|My Dad in 1949|
Saturday, August 29, 2015
ALZHEIMER'S: TAKE THE WHEEL AND DON'T LOSE YOUR GRIP
People who know me won’t be surprised to hear me say I was a Daddy’s girl. As a child, I spent many hours in the workshop with Dad. It wasn’t just tinkering, we always had something important in process, some project to finish, some new thing to create. He was a great teacher of how to do things and not be afraid to fail. If something didn’t work right the first time, he just tweaked it until it did, until things fit.
Back then I had no idea I was learning skills that would serve me well into my adult life. I remember being in the orchard watching Dad drive a tractor, and out of the blue him pulling me up onto his lap in the driver’s seat saying, “Here, you take the wheel.” It was thrilling. We drove through rows of trees and I bobbed up and down like a cork, trying not to lose my grip on a steering wheel that was as big as I was. “Hold on, you can do it,” he shouted, “now turn the wheel!” And so I did.
I was only about six years old at the time, and quite small for my age. But on that day I really thought I drove that tractor; I took the wheel and didn’t lose my grip. I told everyone about it, that I could drive a tractor.
Over the years, that kind of confidence has been important to me but never more than it is now.
Joe and I had always shouldered life’s decisions together. We had a “what do you think?” relationship, with a lot of conversation about possibilities before big decisions were made. We trusted each other’s judgement and really used our collective experience to our advantage. I’m not saying that we always agreed with each other. Good heavens no! I remember having lively discussions about a lot of things but, in the end, we’d come to an agreement and we appreciated being able to collaborate.
Things began to change after Al (the Great Disruptor) arrived. I’m now feeling the full weight of decision making; like what happened last week as I contemplated a new roof. While I’m in the kitchen talking with a contractor and planning how to approach the roof replacement, Joe is sitting in the living room reading, not really tuned in to what is happening. In the past, Joe would have been right with me asking questions, gathering details, and figuring out the costs. (I used to call him the human calculator because he could do the math faster without a calculator than I could using one. Sometimes it was downright annoying.)
It’s not that I can’t make decisions, or put plans in place and go with them. It’s that I don’t like our life being driven solely by my decisions. As Joe’s caregiver that’s really what it amounts to, I decide what’s good for us. Some days it’s a little daunting and there are times when I feel intimidated in the knowledge that if I make a mistake it affects both of us. And, of course, I’ll be the one sweeping up the mess.
Okay, let’s keep this in perspective. There are single parents all across the country who are managing families without a partner’s support. I’m not talking about financial support (although that is often the case), I mean lacking an emotional and intellectual “partnership”, going it alone. That’s got to be harder than what I’m experiencing, especially when young children are involved. I have a husband who loves me, and if not for his struggles with Al, he would be right by my side helping me figure all of this out.
It’s times like this that you draw in a breath and dig down deep to who you really are, and remember the things you learned from the people you trusted. I had wonderful parents who made me strong and independent. There were mentors that coached me, friends that encouraged me, and things that challenged me.
If I close my eyes and listen, I swear I can hear my dad’s voice from a distant corner of my mind, telling me that I can do this and to not give up or fear the unknown. So, I guess I’ll climb back up on that tractor, take the wheel and get a grip. I may bounce a bit going down a road that’s not well paved but, I CAN DRIVE THIS TRACTOR.