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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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I have been fluey for over a week now so haven’t seen Ants except for a quick visit on a day I thought I wasn’t fluey. But it seems to be a bit of a boomerang flu that keeps coming back so I have been staying away from the nursing home just in case it’s contagious and also because I am tired.

It is so, so, so hard not to visit him because I wonder how he is, mentally and emotionally. I already know that he misses me when I don’t come in for several days (like lately) and he seems to feel my absence in a visceral way. Sometimes he will say things to me like:

  • you abandoned me
  • who is your boyfriend?

And I am always too flabbergasted to give a coherent answer, which makes me look and feel guilty even though I am innocent!

Some staff members have told me that Anthony is particularly difficult to put to bed if he hasn’t seen me for awhile. This is so unbearable for me to imagine. I can’t ring him because he forgot how to answer a phone years ago.

I just rang the nursing home to give Ants a message that I will be in tomorrow and spoke to a beautiful nurse who said she would relay the message. But the burden of guilt is still terrible for me – terrible – and I think many carers of loved ones with whom they have been separated, due to the nursing home decision, feel the same.

See you tomorrow, Ants!

 

 

 

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How to interpret a conversation that doesn’t make sense

One of the most difficult situations, when caring for and/or about a person with dementia, is how to make sense of that person’s unflow of words, or else silence.

Anthony’s previously loud voice has, over time, diminished to a whisper (Parkinson’s disease) and his ability to put words together coherently has been affected by Dementia. So conversations (as in the ‘dementia dialogues’ I write about from time to time) are becoming more and more difficult. Sometimes I find myself trying to interpret sounds, rather than words, and sometimes I find myself trying desperately to read his silence.

I haven’t seen Anthony for five days because on the weekend Ming, Meg and I attended my nephew’s fantastic wedding down south. This was an eight-hour return trip so we stayed the night.

And now I have a cold, so my determination to get to the nursing home in the late afternoons has been thwarted despite good intentions. The guilt, and missing Anthony, is difficult to cope with but obviously I don’t want to spread germs in a nursing home environment.

One of the greatest comforts to me is the relationships formed with other bloggers and it has been wonderful to reconnect with them over the last few days. I was feeling guilty about not reading other people’s posts when they were reading mine but I now realise that blogging doesn’t need to be like that and that people are more than understanding of bouts of silence.

At my nephew’s wedding,  I was, as we all were, filled with joy for the happy couple and their gorgeous little daughter. But, later in the evening, I experienced a moment of such intense misery that I could hardly breathe because of Anthony’s absence. My nephew and Ants have always had a wonderful connection, and I know that Anthony would have wanted to be there. Anyway, Ming got me through that moment and I went back to party mode -ha!

A few weeks ago, this was my short conversation with Anthony:

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

Anthony: No!

Me: But why not?

Anthony: Because I don’t exist.

I will never know what Anthony meant by this; was he being cryptic, humorous, philosophical? Was he being deliberately or accidentally poignant?

As Anthony becomes more silent, these transcribed ‘Dementia dialogues’ have become absolutely vital in terms of giving me conversational cues. Topics like the town he grew up in, our son, Ming, various nephews and nieces, farming, fences, cattle, the dairy …. all of these topics are interesting and important to Ants.

Eventually, Anthony will probably be totally silent so, from now on, I am going to record every single word he says.

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Dementia and experimentation

Yes I realise this sounds a bit like the title of a horror movie (and in the past few hundred years people with Dementia were misunderstood, undiagnosed, and treated cruelly under a regime of ‘care’). So the idea of experimenting is a little fraught.

But now (2017) the institutionalised care of people, like Anthony, who suffer from dementia, is kinder. So the ‘experimentation’ I refer to in the title of this post is my own.

Let me explain:

I was recently made aware that Anthony was exhibiting antagonistic behaviour toward carers, particularly in the late afternoon when they were trying to put him to bed. It was a terrible shock to discover this so yesterday I decided to go to the nursing home later than usual. I already knew, via hearsay, that it had now become necessary to put Anthony to bed earlier rather than later and that 4pm was the ideal time. If it were left any later, he would become more rigid and resistant to the hoist, the handling, due to the confusion of his sundowning (a late afternoon phenomenon that exacerbates the confusion of Dementia).

Once I realised this, I decided to adjust my visits from early to late so that I could calm Anthony before and after the bed-time ritual. Yesterday, I did this for the first time: I was there in Anthony’s room before the carers came in to put him to bed; I told him I would be back very soon to give him his evening meal, and vacated the room for about 15 minutes. When I returned, Anthony was comfortably in bed, happy to see me again and even happier for me to feed him his meal.

And, when I left him, he was smiling. So I guess this will be my new routine from now on. I have resisted the idea of a routine until now but I think it’s probably time I paid attention to the rather obvious findings of this experiment.

A. Anthony is more prone to exhibiting antagonistic behaviour later in the day;

B. Anthony is more confused in the late afternoon;

C. Anthony may settle into sleep better if I give him a good-night kiss, even if it’s only 5pm.

So it’s useful to know that later-in-the-day visits are more comforting to Ants than morning/noon visits. This way I can be around before and after the bed-time routine and, hopefully, diffuse Anthony’s distress, fear, and confusion.

Me: Ants, the nurses are going to put you to bed and then I’ll come back to give you your meal, okay?

Anthony: Okay, but it’s a bit unorthodox, Jules.

Perhaps I am the one being experimented on – ha!

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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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Dementia dilemmas: Silence

Anthony is gradually losing his ability to speak clearly and coherently; his voice is soft and croaky and his sentences are sometimes incoherent and don’t make sense. I have to face the fact that the ‘dementia dialogues’ that I write from time to time will no longer be possible as Anthony’s vocal and cognitive skills decline.

Of course, not being able to write our funny little conversations isn’t at all significant in the face of Anthony’s impending silence. I have to admit that I am dreading the possibility that he may stop speaking altogether, but many people with dementia do.

I will miss his one-liners, his ‘I love you too’, and even his sometimes impossible-to-interpret statements like “That’s part of its beautifulness, Jules” when he was referring to something I didn’t understand a few weeks ago.

If this anticipated silence becomes a reality, how will he and I both cope? At the moment, I can easily mind-read and interpret what he is trying to say, so I can affirm that I understand, even if he is asking me to get the cows in, find the car, book the restaurant, give Ming a paddock, cook mornay, take him to Tasmania, visit his mother ….

Over the last weeks, sentences have diminished to single words and sometimes even the single words are unrecognisable as words; sometimes these are just faint sounds. When I can’t understand what he is trying to say, I will ask him to clear his throat and repeat what he just said. Usually my lack of understanding elicits a faint smile or a slight shaking of his head as if to say he has given up and then he will lapse into sleep again.

It is hard to reconcile this diminutive, quiet man with the loud, boisterous, vociferous presence he used to be. On the other hand, Anthony still has an amazing vitality, a spark; he still has a presence. He is popular with staff and he probably has more visitors than most. When a group of us happen to converge in his nursing home room, his delight is obvious but is not necessarily vocal.

Perhaps he will never lose his ability to speak entirely, but, just in case he does, I am preparing myself for conversations that only require a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’; a shaking or nodding of the head; a squeeze of the hand; eye contact; a hug; a kiss; tears and laughter….There are lots of ways to communicate that don’t depend on speech.

Nevertheless, I already find the sound of Anthony’s silent days incredibly challenging. It’s not tragic, or particularly depressing; it’s just the way it is and might be. Yesterday and tomorrow don’t really matter when it comes to today.

So, from now on – ever single today – I will treasure every single word that Anthony is able to utter. But I will also embrace silence.

[Knowing Ants, he will probably come out with an eloquent paragraph when I am least expecting it!]

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Dementia and misrecognition

Ming has been the first of the two of us to be misrecognised by Anthony because Ants keeps forgetting that Ming is now a 23-year-old adult, and not the toddler he often thinks he sees in his nursing home room.

Anthony always knows me but, on the other hand sometimes, when I am sitting next to him, he will talk about Julie to me not quite realising that I am Julie.

Neither of these misrecognitions is tragic – well, they don’t need to be! After all, Anthony is not deliberately misrecognising Ming by thinking Ming is one of Anthony’s numerous nephews. Of course the first time this happened Ming was understandably annoyed and hurt but, since then, he goes with the flow and often says, in his big, booming voice, “I am your son, Dad!”

I am quite prepared for the day that Anthony might not know who I am at all; after all, I know how dementia works and how it manifests itself differently for each and every individual. Why would I be hurt by something that can’t be helped? If Anthony’s dementia worsens, which of course it will, then it may be inevitable that one day he won’t know who the hell I am. I am ready for that.

I’ve said this before but will say it again; if Anthony stops knowing who I am, it doesn’t matter because I will always know who he is. This misrecognition thing that happens with dementia doesn’t have to be seen as a tragedy; after all, the person with dementia has absolutely no intention of breaking your heart by not knowing who you are. You can still be the most trusted, and most loving person, in his/her life.

Anthony: Where is Jules?

Me: Right here, Ants.

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Dementia and deceit

I absolutely love the idea of fabulation (making up stories), especially in the context of Dementia. After all, if Anthony can tell me that there are calves frolicking outside the window of his nursing home room (not true), surely I, too, am allowed to fabulate. The only difference, I guess, is that I am doing it knowingly; I am lying on purpose in order to comfort him, to make him happy.

For example:

Anthony: I fixed all the fences and the trough leaks this morning.

Me: Is that why you’re so exhausted?

Anthony: Yes, and I rode the bicycle.

Me: How far?

Anthony: About 20 miles!

Me: Bloody hell, Ants, you are overdoing it!

Anthony: I know.

Me: Ming can do some of those jobs for you – he wants to.

Anthony: He’s too young, Jules.

Me: He’s 23, Ants.

Anthony: That’s someone else. Our son is too little.

Me: Well, when he grows up he wants to be just like you.

Anthony: Oh.

Me: Ants, remember that lotto ticket we bought last week?

Anthony: No.

Me: Well we won a lot of money.

Anthony: How much?

Me: Thousands! We will never have to worry about money again. Isn’t it wonderful!

Anthony: Are you sure?

Me: Absolutely, so I am going to take the money and run off to Hawaii!

Anthony: You would never leave me.

Me: Yeah, I was just kidding, Ants. So what do you want me to do with all this money?

Anthony: Put it in the freezer.

There is no bicycle, no money and very little reality to this kind of conversation but it helps! Sometimes I feel like an actor in a play where ad-libbing is the norm. My fabulatory conversations with Ants often resemble something Samuel Beckett might have written.

My attitude may seem controversial but, as a farmer, Ants has always been worried about money, so it seems logical to fabulate the idea that there is plenty. Why not? It is a comfortable lie and now he often greets me with the question of how much is in the bank account. If I told him that his pension was not quite covering his nursing home costs and that I was eating into my superannuation to survive, he would be worried.

I don’t want him to be worried and I love the way he responds to the news of our (fictitious) burgeoning bank account. I also love the way he is under the impression that he is still farming, and farming successfully.

Anthony: That was a good party.

Me: Which one?

Anthony: The wedding.

Me: Oh, yes, it was brilliant!

Sometimes I feel acutely the surreal experiences of having been privy to these fabulations that Anthony thinks have happened in reality. He doesn’t know that he has Dementia and he often doesn’t realise he is in a nursing home.

One thing that is absolutely certain in our relationship, and that is free of fabulation, is that we love each other very much.

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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 and Depression

The title of this post is a bit misleading (intentionally) because it implies that Depression is an off-shoot of Dementia and, yes, sometimes this is the case.

Anthony, who recently turned 81, has Parkinson’s Disease Dementia but, even after having been in the high-care section of a nursing home for five years, he is rarely depressed.

Julie (that’s me), who recently turned 58, has Depression in the clinical sense – i.e. she has a disease in much the same way that Anthony has a disease. But, like Anthony, she is rarely depressed. There is a rather wonderful irony here.

I am not quite sure why I wrote the above paragraph in the third person except for the fact that I have been so deeply embarrassed by my diagnosis for so many years now that I find it difficult to admit. Admitting it now is my way of combatting the stigma that still exists, and rejoicing in the fact that there are treatments; that I have been helped by these treatments (medicinal and psychological); and that I have become sensitive to others who suffer like I used to.

In recent weeks I have had the most ghastly outbreak of Depression and yet, paradoxically, I have been able to function normally whilst visiting Anthony, looking after the new puppy, and interacting with friends and family. Ming is, of course, my priority, my favourite person, my rock but also, perhaps, my downfall in the sense that I feel I have failed him in so many ways.

There is a huge difference between Depression and being depressed; the former is a condition and the latter is a temporary mood. Obviously this is up for debate and I would appreciate feedback.

Dementia, on the other hand is, at least for Anthony, irreversible and ongoing/worsening. And yet he has the most amazing ability to comfort me, and to be so accepting when I leave him to ‘go to work’ (my latest ruse).

Me: I have to go to work. Will you be okay?

Anthony: Well, I’ll have to be, won’t I.

Me: So what would you rather have – me here with you or me making money?

Anthony: The money.

This has been a bit difficult to write so thanks for listening x

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