jmgoyder

wings and things

Our TEDx talk

Here is the link to the talk Ming and I gave the other day at Bunbury’s TEDx event.

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9. “You seem like a very nice bloke.”

Ming visited Anthony yesterday and once again wasn’t recognised. I am so proud of the way Ming is handling this. Instead of feeling hurt and upset, Ming just goes with the flow and has fun with Anthony anyway.

Ming: Do you know who I am?

Anthony: Well, you seem like a very nice bloke.

Ming: Yes, Dad, but do you know WHO I AM?

Anthony: Aren’t you the hairdresser?

Ming: No – I’m your son – I’M MING, DAD!

Anthony: Yes, that’s right.

Ming has the same booming voice that Anthony used to have. He also has a similar gait and the other day as he suddenly appeared in my view through the front window, I thought for a split-second that it was Anthony. The nostalgia was unsettling, but also quite pleasant. He loves the stories I tell him about how Anthony used to be before and just after Ming was born. These stories have helped Ming to cope with Anthony’s ill health over the years, especially lately. Ming has very few childhood memories of having a father who was robust, gregarious, the loud, life-of-the-party, generous host because he was a one-year-old when Anthony suffered his first cancer – kidney cancer.

One of the most wonderful things for me is to see so many of Anthony’s qualities embodied in this larger-than-life son of ours. Ming is full of humour and a kind of boisterous grace. To hear him tell me about how fantastic his visit to Anthony was yesterday is like a gift.

Two very nice blokes.

 

 

 

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3. Existence

One of the most poignant conversations I’ve ever had with Anthony was a few months ago. From time to time he comes out with the most profound observations and I scribble these into my notebook because I know that later – sometimes much later – I won’t believe that he really said that.

Me: Is it okay if I write a book about you, Ants?

Anthony: No.

Me: Why?

Anthony: Because I don’t exist.

Was this dreadful statement about not existing a wisecrack, a joke, sarcasm? Anthony always had the most incredible attitude to life, and still has! He has no idea that he has Dementia and, now that he is virtually bed-ridden, I just tell him it’s the Parkinson’s Disease that makes him so tired.

Way back when we weren’t even married, there was an enormous spider in the kitchen which I rather shriekingly killed with a can of mortein. Later on, Anthony came in from milking the cows and I told him about my adventure. He looked at me, grief-stricken. “That was my pet spider, Jules!”

I was devastated! How could this man possibly ever love me when I had killed his pet spider? How could I make amends? Could I find another spider that looked like the one I’d killed? Did pet shops sell spiders?

We had a rather subdued meal until finally, unable to contain his mirth, Anthony guffawed and admitted that he was just joking. I am yet to experience a ‘phew’ quite like that!

And what is the point of this chapter? Well, maybe – just maybe, Anthony is just fooling around with us. Maybe he doesn’t have Dementia after all. Maybe these recent years have been a strange nightmare.

Me: Is it okay with you if I write a book about that spider, Ants?

Anthony: Of course.

 

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2. “Where is Mum?”

Anthony asks this question at least once a week and, because it distresses him, I have to be really careful with my answers. If I say she is fine and at home on the farm, he worries that she is alone and I have to reassure him that Ming is there with her.

This wonderful woman, Anthony’s mother, fondly called ‘Gar’ by family and friends, died over two decades ago. I adored her, was frightened of her (she was a true matriarch), and I was with her when she died at the age of  86. Her last words to me were, Will you look after Anthony? And, buzzing with all of the feelings that come with first love, I said yes.

I was a teenager, just 18, and Anthony was 41. My adoration of him was embarrassingly obvious to both Gar and Anthony. Gar encouraged it in a rather mischievous way but Anthony spurned my clumsy adolescent love-sick self, out of respect for my youth. It would be many years before he and I graduated from platonic to romantic.

Finally, at the age of 56, this workaholic, dairy farmer, best friend, bachelor, proposed. By then, I had steeled myself to imagine life without Anthony, but I had this absolute certainty about our son-to-be. And I was right. But I didn’t know that then.

Anthony’s proposal of marriage was almost too late as I was beginning a tentative relationship with another man – a kinder, younger, more generous man.  I was in my early 30s by then and thought it best to finally move on and away from Anthony.

Then, whammo, Anthony just came to his senses. It was so sudden and such a shock to hear him crying on the phone and declaring love. I had never known him to express such emotion so I was flabbergasted and cynical. But I got over that and said yes to the marriage proposal.

Gar had always encouraged it, after all!

Anthony: Where is Mum?

Me: She’s in the kitchen, making breakfast, Ants.

 

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Happiness

In just over a week, Ming and I are off to Sydney to speak at a conference. Check out the link!

http://www.happinessanditscauses.com.au/

The title of our talk is – yes, you guessed it – “Dementia Dialogues”. I am hoping to convince the audience that it is still sometimes possible to derive, and give, great joy within the context of Dementia. Ming and I are simply going to cite a few examples of the funny and poignant conversations we share with Anthony. We only have a 15-minute slot, so our talk has to be succinct, a bit like a TED talk I guess.

I emphasised the word “sometimes” above because I am well aware that our own experience of Anthony’s Dementia is not necessarily like other people’s and I recognise how lucky we are to have a husband/father who is so resilient. The other day, when I got to the nursing home earlier than usual, and was able to feed Anthony his breakfast in bed, I asked him if he was comfortable and he whispered a booming “EXTREMELY!”

Anthony’s sanguine nature is a wonderful ‘plus’ when it comes to Dementia but every single person who has Dementia is just as individual as those of us without Dementia. Now that I am involved in support groups for carers, I have heard a fair few horror stories and I do remember our own horror story before Anthony’s admission to the nursing home. So I guess another point I want to emphasise in our conference talk is that the idea of placing a loved one in a nursing home needn’t be a tragedy.

I haven’t blogged for so long that now I’m rambling – ha! It’s good to get the words out. Now I just have to prepare for the conference – yikes!

 

 

 

 

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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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