By: Craig Cottingham
Craig and his wife, Randie, lived together in Bothell, Wash. for over 40 years. Randie now resides in Kirkland, Wash. at an adult family home.
When I look back at how my wife Randie and I struggled with her dementia, some of the solutions were counterintuitive.
At one point, she surmised that all the pieces of bark and dirt she was picking up from the floor on her hands and knees, were being delivered deliberately by our neighbor. She wanted to call the police. I gave her rational explanations, like, our very large dog and both of us brought them in when we came inside. She had no capacity for rational explanations and became more and more agitated.
When I reached out to her sister to help me reason with her, she came over immediately. She totally accepted Randie’s point of view and reinforced her desire to call the police. I was shocked, dismayed and felt betrayed. I vowed never to reach out for help again.
But the more my wife’s sister “took her side,” the more my wife calmed down and let go of her extreme agitation. The next day, she no longer brought the issue up. It never seemed to bother her again.
Being a 24/7 caregiver gave me the sense that I knew what was best about everything. Now I know that rational explanations, etc., can be useless at times dealing with dementia. I felt it was always important to share the truth, explanations, knowledge with her. But, I shared it in kind and gentle ways. The best I could do was to get to know her, enjoy her, love her, as she moved through the stages of diminished capacity.
I now try to share bits of joy and laughter in our conversations. I have gratitude for whatever recognition seems to appear. I hadn’t been able to be in her physical presence for a year because of the pandemic. I accept how she is each day, anywhere on the spectrum.
I’ve finally made some progress enjoying myself and my own company as I am alone now.
I marvel at how generous, kind and caring all the people in my life are. It is truly a wonderful world of thoughtful kindness.
A month later, I re-read these words and realize how things have changed. She continues to deteriorate. Her body jerks at times. Her hands are cold and she has no interest in moving or going outside her room. Sadness envelops me like a dark cloud, mist shrouds my eyes like soft rain.
Although I can visit in person now, the isolation bubble I’d maintained for over a year suffocates my natural optimism. Loneliness contains my aspirations. The phone calls in the morning went somewhat well, recognition seemed present. But now I’ve given that up as well. Grieving and loss pervade my self-awareness.
Exercise and hydration are my lifelines, though absent from my routines, I know they can get me back on track. Oddly, they don’t occur to me. I have to focus on my own health. I’ve become less active, gained way too much weight, often feeling listless. I need to engage, be more social find some joy in my separate life.
The Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter invites you to join us for the 2022 Journey Conference for dementia family caregivers on March 5, 2022, in Lynnwood, WA. This free, all-day event offers education, information and resources — as well as inspiration and encouragement for the caregiving journey. Light refreshments and lunch will be provided.
Learn more and register at alzwa.org/conferences or by calling 1.800.272.3900.