Life is a lot to keep up with. You can make as many good plans as possible, you can come up with a variety of best-case and worst-case scenarios, and even still, life will throw surprises at you that you did not anticipate. Some people say, “hindsight is 20/20,” but I don’t think it actually is, because not everyone takes the time to reflect back on what happened to them and the choices they made during those unpredictable times.
Sometimes, it’s in that reflection that you see what is most important to you; some people then have to face that they didn’t make choices they should have in order to prioritize those things. Cue in the regret and remorse. When unpredictable events happen, sometimes the best thing that you can hope for is clarity: that the most important things and relationships in your life rise above all the rest of the chaos, and they serve as beacons to guide you on what you should do next.
So, what do you do when your loved ones experience the onset of dementia or other significant cognitive declines? Many of us will find ourselves (or have already found ourselves) in this situation -- possibly several times -- and even if we thought about it as a possibility, you still don’t know what you will feel about these changes. How you feel about these changes isn't a static, one-and-done either; they will fluctuate in ways you can’t foresee. You kinda just have to ride the different waves as they come. Remember: you're a person (honestly, this is one of the hardest things to keep in mind); you’re not a big rock or a seemingly immovable bluff. If you try to act like a bluff in the midst of big and swirling feelings, you won't make it through very well.
When I was a teenager, my grandma’s cognitive decline was not a steadily-paced slope. A little bit after my grandpa’s death, we moved her into our house for a few weeks before we moved her into a close-by senior home that had an independent living wing, an assisted living wing, and a memory care wing. During this time, we learned that she had been having a series of small strokes a few times a year.
We knew she had aphasia (impairment of being able to understand or say words), and that we had to sometimes sleuth out what she was trying to tell us. When we sold her house to move her into the senior home, she wrote a list of things for us to save to bring into her new apartment. We could understand most of the list, but I remember one mysterious item: “woodpecker.” Her aphasia at that time made it so she couldn't say the exact word she wanted, but often the words she actually said were somehow connected to the desired word. I put my detective skills to work and decided that she meant her Audubon bird clock, which would play a different bird’s song at the top of every hour. Turns out I was correct!
I don’t remember much about this time when she was living with us: just that all of us would remind her to drink more water and that she would enjoy watching her shows: “The Andy Griffith Show,” “MASH,” “Gunsmoke” (my brother says the intro theme song still shows up in his dreams), and Detroit Tigers baseball games. I remember more about visiting her when she was in the independent living wing of the senior home.
Continued on next blog....