Sunday, January 22, 2017

ALZHEIMER'S--Living in the Aftermath

The scene the day of Joe's Celebration of Life

I’m sitting alone in my cozy apartment on the lower level of the house and for the first time in nearly two weeks, it’s quiet; a kind of quiet I’d almost forgotten.  All the sounds of my familiar neighborhood (cars passing, dogs barking, children playing) are muffled by the blanket of snow that remains on the ground.  

The house is still.  The last of our out-of-town relatives departed this morning. They all have headed back to their homes, jobs and schools. Within days they will be back in the groove, slipping easily into the rhythm of their lives, as it should be.

A groove, a rhythm, a routine…what is mine?  What should I be doing?

For nearly four years I’ve had a routine.  I counted on a groove to guide me through days of caregiving and living with Alzheimer’s in the house.  I knew my place, and it was with Joe.  There was no time to ponder what else I could be doing.  Besides, I was doing what I wanted to do and that was to take care of the man I loved.  Caregiving drove me.  It centered me and gave my life a richer meaning than what I’d felt after the children were grown and I’d retired.

I thought of my dear mother today.  She was my father’s caregiver for almost four years as well.  It wasn’t until her death, after sorting her things and reading her diary that I understood how lonely it was for her. 

She was introverted, very different from my temperament.  She lost herself in her art, disappeared into a private world she created for herself.  I tried many times to get her to engage, to come and stay with us, but she would always decline with some excuse, some reason for not coming.  I wish now I had persisted and helped her rediscover a life she could have lived without my father.

After the initial shock of Joe’s passing, there was much to do.  I plowed head-first into the planning of his Celebration of Life. I waded into and wound up the legal affairs of his death (at least I think I did).  I painfully sorted his precious belongs, deciding what to keep and what to pass to those who would treat them with care.  In short, I stayed busy. 
Oh boy, how does one start over?  How do you pick up the pieces of a broken heart and move forward?  Are there steps I should be taking?  Is there some survivor’s guidebook I should be studying?  I don’t want to be introverted.

A quick search on Amazon tells me there are literally hundreds of books written on the subject.  There’s The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, The Courage to Grieve, Grieving Mindfully, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, The Widow’s Journal, the list goes on.  A search on Google for “survivor grief” shows 643 thousand results.

From my way-less-than extensive research it seems to me the old adage “time heals all” is at the center of most grief practitioners’ processes and there seems to be solidarity around the importance of allowing yourself time to get through a grieving process.  But my impatience tells me to get started, find the mind tools I need and bust through.  I want to feel normal again (whatever that is).  I want to catch up with the parts of life that may have passed me by.  Because meticulously arranging my closet by colors, polishing my counter top to a high-gloss shine or making long to-do lists (all of which I have done) is not my path back to a rich full life after Joe.  There needs to be something else, something meaningful, a reason to wake up in the morning and feel pride in accomplishment.

Of course, I don’t want to forget Joe.  I want to feel him in everything I do.  My tribute to Joe is to help fight Alzheimer’s because I know Al didn’t go far.  He’s somewhere near, unpacking and moving into someone else’s life and they may not even know it yet.

I’ll seek help from one of the many grief support groups and counselors in the area, make time to go visit with friends who have graciously offered help, and contact the local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter.   That’s a start, anyway.