jmgoyder

wings and things

The dream

I have various versions of the same dream about once a week. It’s always some sort of party, or wedding, or get-together but the venues change from dream to dream. The ‘characters’ in these dreams usually include old friends, close relatives and always Ming, but he is often either a baby or child.

In each of these weekly dreams, Anthony is extremely incapacitated and in a wheelchair; the destination is hours away from the safety of the nursing home; and it’s only when we get there that I realise I have forgotten his medications for Parkinson’s Disease (the timing of which is vital).

So, in each of the dreams, I am either searching my handbag for a stray pill, or trying to decide whether to drive all the way back to the nursing home. I am totally panicked and trying to figure out who can help me get Anthony from his wheelchair out to the car, but people are milling around him, happy to see him but concerned about him being in a wheelchair etc.

Because this is a dream I am, of course, leaping tall buildings and smashing windows and unlocking safes in my frantic search for Anthony’s pills – all to no avail. So I get back to the party, or whatever it is, and am relieved to see that Ants isn’t slumped too badly in his wheelchair. I rush to him and kneel, apologising for forgetting his medications and all of a sudden he gets up and is fine – robust, loud, laughing and hugging me as if the whole thing was some sort of bizarre practical joke. The relief that washes over me in the dream is so wonderful that it wakes me up.

So, when I wake up, it takes me about a minute to get my bearings and realise it was a dream but it never makes me sad. Instead, this recurring dream gives me enormous joy because it reminds me in so many ways how fantastic our life together has been.

I hope I get that dream again tonight.

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Pip, the therapy dog

Recently, I have been at a bit of a loss for words, not for any particular reason, just feeling quiet. Also I have been quite preoccupied with Pip, our four-and-a-half-months-old miniature schnauzer.

I am training Pip to be a therapy dog and we are now a few weeks into “puppy pre-school.” So far, she is very good at sitting for food but not very good at obeying any other commands although she is house-trained simply because she is an inside/outside dog; and luckily she chooses outside to do her business.

Pip is already relatively well-behaved in the three nursing homes I take her to, including Anthony’s. For the most part, I keep her on a leash but in Anthony’s room she will now settle on her own pillow on the floor near his armchair for a good couple of hours. I keep her pillow, a container of dog biscuits and a water bowl in one of Anthony’s cupboards. In the other two nursing homes, the joy I see on some of the residents’ faces, when they see, pat or even hold Pip, is beautiful.

Anthony smiles at the way I fuss over Pip and I keep hearing myself sounding like an old woman with a little dog (ha!) But, despite his initial reaction to her puppyhood “It’s just a dog, Jules”, he and she have now bonded.

Me: Do you love her, Ants?

Anthony: Well who wouldn’t, Jules.

At home, Pip is now a hurricane of energy; she races in and out of the house and terrorises Jack, our Irish terrier who is still so in awe of her that he stands back when I feed them both and only eats Pip’s leftovers!

Every morning, I am greeted first thing with a deep growl from Pip, which is her rude way of asking me for breakfast. The closer I get to the refrigerator, the deeper the growl. Ming and I are getting a lot of laughs out of this hilarious new addition to the family.

Apparently I can register Pip as a therapy dog once she has undertaken further training so I am looking into this.

So, even though I’ve gone a bit quiet lately, it’s an accepting kind of quietness. I found out the other day that Anthony is now a ‘full hoist’ which means he is unable to walk at all. I had assumed that he was still maybe able to walk, using the walker, in the mornings, but I guess I was a bit nervous to ask the question because I didn’t want to know(?)

Oh how much I wish I had made more of the last time I saw Anthony walk using his walker – that shuffle-sprint-stall that I have known for nearly a decade. It seems impossible that he would now be more or less bed-ridden but I am an idiot to not have seen this coming.

And, as I contemplate whether to cry or not, I see from the front window of what used to be Anthony’s mother’s bedroom – now my study – a black fur-ball of absolute joy racing towards the front door.

Yipping with delight, Pip enters the quiet.

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Values

Ming and have both sought psychological help over the last few years and one of the most difficult questions to answer is “what are your values?” I think this is a very tricky question, but an important one. It is also a question that I have found extremely challenging to answer.

Stereotypical answers might be: health, family, financially okay, great relationships, good job, political stability, beautiful kids, long life etc. but these are too vague and I don’t like my own vagueness.

Perhaps the question should be rephrased to “what do I value?” This turns the noun ‘value’ into the verb ‘value’ and, in my opinion, makes the question easier to answer. For example, I know what I value most, whereas I can’t quite pinpoint what my values are.

What do I value most?

  • Kindness (the giving and receiving of);
  • My son’s growing wisdom;
  • Anthony’s smile;
  • Authentic relationships with family and friends;
  • Humour;
  • My ability to write about dementia;
  • The new puppy, Pip;
  • Honesty; and
  • Salad.

I haven’t been very good lately at looking after my physical, psychological and emotional health but, like many, I baulk at self-helpy stuff. But there is nothing wrong with self-help! After all, the best way of helping others, which is something I feel passionate about, is to get yourself on track first, surely.

Ming comes home tomorrow from a 6-day intensive beginning to a diploma in psychology which he will complete in around 15 months. He seems to have found his niche and I can’t wait to hear about all of it; we have already had some fascinating phone conversations.

Even pre-dementia, Anthony would never have understood Ming’s passion for helping people; nevertheless he would be so proud if he understood. Often Ants still thinks Ming is a toddler so when this great big man steps into the nursing home room it can be a bit confusing.

Ah yes – other things I value:

  • Laughter;
  • Still being in love; and
  • Ming.
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Living with and without Anthony

Six months ago I was interviewed on ABC radio about Dementia and this morning the station rang me asking if I would have another chat by phone so of course I said yes. Two hours later the phone rang and I was on the air again with Geoff Hutchison.

He introduced me by saying something like “We are talking to Julie Goyder about living with and without Anthony” and I thought this was a wonderfully simple, and yet profound, way of describing the situation.

When someone you love is admitted into a nursing home, especially if she or he is your spouse, the mutual loss can be heart-breaking and often entails feelings of guilt, fear and uncertainty. The intensity of these emotions (for me, at least) lessens over time, then sometimes erupts into the kind of depressive episode that overwhelmed me recently. For some reason, the phrase “living with and without Anthony” really got to me because that’s exactly how it is – a sort of limbo.

Nevertheless, I no longer see the fact that Anthony is in a nursing home as a tragedy. After we both accepted that this was how it had to be, it has been wonderful to see how well-cared for he is (and certainly better-groomed than he was at home!) And, as I’ve said before, not having to care for him has reignited by ability to care about him. We can eat, drink and be merry as long as I don’t have to take him to the toilet ha!

In helping to facilitate a couple of carer support groups lately, one thing comes across loud and clear. The carers – both those who look after their loved ones at home and those whose loved ones are now in permanent care – are suffering. Some of these carers are elderly themselves so the physical, emotional and psychological toll on them is massive, especially if their loved one has Dementia.

The projected statistics and associated costs of Dementia are alarming; so too are the repercussions on that burgeoning group of people who care for family members with Dementia. In recent times, more attention has been given to these carers but there is no easy solution and many carers are reluctant to seek help anyway. Why? Because it is embarrassing to ask for help, embarrassing to admit you aren’t coping, embarrassing to be confused by your loved one’s behaviour etc. And then there’s the shame. I remember when we had to make a fairly quick decision to accept Anthony’s respite room in the nursing home permanently. Anthony’s Dementia was in its early stages then so he knew what was going on and he felt abandoned, but he still agreed. My sense of shame lasted two years.

I wish I could convince others that placing someone you love in a nursing home is NOT something to be ashamed about; that admitting that you are not coping is NOT embarrassing – it’s the truth; that succumbing to Depression is NOT unusual if you are caring for someone with Dementia. There are some desperate stories out there (one caller to the radio station outlined her own experience this morning).

Living with and without Anthony is just the way it is; it’s difficult but it’s do-able. And so many of us do it silently. I choose to share my thoughts rather loudly here on the blog because there is a Dementia crisis that needs attention.

After I tried, ungently, to reposition Anthony in his armchair the other day, this was our conversation:

Anthony: Have you ever heard of the word, ‘fear’?

Julie: What? Am I supposed to be in fear of you?

Anthony: I won’t enlarge on that.

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Dementia dialogues 12

Anthony: How do you always find me? It’s remarkable!

Me: I have a really good map, and a really good memory.

Anthony: You look beautiful.

Me: Wow, thanks, Ants! You look good too.

Anthony: I need to get rid of this moustache.

Me: What? You don’t have a moustache, Ants – you haven’t had a moustache for years.

Anthony: So what do I have?

Me: Well, you have a lack of moustache I guess….

Anthony: Mmm.

Me: Could we resume this discussion tomorrow?

Anthony: Yes, just bring chocolate.

 

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Hands on!

Today, as I held Anthony’s hand in mine, he kept on bringing my hand slowly up to his mouth, then kissing it. This happened over and over and over again until it became hilarious for both of us.

Me: You are melting my heart, Ants!

Anthony: That’s as it should be.

Me: We never used to hold hands in the old days – it’s kind of weird – and I am getting a bit irritated. Sorry!

Anthony: Your hands are in bad shape. Mine have things on them [pointing to one of his thumbs and a finger where I could see nothing wrong].

Me: Does it hurt?

Anthony: No it’s wonderful.

Me: Oh, okay I think I get it. Well, you’re lucky – one hot day and I have the rotten blisters back [I developed a strange condition a few years back whereby perspiration causes this thing called pompholyx].

Anthony: You need to stop scratching them.

Me: Yeah, but it’s so itchy! Anyway stop telling me what to do. You’re lucky you have such wonderful hands.

Anthony: Yes, I do, don’t I.

Okay, so the above conversation was at around noon, then I met a friend for coffee. I got back to Anthony at around 2pm. The hand holding resumed but the conversation did a bit of a U-turn in the cul-de-sac of Anthony’s dementia. Instead of kissing my hand, he kept removing it from his and placing it very neatly onto the side of my chair.

Me: Why are you rejecting me?

Anthony: It’s in the way. Jules, can you take these off? [He raised his hands, palms-up to me.]

Me: So you want me to take your hands off?

Anthony: Yes!

Me: But why? I can’t remove your hands, even if I wanted to, Ants.

Anthony: They’re in the way.

Me: In the way of what?

Anthony: That boy.

Me: You mean, Ming, our son?

Anthony: Yes, that’s the one. Can he take these [again, offering his hands up]. They could join those two little sheds into one.

Me: I think that’s a fantastic idea, Ants and we should tell Ming as soon as possible. He and I already know what a fantastic farmer you are. Thank you!

Anthony: So when are we going home?

The wish to come/go home has, unfortunately, become a frequent topic of conversation lately, after about a year of Anthony forgetting all about this beautiful farm. I hate the moments of slicing lucidity in which he says to me that he wants to be back at home; I hate bluffing and promising this impossibility; and I hate my deception of course!

Anthony’s immobility, and other issues, make it impossible for me to bring him home, even for a couple of hours. I can’t lift him at all any more; he often requires two carers and a hoist.

He is, however, the most uncomplaining, resilient, beautiful person I will ever know and I am so proud that Ming has these attributes too.

Quite handy!

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Dementia dialogues 0

Me: I love you so much, Ants.

Anthony: I wonder sometimes.

Me: What do you mean?

Anthony: The way you treat me.

Me: What?

Anthony: Like a bag of old rags sometimes. Look at yourself in the mirror!

Me: I don’t understand, Ants!

Anthony: It’s all right – I forgive you.

Me: Forgive me for what? I am doing my best! Why are you being so horrible to me?

Anthony: I just want to go home and see Mum!

Me: But she’s fine, Ants!

Anthony: This has been boiling up for ages.

Me: I don’t understand.

Anthony: Yes you do, and you only barely put up with me!

The above was an uncharacteristically angry and semi-lucid conversation during which I got my notebook out to record things exactly as they were said.

A marital row, I guess – no big deal. Anthony’s sudden mistrust and cynicism about me yesterday carried itself into today but was less acute. I hope this angry thing won’t last long.

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Dementia dialogues 23

Me: Daaaarling!

Anthony: Jules!

Me: Why do you look so surprised?

Anthony: Well, I was going up the passageway and I saw her. It was extraordinary.

Me: Who did you see?

Anthony: You.

 

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Dress rehearsal

It’s now been a bit over a month since I thought Anthony was on the brink of death. In the space of a couple of days, he had suddenly become unable to chew and swallow food in the ordinary way, and, on two occasions, had been unconscious for several hours.

The fact that these two ‘end-stage’ things happened in a matter of days convinced me that Ants was definitely on the way out – soon. I was catapulted into action, messaging family members, making appointments with funeral directors, our lawyer, meeting with my best friend, the Anglican priest who blessed Anthony with the last rites, picking songs for the funeral, and asking nearly 20 people to be pallbearers ….

And then, as my new friend Moira described it, Anthony “did a Lazarus”. Okay, so that is all very well and I am glad, but the panicked anxiety and anticipatory grief I felt during that week has left a bitter taste in my brain. I feel as if I have been tricked, deceived; here I am all ready for Anthony’s death but the joke is on me because he is still beautifully alive, holding my hand and watching a movie with my mother and me… today.

Ming, our son, our one child, always gives good, sensible, pragmatic advice to me. He is an absolute rock of a person and has had to cope with Anthony not recognising him several times recently. Ming is philosophical about this because he already knows how dementia works.

No dress rehearsal prepares anybody for the death of a loved one.

 

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Galah!

Today Anthony was perky, lucid, vocal and even sarcastic!

I had picked a double camellia bloom from our favourite tree but forgot to take a photo (sorry, flower-lovers!)

Well, he loved it but its stem was too short so one of the carers brought a bowl in so we could somehow keep it alive until tomorrow. There were many admiring exclamations from staff and I felt quite the gardener – ha! On this first day of Spring, there will be many more blooms and I will take them in every day because it gives Anthony such delight.

My mother, Meg, visited this afternoon and she, too, admired the double bloom.

Meg: This is a potentially prize-winning flower, Anthony!

Anthony: Yes.

Me: Ants, it’s my tree – remember? I paid a small fortune for that tree!

Anthony: Yes, but I nurtured and loved it.

Meg: I think God created it but did you have a hand in it too?

Anthony (smiling): Yes.

Me: I’m the one with the foresight to buy a rare tree!

Anthony is silent.

Me: Have I upset you, Ants?

Anthony: No, but you are irritating me.

A lot of banter followed this, then my mother went home. I put the food channel on for Ants and, as usual, pretended to go shopping for chocolate or blue cheese, saying I would be back later.

So, after a very panicky few weeks where I thought Anthony was on the brink of death, he has now come back to life it would seem. Surreal! How does this happen? It is beautifully scary but so disconcerting.

The last thing he said to me as I left this afternoon was “You are such a galah, Jules!”

Yep, I agree!

 

 

 

 

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