My Dementia Diary 54 – Losing It

Last night, I lost it. Blew up. Exploded. Screamed.

It was a singular outburst of dramatic proportion, much more than the trivial event which triggered it, tripping on a misplaced shoe. One emphatic yell and it was over, but that was just the beginning.

My wife, who I know is emotionally fragile, takes any evidence that I’m displeased or simply not happy as an indication that I’m upset with her. My scream unleashed a storm of tears. Once started, there is no rational way to calm her down, it’s a matter of patiently waiting for her mind to reset. She’ll bounce angrily around our place, slamming doors, muttering to herself, and then, suddenly, she’ll come back, hug me, and ask me if I love her.

Of course I do, but I feel terrible that my outburst has so upset her.

I make every effort to avoid such venting, knowing the inevitable consequences. She is love on two feet, not capable of any thought but love for me, for anyone. It is impossible to be angry with her. But sometimes I get angry with being blind.

Then I’m angry with myself for causing her pain and vow to never do it again. 

But sometimes I just loose it.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 53 – The Walk to Paradise Garden

In 1946, W. Eugene Smith, a photo journalist who had been severely wounded in the latter days of World War II, was recovering at home, depressed and wondering if he’d ever pick up a camera again. On a quiet Spring day, he noticed his two young children, Pat and Juanita, walking outside in the garden. He followed them and the photo he took has comforted and inspired millions, including me.

I can no longer see this picture, but it is vividly etched in my memory, an image I often recall as my wife and I walk, hand in hand, discovering the delights of our small town world.

The Walk to Paradise Garden.jpg

“The Walk to Paradise Garden,” copyright W. Eugene Smith, Time/Life, Getty Images

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 52 – Drowning in Sadness

Because my wife’s dementia is deteriorating slowly, there are times when I forget it is happening at all. then, she says something-

“Do you have a wife?”

We were making breakfast when this question came up. My heart froze.

“Do you have a wife” she asked again.

I hugged her close and whispered, “you are my wife. You will always be my wife.”

“Of course,” she answered, kissing my cheek.

I am drowning in sadness.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 51 – Visiting Mom

She wants to walk over and visit mom. The problem is that my wife’s mind no longer realizes that mom is 2000 miles away in another town, another country.

No need to try and explain this, her mind does not comprehend rational logic. Once more, I’m challenged to adapt to the current reality. 

“Would you like to talk with her?” I ask my wife.

If the answer is affirmative, I dial up mom on the phone and the ensuing conversation seems to resolve the need to connect. However, if we’ve already called mom three times in the last few hours, saving money and mom’s sanity requires another option.

“Sure, let’s walk over to Mom’s,” I’ll suggest.

So we bundle up and go outside and by the time we get to the street, my wife’s mind has moved on and we’re talking about birds, or neighbor kids, or new blossoms on the peach tree.

I find that I enjoy our life together much more when I’m open to it being a continuing adventure of challenges and surprises.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 50 – Marathon Man

I’m better suited to marathons than sprints. My most satisfying successes have been the result of disciplined and persistent efforts focused on achieving goals over long periods of time. Yes, I’ll admit that such persistence has sometimes turned into close minded stubbornness that compelled me to continue with failed pursuits which should have been abandoned long before. Such lessons had to be learned.

From early on, I was never much of a sprinter, not one to jump into things for quick rewards. Part of this was certainly how I was brought up, believing success demands hard work and disciplined effort. I learned the value of patience and persistence. I also learned that success, or at least success as I’d defined it in the moment, was sometimes something I had no control over. More lessons.

Which brings me to now and my present life challenge, a blind man caring for his dementia stricken wife.

I seem to have been perfectly trained for this opportunity. My personality, my values, my previous life experiences have prepared me well. Yet, while I take some comfort in this knowledge, there is also the realization that this is a race where there will be no celebration at the finish line. 

This is a marathon which must be run one day at a time, satisfaction gained only upon reflection each night when I ask myself-

Did I love as best I could?

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 49 – Happiness!

As my wife whistles joyfully nearby while she works on a coloring project, I wonder why I’m not similarly joyful.

Am I happy with my life? No. Am I unhappy? No. Then what am I?

Unlike my wife’s demented four year old mind, I’m many years past childhood. I can remember those happy days, but then life got complicated and so did happiness.

It seems my feelings about “happiness” have been evolving for years. Childish delight and wonder was run over by a need to accomplish things, win races, climb mountains. There was an ecstatic high when such goals were achieved. This was happiness. Of course, I often failed. Then came a life choice, is “happiness” about winning or simply doing my best? Sometimes “yes,,” sometimes “no,” depending on my mood and maturity in the moment.

Enter the paradox of people. My biggest joys have come in celebration with others. But my darkest times have also been caused by people. Another “happiness” question, do I need to get everything I want or is compromise enough? Compromise has become easier over the years. Age has mellowed my need to climb mountains.

Then I lost my sight. I realized that much of what had made me happy were things that I could see. That world disappeared and I became very depressed. It took some months, but I adapted to my much constrained life and found some satisfaction in being able to operate independently. However, I was a long, long way from “happiness” at that point.

Blindness seems to have prepared me for the next challenge, dealing with my wife’s dementia. My much smaller world fits well with her smaller life needs. Happiness for her is a walk to the water, babbling about all she sees and hears, knowing that I’m listening. Making breakfast together is a delight for her. Visiting with friends is the highpoint of her day. I’m able to make such things happen.

I take satisfaction from such service.

Am I happy? No. Unhappy? No. But, at this point in life, I am content.

Most of the time.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 48 – Both Sides, Now

It has been raining in our town, a string of wet, dark, gloomy days that make it easy to stay inside, sit in the easy chair beside my wife as she colors happily, relax, and listen to life happening  around me.

Lost in this oblivion, I heard my mind say, “pay attention-

a familiar song was playing on the radio. It was Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides, Now.”

Both Sides, Now

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow

It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Joni Mitchell, 1968

These words pulled me into a cosmic pinball game, emotions flashing, as my heart bounced up, down, and around through forgotten memories. Yes, I’d heard this song before, but not the way, years later,  I heard it now. 

I was left with two thoughts-

Joni Mitchell is a heckuva songwriter and musician.

I really don’t know love or life at all.

Both Sides, Now

tio stib

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