There’s been a change in Dad over the last few weeks. I’ve been expecting it but it’s difficult nonetheless. Watching a decline in someone you love isn’t the easiest thing in the world but we try as best we can. It’s all there is. Finding coping mechanisms that work without dragging me into an ever decreasing circle of despair is what I aim for and achieve, mostly. One step at a time, being in the here and now, not looking too far ahead and not falling into the trap of self-pity that’s waiting just around the corner. It takes resourcefulness and a certain amount of detachment on occasion but it’s worth the effort.
I was chatting to a psychiatrist last week about dementia. She asked how I coped.
I look on our situation as being another step in Dad’s journey, my journey, our journey. We’re all born and we all die and we all change multiple times in between those two points. This is just another change. My Dad isn’t dead he’s just a bit different from the man I knew as I grew up. Even then he didn’t stay the same. He changed, sometimes quite remarkably. Changing and adapting is what we do as human beings and sometimes we need help along the way. I can’t be desperate about that. How could I? It’s about life.
She said it was reassuring to hear such a hopeful story and that I was fortunate, lucky, to be able to look at things like this. It’s taken a great deal of time and soul searching to arrive at something that works for me. And everyone is different. I wouldn’t judge anyone who had a different perspective. This is just mine.
I had another conversation with a nurse a few weeks ago, a general conversation about dementia. She said wouldn’t it be better if people could just slip away? I didn’t necessarily agree with her and cited my mum’s example of living with and fighting terminal cancer for two years. She died at the age of 62. If I had the choice between that and being like my Dad, I’d rather be Dad. Of course his pain is no more or no less than Mum’s was. But he’s still here.
Being here was important to my mum and continues to be a crucial motivational force for my Dad even in amongst all that disturbance and debris and confusion. Still. So, who am I to say he’s any less? I can’t and it would be wrong of me to do so.
For Dad, the experience can be a scary one; the many ups and downs before reaching a plateau for an indeterminate amount of time, that in between stage of not being certain which of his thoughts are real and unreal, who’s alive and who’s not and the need to seek clarification and reassurance more than once a day. Frustration, anger, sadness, desperation, of feeling imprisoned. He told me on Saturday sometimes he feels he’s going off his head and that the mind is a fragile thing and it’s terrible when it starts to go. He feels like an old man about 90 whatever that means for a man of 83. Then he laughed, said he was just feeling sorry for himself and wanted to go out for a wee while.
Where are the dogs?
Cookie had followed us in with the bags so she wouldn’t be far away? She arrived, tail wagging, bright eyed, looking for the goodies.
She’s got a new collar with a heart on it and she looks like she’s lost a bit of weight.
Cookie’s rummaging in the bags for the jaffa cakes!
He was glad we came armed with shopping that included all his favourite things. He thanked me for his parcel that had arrived in the post: Russell Watson Live at the Albert Hall; Aker Bilk; two westerns starring Glenn Ford and Richard Widmark. He’d watch them later.
We sat in the sun in the gazebo for an hour. Dad has always loved the sun. With some prompting he reminisced about the past and I learned new things about my family, all creditable information that included priceless gems for the ever-growing family tree that David and I have been working on for the last four years.
He shared stories about his own grandmother that he loved so much and of visits with my mum to her gran when they were courting. My great-grandmother was a small, pretty, gentle and pernickety woman with bright blue eyes who wore a long black dress and had the whitest hair tied tightly in a bun. Her black lead grate was polished within an inch of its life till you could almost see your face in it and she took forever to make a cup of tea. No teabags then, the teapot had to be warmed and then the tealeaves infused for several minutes. He could remember a clock that ticked and sometimes there would be silences as she busied about the kitchen. I liked the sound of her very much!
Then we talked about proper tea leaves and fortune telling and admired the flower pots bursting with colour and my fear of wasps.
It was soon 4.30pm and time for sweet and sour chicken.