‘Letter From Home’ 8/7/09


Watching a woolly caterpillar cross the sidewalk this week made me very aware of the transitions that are all around us.  Depending on what grandparent we recall listening to in our youth, the width of the black stripe either means a snowy winter, or a more moderate cold season.  Either way we are in the last half of summer, and with the school supplies piled high in stores, and kids starting to dread the return to classrooms, I am aware of the constant tug of time pulling us ever forward. 

While I never ‘wish time away’ by hoping it was ‘next Friday’ or that special event down the calendar, I find this summer that I am trying to slow things down even more than usual.  An older friend who suffers from Alzheimer’s has made me aware of the tick…tick…tick of the clock, and the importance of living life now; in the present.

For the past couple years I still had the ability to think of the more serious side effects  of his disease as still happening off in the future.  But when our friend who has a PhD in urban planning and architecture, and authored a book on educational planning can no longer write a check or tell time with an average dial watch I am aware that the progress of the disease has taken over my reluctance to accept all its side effects.   While James and I serve as powers of attorney for our friend, and are making solid pragmatic decisions on the one hand, my emotional component has not kept pace.   I am still shocked at the idea of how a bright and inquisitive mind will be reduced to darkness.

Our friend bravely fought and conquered cancer years ago, and with the latest medical technology came through that harrowing experience only to find himself now caught in the midst of this most hellish disease.  The erosion of the mind, while knowing as time goes by that it is happening, is so cruel that is defies description.   Nancy Reagan was far too kind when she termed it “the long good-bye”.  Being the lady she is I am sure other words were thought, but not uttered for publication.

I am one to laugh and joke, and so it was natural for me to comment, as I stood with my older friend outside of a mutual female acquaintance’s door after no one answered our knock, that she might be with her dark-haired Italian boyfriend out on the town.    The blank look that crossed my friend’s face hit me hard.  The blank look was one of emptiness.  No recognition that a lame joke had been told; there was no ability to put the pieces together.  It took several seconds before there was a flicker of recognition, and I knew I had crossed a line that I would need to be more mindful of in the future.  He is a man but his mind is fragile.

As we search for a home where our friend will need to move in the next year I am more aware than ever of the hardships that people with Alzheimer’s face.  Our friend will have the resources to pay for his care, and not be forced to ever see the inside of a nursing home.  But many are not so fortunate.  Some will argue that the patient will not be aware of their surroundings so the comfort is only for the family and friends who visit to make them feel good about where they put the one they care about.  I disagree! I think it does matter.  “There but for the grace of God go I”  is the only way to proceed.  And as such the best decisions will be made to offer an honorable and caring facility to meet his needs when the time comes.

Every now and then as I mow or weed or walk I wonder what prompted James and I to participate in this emotional roller-coaster.  Much like seeing a kid in the street where a car is veering towards them, and we pull the kid back without thinking, this too has been on a much slower scale the same type of reaction.  Not doing anything for our friend was never an option.   We have the time, know-how and backgrounds to assist, and yet the process of acting is so segregated from the ability to reason the whys of this disease.

The spirit of our friend, for the most part,  is most amazing.  Today he and I talked on the phone, and he told me he wanted to continue to learn.  His passion for knowing new things has not abated even though he has trouble processing what he reads, and recalling it.  He had found some tapes through The Learning Company on a topic that he wanted to buy.  After a few minutes of conversation he told me he was having a really good day, and was really happy.

“I want all my days to be like this”, he added.

Because of that call James and I did something we do not do very often, though I am not sure why.  We drove to Michael’s Frozen Custard and had malts.  After all the tick…tick…tick…is something we all need to be mindful of as the transitions of life do not slow for any of us.

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