jmgoyder

wings and things

Saying ‘yes’ to surreality

Ever since I was fooled by the plum tree into thinking its blossoms belonged to the avocado tree I am much more aware of how trees that are next to each other seem to have a habit of hugging each other. Here are the photos I took of ‘the avocado blossoms’ several weeks ago. The first one shows why I was confused but the second one shows quite clearly (except to an idiot – me!) that these are two separate trees.

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Anyway, the following photo shows just how tricky these trees can be; here we have a camellia tree masquerading as a fig tree (or is it the other way around?) I showed it to one of the residents in the dementia wing the other day and she said, “What a strange tree!”

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Up close, of course, it is quite obvious that the fig tree is a fig tree and that the camellia tree doesn’t have a sense of personal space.

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Last summer I stopped watering the plants in order to save electricity on the pump; hence most of the ancient rose trees have died (despite a gardeningy person telling me it was impossible to kill roses) but everything else (palms, multiple camellias, un-fruiting orange and plum trees, silver birches, the two fig trees, the two avocado trees, the two pear trees, the lemon tree, the poplars up the driveway, the flame trees, and many other wild bushy looking shrubby things, have survived. This is probably because Anthony planted many of these at around the time I was born – over 50 years ago – so their roots are deep (you see, I have now done a bit of gardening-for-dummies research).

I guess what’s surreal is that, when I took ‘the avocado blossoms’ into the nursing home and put them in a vase, Anthony didn’t correct me and say, “Those aren’t avocado blossoms, silly!” (Actually nobody corrected me until I wrote a post correcting myself and then a friend said to me, “Yeah, I thought you’d definitely lost the plot!”)

Every single person with every single kind of dementia has, I think, has an ability to accept the surreal as real. Yesterday, during a children’s concert at the nursing home, one of the residents kept asking if the woman on my right (another resident) and the man on my left in the wheelchair (Anthony) were my parents, so I explained that one was my new friend and the other was my husband. She looked at me with interest and said, with absolute certainty, “My parents will be here soon”, and I said, “Yes.” By end of the concert she had forgotten about her parents and was fine, delighted as we all were, by the children’s voices.

I’m not sure here, but it seems to me that if someone’s reality is fractured by dementia, and their reality becomes a dreamscape of surreal thoughts, memories and emotions, maybe the best way to respond is in the affirmative, and to say ‘Yes!’

And that is why I still have an avocado tree with pink blossoms!

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Resilience

I used to miss the Anthony of the past terribly – the robust, energetic, boisterous, fun-loving Anthony with the loud laugh – and I still do of course. But lately, I’ve begun to realize that I also miss (and much more-so) the Anthony of now, the Anthony who still IS. In our mutual acceptance of the way things are now – his Parkinson’s disease, the nursing home, our forced “illness separation”, and even the increasing confusion and hallucinations that accompany his dementia, I now find myself anticipating my daily visits to the nursing home with what would, months ago, have seemed an impossible excitement.

The strange thing is that the feeling of obligation to visit Anthony for his sake, has been subsumed under a desire to visit him for my sake. The contentment of these long afternoons together, punctuated here and there by volunteer work, is something I never expected to happen. Okay, so boredom, apathy and fatigue are definitely risk factors here but I’m learning how to counteract the former two by coming up with new ideas whenever something begins to become tedious (like watching episodes of Neighbours!) The latter – fatigue – has been solved by this sudden flu which means I’ve been lolling on my bed for three days reading novels and resting, not allowed to go to the nursing home in case I’m contagious. So Ming and my mother have been visiting Anthony – wonderful creatures they are!

But I miss him so much! I have become so accustomed to these afternoons, this routine – the joy of his smile at the sight of freshly picked camellias (and me), playing the card game “Memory” with him and other residents, eating olives and blue cheese with him, or giving him a piece of my latest cake, helping him with his lunch and sometimes dinner too, watching television or a dvd, combing his hair with the metal comb he always loved that I only just found (and he is thrilled!) And so on. Tiny morsels of pleasure, once overlooked, now savored, now treasured. I have never looked at a camellia the way I do now – never! I have never noticed so acutely the beauty of a white peacock feather nestled in the arms of an avocado tree’s blossoms, a tree that is still providing us with plenty of fruit!

I don’t want to sound soppy and sentimental and goopy, but I do think Anthony and I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have found such a mighty love and I sometimes wonder whether this is why we are both now coping so well with what IS. Actually no, it’s not coping, accepting, persevering, or any other stolid adjective. Instead, a wonderfully weird happiness.

Resilience: Anthony has always had this and now it is as if he has gifted it to me.

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