Thursday, September 18, 2014

And There It Is

The time has come for my family, or more specifically my mother, to do what has been dreaded for, in all probability, the last 53 years.  I imagine the last thing any loving couple wants to experience is the hard realization that they simply cannot care for the other any longer.  Regardless of the reason (physical, emotional, financial), no loving spouse wants to remain in the home when the other needs to live in a nursing facility.  But that's where we are, or rather where my parents are right now.

My dad's Alzheimer's has progressed to a state where he simply can no longer live at home with Mom.  His mind has been robbed of faces, names, and memories by the thousands.  And now his brain has begun to limit the signals it sends to the body to perform even the most basic of functions.  There are times when the act of walking has become too much for Dad to figure out how to do.  When asked to take a step, he says "okay" but remains in place.

I get home to see my parents about every three months.  The change I see in Dad is always more shocking for me than for my other siblings who all live within a few miles of my folks and see them on a weekly if not daily basis.  On my most recent visit, when asked who I was, Dad got my name right, but because he then asked if he was correct, it was easy to tell that he wasn't completely certain.  The time is coming when I will visit him and he will not know my name at all.  I will never be able to prepare myself enough for that.  I'll most likely fool myself into believing that he knows who I am, he just can't remember my name - the same way I forget names all the time.

Dad will now move to a nursing facility where, realistically, he will remain.  My mother, understandably, fears that she is failing him; somehow reneging on the vow she made 53 years ago.   I've pointed out to Mom that her vow was to stick by Dad through good times and bad, sickness and health.  In other words, she promised to make sure he would be comfortable and receive care - not necessarily that she would take on that task herself.  Her responsibility to him is to ensure he gets the best care possible while realizing her own mental and physical limitations.  But still, despite trying to be as compassionate as possible, and despite the guidance she's received from physicians and other caretakers, and despite all of us trying to reassure her that she is doing the absolute right thing, she tries to convince herself that she can still do it herself.  I know I would feel the same way.

I've not seen the type of love before like I see between Mom and Dad.  It somehow transcends the love that my siblings and I have for our spouses, which can't possibly compare to the dedication and devotion two people have for each other for so many years.

One of the many facets of dementia is that it takes the grief stage and turns it into a way of life.  Rather than mourning the loss of a loved one when they die, Alzheimer's demands you grieve in phases.  Alzheimer's is like a river running through a small stream that occasionally runs wild and floods, taking wildlife and vegetation from its banks and destroying forever what was once there.  Little by little, the life you know erodes in front of your eyes and no barrier can stop it, no amount of praying will end it, and no matter how hard and long we try to hold on, the person just slips away.  The only hope you can cling to is that patients don't feel pain and that they aren't screaming inside that they are aware of what's going on but no one can hear them.

Eventually we will all adapt and my mom will get into a routine of rising early each morning, doing housework, packing a lunch, then going to visit my Dad all day.  In essence, she will be living in the nursing facility too.  This will be her life now as it is, has been, and will continue to be for billions of other people until cures are found.  But for now, its happening to my dad and my mom.

And there it is.