on my journey of living with Alzheimer’s. I think of the myth that inspires me to fight for every second of daylight as I can.
I have always found it helpful to find a story to inspire me during the dark times—and certainly getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was one of the darkest times. Stories and allegories help me survive and imagine a more positive future. That’s why the story of Persephone, a figure in Greek mythology, has become central to my current life philosophy.
My initial reaction after receiving the diagnosis what that I had been consigned to Hell. I don’t believe in Hell; it just isn’t there in my spiritual imagination. But I found myself thinking about Hades of Greek mythology. Hades is god of the underworld that bears his name: a place of coldness and darkness, of wandering in the mist. Hades came to represent my underworld, the darkness that threatened to surround me post-diagnosis.
But did I have to stay in this misty, cold underworld all the time? When I asked a good friend this question, hereminded me of another aspect of the Hades mythology, the story of Persephone. She was the maiden whose special role was bringing all the colors to the flowers, which in turn attracts the bees to pollinate the plants. According to the myth, the people of the earth depended upon the work of Persephone (and her mother) to grow their crops and provide natural beauty in the world.
One day Persephone saw the most beautiful flower, a dark red-black orchid, and ran across the fields to see it. That attracted the attention of Hades, the god of the underworld, who snatched her to be his wife. Persephone suddenly found herself no longer in the light, no longer surrounded by color and warmth, but in the cold, dark underworld, where earth’s beings went after they died.
But Persephone did not stay trapped in the mist. She started to draw again and began to see some shades and shapes. The crops on Earth began to die and eventually Zeus, her father and ruler of the gods, determined that Persephone would live part-time in the underworld and part-time on earth, so people would have crops to eat. She would live in both the dark, cold realm of death and in the light and warmth of life.
Myth as Inspiration
The Persephone myth is interpreted in many ways. I have chosen to focus on her resilience and refusal to live completely in the darkness. She could not fully escape Hades (both the god and the underworld) but still found a way to add light and joy back into her life.
I know some people who have gotten an Alzheimer’s diagnosis remain in despair and distress, unable to imagine a brighter path, giving into the inevitable decline even before it arrives.
I am fully aware of my underworld and how I will die: losing the memories of everyone and everything I love; the slow, long death of Alzheimer’s. But using Persephone as my role model, I also know that I want to living as fully as possible for as long as I can. I understand that, today and for the foreseeable future, I have the freedom to surround myself with lightness and joy. My quest for lightness has led me to become an artist, breath in nature as often as possible on my hikes with my dog, relish good times with my family and closest friends, and to embrace a new purpose in life through my advocacy work.
If Persephone can inspire you the ways it has inspired me, that’s great. If not, find something that will. Is there a different story, myth, movie, book, real-life hero that can inspire you to move into the light, away from darkness? Latch onto that story and hold fast. It’s worth the fight to live into the light.