Sunday, July 31, 2016
ALZHEIMER'S--UP AND DOWN THE LADDER
Back in the early 90’s, Joe and I invested in a warehouse property in Portland, Oregon. Our plan was to build a two-story loft apartment in part of the building’s third floor and what would be the top, or fourth floor, being constructed.
Early in the planning we met with our architect for a walk-through of the building. He wanted us to check out the view from the rooftop which meant climbing a fourteen-foot ladder propped up against a hole cut out of the building’s roof.
Now I’m not afraid of heights, but this was a very tall ladder and the only thing that propelled me up was the anticipation of seeing a spectacular view.
We stood on the rooftop in the sunlight looking out over the city, all agreeing it would be great to wake up every morning to that view. When it was time to go, we walked back to the ladder for the climb down. But as I stood looking into that hole, all I could see was darkness and I froze. I couldn’t move my feet to get back on the ladder no matter how encouraging the guys were. I just couldn’t.
Finally, after several minutes of their coaching and virtually begging me to go down the ladder, the project manager took hold of my foot, planted it on the ladder and said, “NOW MOVE”.
I had the sensation that I was descending into nothingness, into a black hole with no bottom. (I could almost hear Steve Hawking’s robotic voice wishing me luck.) Of course there was a bottom, but at that moment standing on the ladder looking down, it didn’t exist for me.
Somehow I managed to get through it, but the anxiety I felt stuck with me.
Fast Forward to the present—There’s no question that moving is hard. On the list of the most notorious causes of stress it ranks right up there next to the death of a love one, divorce, major illness and job loss (not exactly how I would rank it but close). So it shouldn’t surprise me that Joe and Al are struggling with it. I somehow thought I could manage the home sale and our move in such a way that it would minimize their stress and keep things under control. I’ve planned to the smallest detail. I ‘ve got sticky notes on the walls and calendars marked and inventory lists. I know what’s supposed to happen, and when.
Despite that, Joe and Al are sure things are a mess, we’ll never be ready when the movers arrive, and they’ll need to take over the process and straighten things out. They wonder how I’ve gotten us into such a miserable, confusing situation. No matter how many times I assure them things are on track, they’re convinced I’m incompetent and can’t get it done.
I know what experts in Alzheimer’s caregiving would tell me. They’d say don’t share details, talk in general terms and look for ways to distract attention away from your loved one’s worries. And yes, I’m trying to do that. But I can only deflect Joe’s constant questions so long before I go careening over the edge, giving in once again to explain what to him and Al is incomprehensible. It’s like some kind of pressure is building and pushing me toward that black hole I don’t want to be in again. Déjà vu.
I know I can do this. I’ve done it before, but never with Al dominating as he is today. So to make sure we get through this I’ve sent for reinforcement. Our 22-year-old grandson Bryan who recently graduated from college will arrive soon and will be here through the move and the drive north. Hopefully he’ll help provide relief for some of Joe’s anxiety, and I’ll have someone to help with the heavy stuff (which in this case is a metaphor for managing Al).
I’m hoping once we’re settled Joe will relax and be comfortable again without having taken another step down the ladder with Al.
Every time we move I learn something new. Like today, as I made calls to find a hazardous waste agency that would accept old paint. I spoke to a very friendly woman who told me our local disposal company would take latex paint but only if it was completely dried up, which it was not.
She suggested that I mix the paint with kitty-litter (the cheapest I could buy), put it outside in the heat and that would do it. I thought she must be joking, maybe she’d been in the heat too long, but I went to the store anyway and bought kitty litter. Sure enough, the paint clumped and solidified quickly; and with the heat we’ve been experiencing here in Arizona, it should be ready for pickup this week in complete compliance with state rules. Another item off the list…check!