This line is in my soon-to-be-opened show Old Woman In The Basement:“So Joseph stopped going to meetings. He stayed home and I stayed with him and watched him disappear. I wiped up his pee, went after him when he wandered off, smiled when he twisted my arm too hard, and one day, it was too much. I drove him to SAFE HAVEN ALZHEIMER'S UNIT and said, “Take him!”
The decision to put a loved one in a dementia unit is heartbreaking. I cared for my husband John at home, watching him deteriorate, for eight years. On the night of my 79th birthday, my daughter took me out to dinner. The food was lovely so was the wine, but best of all was the conversation, not having to say, “ Do this,” and “ Don't do that.” John was in the night wandering stage.
His doctor prescribed a new pill guaranteed to put him out for the evening. The sitter (It isn't easy to find one.) forgot the pill. At three in the morning, I hear a bumping. John is up, putting up shades, pulling them down, up...down, up...down. I follow him around saying, “Come to bed. It's late.We need some sleep. “ He turns and looks at me with half -mad eyes that have no recognition in them and I lose it.Banging my head on the wall, (yes! I really did.) I say, “I can't do this anymore.” In a couple of weeks, he was in a dementia unit and the guilt and grieving started.
People said, “I'm sorry you had to put him in one of those places, but you do have to take care of yourself.” I'd smile, and nod. Inside I was screaming I want him back, but, of course, I wanted him the way he was.
John was diagnosed early enough to try and teach me about our finances. I do not have a mathematical mind. The money sessions would end in me screaming and John confused so we'd eat or go for a walk. There was an oak tree on our road. When we came to it, John would stop look up and say, “How beautiful.” I'd say, “Come on.” One day, I went back , stood beside him and looked up. It was beautiful and for that moment everything else was, too.
John was a neurologist so he knew all there was to know about Alzheimer's. He told my cousin Lew that it would be a lot harder on me than on him. I'm not so sure. There must have been moments when a symptom would manifest and he'd think, “ I'm getting worse.”He never told me what to expect. Probably afraid I'd go screaming down the road. When his speech went, he'd laugh and then weep when he saw me. He did that till he died two years ago.
My children took me to see the sequioas and the redwoods this summer. A ranger who looked about twelve said, “The redwoods do not sink their roots deep. They twine them together so, in a way, they are holding each other up.” My grown children and my friends have been twining ever since. All of us who take care of those with Alzheimer's, or some physical infirmity have roots wound together.
When we tell our stories, we keep others and ourselves from toppling over.
I wrote this as guest writer for Judi Leavenworth's blog: Desperate Caregivers