jmgoyder

wings and things

14. Death and dying

About a year ago, Anthony had a series of TIAs (mini-strokes) and was unconscious on and off for a few days. I panicked and began funeral arrangements but he ‘did a Lazarus’ and has been as okay as is possible since then. Recently – the last few days – I have noticed a marked deterioration and this afternoon I couldn’t wake him up and he looked deathly.

I am once again afraid even though I know that tomorrow he will probably be bright-eyed again like he was a week ago. On the other hand, I think I better go back to the funeral people and finish the arrangements just in case.

A friend of mine, whose husband has been in care for around the same time as Anthony (he had a massive stroke), has invited me to a seminar this week on death and dying so I’m going to go. I think it will help me to be more prepared mentally and emotionally. If Anthony were suffering constant pain or distress I would be wanting him to die, but he is so comfortable and uncomplaining that I can’t even imagine it.

It is so many years now that I have been trying to prepare myself for Anthony’s death – ever since the prostate cancer diagnosis when the urologist said he probably had 1-3 years to live (around eight years ago!) But then the Parkinson’s disease took precedence and has been by far the more debilitating of the two diseases.

The fact that Anthony is still such a huge part of my life on a daily basis (even when I don’t go in to the nursing home), the fact that I don’t find visiting him and being with him at all onerous, and the fact that we derive so much enjoyment from each other’s company, leaves me ill-prepared. It will not be a relief when he dies; it will be the most grief I have ever felt, and I’m not ready.

I don’t think Ming is ready either, although he just assured me that he is, well, sort of. He also assured me that he will come with me next time I make an appointment with the funeral directors. I think it’s about time we got back to the business side of Anthony’s death.

One of the things I should probably do is to figure out what to do with my ‘Anthony time’ once he is gone. Of course there is the book I’m writing and that will help, but the gap he will leave in our lives is going to be massive.

This feels like the peak of the anticipatory grief I have felt for so long that it’s like a second skin; this is the knife edge of the most terrible mixture of fear and love. But perhaps this isn’t the end after all and tomorrow Anthony will look at me, smile his slow smile and repeat what he said the other day: “You’re still beautiful, Jules.”

 

 

 

18 Comments »

13. Bittersweet

In recent weeks, Anthony is either in bed or in a broda-chair (armchair on wheels). It is a long time since he has been able to walk or sit in a regular wheelchair and, although he is able to weight bear to an extent sometimes, he is more or less bedridden now. I am becoming used to what is still a bit of a shock.

Yesterday, I visited in the late afternoon (something that I had intended to do more regularly – famous last words). He was in bed, looking very comfortable and content. I fed him his vitamised dinner which he gobbled, and some chocolate that I had brought with me. At one point he raised his hands underneath the blanket and they kept getting in the way of the spoon.

Me: Why are you doing that with your hands, Ants?

Anthony: Because I lost them five days ago.

Me: Oh! When did you find them again?

Anthony: Last night.

Me: Where were they?

Anthony: At the nun’s place.

Me: You mean Sister R?

Anthony: Yes.

Me: She’s amazing isn’t she.

Anthony: Wonderful.

We aren’t Catholic but we do have a very good friend who is a nun and she has blessed Anthony on several occasions over the years, so I put two and two together. The way Anthony’s memory works now fascinates me; it is fragmented and peculiar but sometimes wonderfully symbolic.

At around 6pm, he began to drift into sleep and, as I stroked his head, I felt a lurch of bittersweet emotion. I whispered goodbye and kissed him, thinking he was asleep.

Me: You are the most beautiful man in the world, Ants.

Anthony (murmuring): I know.

 

16 Comments »

Our TEDx talk

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

16 Comments »

11. Lightning visits

During my bout with mycoplasma pneumonia, I wasn’t able to visit Anthony for about a month, if I include the week before and after hospitalisation.

Ming and my mother, Meg, visited him almost daily and that way I could speak to him on the phone, tell him (in my usual dramatic way) that I was terribly sick and in hospital and that’s why I wasn’t there with him. All these weeks later, now that I am well again, Ants still remembers my absence and continues to ask me if I am okay. A couple of the carers at the nursing home said that he behaved differently during this time, that he was uneasy I guess. I think that maybe the way he was missing me was quite visceral, rather than cognitive but I don’t know.

Now that I am pacing myself better, and looking after my health with lots of green juice, homemade dahl, and sourdough, I’ve allowed myself to do what I call ‘the lightning visit’ –  a visit lasting a few minutes rather than a few hours.

The lightning visit idea allows you to visit your loved one fleetingly, but memorably. I might spend most of an afternoon, holding Anthony’s hand, watching his favourite comedy, whispering sweet nothings into his ear, and the next day he will say, “Where have you been for so long?”

On the other hand, whenever I am on the fly and in a rush, Ants remembers my visit – the rush of it, the urgency of me having to be somewhere else. Sometimes that ‘somewhere else’ is a volunteer commitment, a get-together with friends, a dentist’s appointment, but sometimes this is my excuse to go home.

The other day, when I was leaving Anthony after a lightning visit, I apologised to him and he said, “Don’t be sorry, Jules. You are so sweet.”

Okay so I am not particularly fond of the word ‘sweet’ because it’s just too sweet, but it reminded me of when Anthony was wrestling with the idea of us getting married. He was so worried about our 23-year age difference and kept saying that I was too sweet.

I remember that moment vividly.

Lightning

 

 

10 Comments »

Doing it

I bumped into some relatives today at our local, rural, shop and they said they had intended to go and see Anthony today, but it was too late in the day. It was raining relentlessly so I admitted that I, too, hadn’t gone into town to see Anthony but that Ming was doing it.

Doing it?

Why did I describe my visits to Anthony as a job that needed to be done? Why didn’t I say, “Ming is visiting Ants today”? instead of “Ming is doing it today.”

I am so embarrassed that I expressed myself this way because for all of these years I have felt and believed that the romantic love I share with Anthony would somehow sustain us. In fact, as Ming often points out, Anthony is now mostly lost in his world of Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. Yesterday, for example, Anthony was mostly asleep during my 2-hour visit and this is often the case.

Perhaps love is not simply a feeling but also a decision. For me, this realisation has made all the difference recently because in deciding to love someone, that ‘do it’ decision, is an absolute in the face of multiple contingencies.

Do it.

12 Comments »

10. Dementia Context

Yesterday afternoon, when I visited Anthony in the nursing home, he was in bed. He’d been showered and had been up in the broda-chair (armchair-on-wheels) all morning and was tired.

I positioned my chair so that my face was close to his and this was our conversation:

Anthony: I was so depressed yesterday, Jules.

Me: Why? What happened?

Anthony: Well, I went down to Bridgetown to help out but all the farms are in disarray.

Me: So did you manage to fix some of the problems?

Anthony: Only some.

Me: I can ring Fred if you like, or Simon? Just to make sure?

Anthony: Good idea.

Me: So are you still depressed?

Anthony: A bit.

Me: So what can I do? I’ve rung the guys and they are fixing everything right now! It will all be okay, Ants – I promise.

Anthony: Beautiful.

Me: What is beautiful?

Anthony: You.

Dementia doesn’t equal death. People like Anthony can survive for many years with Dementia, either at home, or in care.

I feel so passionate about raising awareness that people with Dementia, even if they don’t know who you are anymore, cognitively, still appreciate a conversation, a hug, and, most importantly, your presence in their lives.

To begin with, nearly six years ago, I could hardly bear my visits to Ants because of how heartbreaking they were. He wanted to come home and I wanted him to come home and, yes, we tried this over and over again but his Parkinson’s Disease won. Once he couldn’t walk that was it and I had to get the wheelchair taxi to come and get him and take him back to the nursing home. I felt as if I had abandoned my soul one Christmas when this scenario played out in my mother’s driveway in the midst of our family get-together.

Context: Anthony was/IS a dairy farmer.

He has never lived in Bridgetown.

 

 

6 Comments »

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.

 

 

 

10 Comments »

7. “When do you get your soul back again?”

[As I prepare for the talk Ming and I will deliver at TEDx in Bunbury, I wrestle with challenge of being concise when I could talk forever about our experience with Dementia: Anthony’s unawareness that he has Dementia; Ming’s transition from anger to acceptance; and my own attempts to find and create meaning in our interactions. I want this 15 minutes to somehow make a difference in the way people in general respond to people with Dementia. Once again, the following is a draft of a chapter for the book, Dementia Dialogues and any feedback appreciated.]

7. “When do you get your soul back again?”

It was a few months ago and I was already attuned to our cross-purpose-ish conversations, where, for example, Anthony would mention a tractor and I would counter his tractor-anxiety with an exclamation about how sweet potato was in season again.

So, as I switched the television station from Dr Phil to the ABC news, Anthony did the exact same thing with our conversation:

Anthony: When do you get your soul back again?

Me: WHAAAAT?

Anthony: Your soul.

ME: But I haven’t lost my soul, Ants!

Anthony: That’s good.

Anthony is the least spiritual person I have ever known so his mention of my soul was disconcerting as I’m pretty sure I have a reasonably healthy one. Nevertheless it made me realise that inside the mind of a person with Dementia are all sorts of references to all sorts of triggers, both past and present. His mention of soul may have been a bit like me telling him that the power was out at the nursing home one day, i.e. there was no electricity. Hours later, we had this conversation:

Me: Are you angry with me, Ants?

Anthony: Of course not.

Me: Then why do you look so sad?”

Anthony: My power is out.

So maybe Anthony’s casual reference to my soul, as if it were something I’d temporarily misplaced, like a bangle or a scarf (which I lose all the time), was just him using one word, ‘soul’ for another, more tangible thing? After all, I don’t even know what a soul is!

Nevertheless, that soul conversation still resonates, still makes me wonder, and still compels me to keep on trying to continue these dialogues. Sometimes, when Ants is too sleepy, or confused, to answer my ‘yes or no’ questions, and he tries to tell me something that I can’t understand, I just say this:

Me: It’s okay, Ants. I can read your mind!

https://tedxbunbury.org/

 

14 Comments »

6. The most beautiful word: Yes

“Could you just put that skeleton onto the hose?”

“You are always doubling and tripling and doubling.”

“There he is – that little bastard – see? In the corner. With the horse nose.”

“I don’t want to be in this school anymore.”

“This is the most wonderful pub!”

“The dogs need to be let out. Do it gently with the first ones. We have too many.”

“Does the congregation know that you found the bodies?”

“It was a pirate ship and those kids kidnapped me again.”

“See this thing? [often his knee rug]. “Can you loop it around these things?” [his hands.] “Yes, good, that will stop the rain from getting into the crevices.”

The above are just a few sample statements made by Anthony over the last several years. There is a context to some of these statements which I will elaborate on later in this book, but most are uttered spontaneously and sometimes with what seems a subdued desperation.

If you are caring for/or about someone with Dementia who is close to you – a spouse, parent, friend – it can be extremely difficult to know how to respond. For example, it can be very tempting to counter what seems like nonsense with logic, like:

There are no bodies, or a pirate ship. It’s not even raining! We only have two dogs, the hose is fine, we’re not in a pub or a school – we are in a nursing home! Who are these kids you keep talking about? What the hell are you talking about? You are paranoid, you are delusional and I can’t cope with this nonsense anymore. Please, Ants; this is so unfair on me. Pull yourself together!

I’ve highlighted the above to emphasise my frustrations over the years with Anthony’s gradual transition into the confusion of Dementia. Of course, I am not proud of my impatience with him but, early on – especially during the last year Anthony lived at home and the first year of the nursing home – my moodiness was acrobatic and just as unpredictable as his confusion.

The only thing that remained a certainty for us during these tumultuous times was our inviolable love for each other. Anthony’s reluctance to marry me all those years ago stemmed from his anxiety about the age difference (23 years). He didn’t want to burden me with his old age. I said I didn’t care but for some reason, despite my nursing background and my PhD research about Alzheimer’s Disease, I never once considered that one day Anthony would not only be old, but also very sick.

We were married in 1993 and at that time Anthony was fit, robust and full of energy – a passionate dairy farmer. Neither of us could have anticipated that in the first year of Ming’s life, Anthony would succumb to kidney cancer. I can remember taking baby Ming into the hospital to see Ants in between two surgeries, the first to remove a tumour from his left kidney, and the second to remove the whole kidney. Our tears then were not just about the trauma experienced and the idea of cancer, they were also about Anthony being advised not to ride a motorbike anymore.

Anthony was only 58 back then (the same age I am now) and he loved riding motorbikes. Dairy farmers don’t have much time for hobbies, but this was his and, in retrospect, I now see that this would have come as a terrible blow for Anthony. The cancerous kidney was gone, yes, but this experience altered things in a forever way.

Ming had his first ever asthma attack in that hospital room. My mother took him into her arms while I rushed to find a nebuliser and Ventolin for Ming.

Later that week we brought Anthony home – wan, pale, diminished, and so weak. But he soon got better and went back to milking the cows, enjoying being a father, and loving me with a fervour that devastated me because I could already see the writing on the wall. I’m not a scientist or a psychologist but I do believe that our kidney cancer year somehow made Anthony vulnerable to the many illnesses he has contracted since then.

Now, nearly two decades later, Anthony often reassures me that he is getting better.

Me: YES.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Comments »

4. Lost for words

My visits to Anthony are often very silent and this is fine. The other day, as he was half-asleep in his broda-chair (armchair on wheels), I felt such a surge of love for him that tears filled my eyes.

At one point his own eyes opened properly and he said, “Jules?”

Me: I’m here, Ants. I love you so much!

Anthony: Yes I know.

Me: Actually, you’re supposed to say it back.

Anthony: Yes, I know.

Me: SO SAY IT!

He gave me his half-smile and said, “I love you Jules,” then drifted back to sleep.

Later on, when he woke again:

Me: Do you want me to stop saying ‘I love you’ all the time?

Anthony: Just for awhile.

Me: You want to sleep again. Am I that boring?

Anthony: No, you’re not boring.

Me: What am I then?

Anthony: Just slightly boring.

Me: How dare you!

Anthony: I didn’t mean it, Jules.

Me: So why are you looking at me so ferociously?

Anthony: DESIIIIIIIIRE.

Oh.

Any words I was about to speak were lost within my laughter.

Anthony’s half smile broadened to the best of its ability. The muscles in his face have been so affected by Parkinson’s Disease that he often appears to be angry or unhappy, so a smile is like gold. So one of my main goals for each visit is to somehow get that smile happening. When I can’t, I feel a bit defeated and ask for reassurance that he is okay. His answer is almost always the same but often uttered with a that masked facial expression.

Me: Are you happy, Ants?

Anthony: Always happy.

And once again I am lost for words at how accepting of our circumstance this wonderful husband of mine is.

 

 

18 Comments »