The Disappearing of Mike
Each day is a new challenge. Today for the first time as we were coming home from the hardware store and I mention that we must park under the carport, I can see the puzzled look on his face. There is a long silence and the he says “We don’t have a carport”. I explain that it is beside the house. Then he says that he can’t picture what I am talking about. “I keep thinking of the house on Toledo Street,” he says. We have not lived there for almost 30 years. We are just a few blocks from the house and I tell him it’s alright he will remember when we get closer to the house. As we round the corner to our house he smiles and says “I remember now.”
This is my friend, my husband, the man I have loved since I was 16 year old. We have been married for 44 years and he is only 65 years old. The last four years I have watched Mike disappear little by little. But I try hard to look at each day as a blessing. Now he does not worry about work or bills or what needs to be done to the house to fix it up. Those things are my worry now. He spends hours listening to music or out in the back yard throwing a ball with the dog. Some days he will become obsessed with something he thinks has to be done. This can be a challenge because it is hard to convince him that it is taken care of. The man who never would do a dish is now proud when he gets the dishwasher loaded. He likes to take out the trash even if he does it more often than it needs to be done.
I have been asked to share with people how I cope. The truth is sometimes I don’t, but most of the time I do. First and foremost we have 2 wonderful children that love their father and help me daily. Our daughter lives with us and our son comes once a week from about 75 miles away to spend the day with his father. They are my support.
Mike's mother died from Alzheimer’s, and I did help care for her so some of the things I learned are because of that.
Number one: PICK YOUR BATTLES. I can’t say this enough. Example, my father-in-law would try to convince my mother-in-law that this was not her mother’s house or that she did not need to go home because she was already there. When I convinced him to just agree with her or to just get in the car and drive around for five minutes to “take her home” she was a lot happier. We are getting to the point now where when he says that he just fixed the sink yesterday or the grass was just mowed we agree and make an excuse why we are doing it again. What difference does it make in the big picture. If you do convince them they are wrong you only end up making them feel bad and stupid. Keep the battles to the ones you have to wager. When you have to make them stop pulling the plugs out of the TV and you can’t fix the computer again that he built because he keeps breaking it.
Number two: Find things that they can do, like setting the table or helping make the bed. Mike likes to be busy with his hands. He used to build computers, and could fix anything so when he gets real head strong about wanting to “fix” all the electronics in the house, we have a large bowl of nuts, bolt, and screws and we set him down at the table and have him sort them.
Number three: Mike wants to help so when we are working around the house he will say "What can I do to help?" I know he will forget before he can go do anything I ask him so I will give him only one thing like “will you get me a wet paper towel?” As he is headed to the kitchen I will say it again, and while he is in the kitchen I will call out to him, “wet paper towel” and then make a joke about it. Sometimes I will even sing song the thing 3 times and then laugh and say now you can’t forget because I said it 3 times. He knows he forgets and it is hard to watch. The other night I left my phone in the car and without thinking I asked him to go back out to the car to get it while I was putting up the groceries when I realized what I had done and went out to the car he was sitting there going through everything in the car trying to remember what I had asked him to get.
Number four: Take care of yourself. Keep seeing friends and going to do the things you like to do. Don’t give up your life completely. It will not help your loved one. I work a very part time job, about 12 hours a week. I go to lunch with a girlfriend once a week. About once a month, thanks to my daughter, I drive to a nearby town to spend the night with my sister. I know that there will come a time when I will not have this much freedom, but we will cross that bridge when it comes.
Each day brings new challenges, but if you meet them with humor and love it makes your life a little easier. The other day my sister came to the house for the first time in several months and when she came through the door, Mike looked at her and said “Who are you?” The look on my poor sisters’ face, but then Mike started to laugh and said “gotcha”. Keep looking you will always find them in there someplace. Until the day my mother-in-law died, when my father-in-law would get ready to leave the nursing home, he would bend down to kiss her goodbye and she would always turn her face to him. Mike comes from a long line of love.
Writings and personal experiences from caregiver Katie Rowley
October 1, 2012