|Joe and Al at the gym June 2015|
Sunday, July 19, 2015
ALZHEIMER'S--THE ART OF LOSING
My Inner Self: What are you afraid of?
Me: I’m not sure I understand the question?
My Inner Self: Yes, you do. You know exactly what I’m getting at.
Me: I’m not afraid of anything.
My Inner Self: I can feel when you’re afraid. You start getting tense and your breathing changes. You did it just this morning at the gym, remember?
Me: I was working out. My breathing always changes when I’m working out.
My Inner Self: Yeah? I think it was more than that. I think you were worried about Joe and Al.
Me: Why would I be worried about them? We go to the gym all the time.
My Inner Self: You’re worried about how much longer Joe will be able to manage the gym with Al. You noticed how much trouble he had this morning getting the recumbent bike going. You watched him wipe it down over and over to the point that people around him noticed. You thought he seemed more confused than usual.
Me: Oh, that was very helpful. Thanks for pointing it out, as if I need to be reminded.
My Inner Self: Hey, I know it’s tough. Watching a loved one go through this isn’t easy. Remember who you’re talking to.
Me: Great, now I’m talking to myself.
I suppose all caregivers go through internal struggles like this. We try our best to stay positive and find a brighter side, but when you see the lights dimming for your partner, sometimes you have to look really hard and squint a little to see that brighter side.
Joe tries to hold on to things but the “Magic Eraser” is hard at work, relentlessly changing our lives one little loss at a time. Sometimes things are gone without me even realizing. The other day Joe tried to fold a towel and it was as if he had never done it before. Now, folding laundry is something Joe has helped with for 35 years. I know that sounds trivial, but it’s an example of how subtle the changes can be; one day you can do this simple little thing, the next day you can’t.
Yesterday I pulled up iTunes on the computer, plugged in my earbuds and sat by myself to watch the film “Still Alice”. I had wanted to see it but had been stalling, unsure if I would feel better or worse after watching it.
It turns out I very much liked the film. I appreciated the authenticity of the portrayal of a person struggling with Alzheimer’s and its impact on the family. It reminded me that what we’re experiencing isn’t unique, that we’re not one-of-a-kind. I’m not sure why I find that comforting but I do. Anything that helps me keep perspective has to be good, right?
I certainly understand why Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her performance. I was particularly struck by a scene where Alice gives a stirring speech at an Alzheimer’s Association symposium. By now in the film she is displaying significant memory impairment. With great care, she quotes from the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Art of Losing’:
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”
The art of losing…I really had to think about that.
From birth to the end of life we’re gaining or losing something. I once had a doll that meant the world to me, but I grew up and now I have no idea what happened to it. There was a point where I could do a one-handed cartwheel and “to the floor” back bend. Gone! Really gone! Joe and I spent almost two years remodeling a beautiful house high on a cliff, then sold it and moved to another city. It brought me to tears then, but now I rarely think about it.
In the large scope of things, who cares if Joe doesn’t remember what he ate for lunch, the word vitamin, or how to spell spaghetti (that one always gets me, too)? It’s unimportant whether or not he ever finds his fancy blue socks or the sunglasses he lost last week. It’s all right if he reads a book but the next day can’t tell me what it was about. If he can no longer operate a cell phone or a remote control or drive a car, our world won’t end. I‘m not going to worry too much about any of those things. There will be many losses, there always have been.
These days when people ask me how Joe is, I have a standard reply, “Oh, he’s okay, about the same, just more memory stuff.” What I really should say is, “He’s lost a little more here and a little more there, but he’s okay. He still has a lot left.”
By the way, I think I’ve become addicted to the computer game, “Words with Friends” (the cousin to Scrabble). Ever since my daughter told me she spelled a 111 point word I can’t stop. I’ve been staying up late madly spelling these obscure and ridiculous words, sometimes with people I’ve never met. I may have to find a support group for my new affliction.