(photo: Piper & Kitty)
The first time I started attending an educational series about Dementia, I quit. There was too much information, too soon, for me to cope with. I spent the first evening in tears (heavy, snotty, loud, unstoppable tears), and the second evening trying so desperately hard NOT to cry that I couldn’t focus on what was being said. I didn’t go back to the third session until two years later.
The moment I remember as most heartbreaking was a discussion about doll therapy as meaningful work for people living with dementia. I disagreed through my tears. ‘In my opinion, that is not meaningful work.’
‘Well, not work, exactly,’ conceded the facilitator.
‘Nor meaningful,’ I argued. I probably fought to shut out an all too clear image of my husband holding a doll in his arms, cooing to it, singing, comforting a lifeless piece of plastic. Even if it made him feel better, useful, less lonely? I asked myself. Well . . . Surely there had to be more value to a life - his life - than that.
I was wrong. Completely, utterly wrong. Then, I was still trying to pull Doug back into my reality. It took me some time to understand that it’s my job, as his caregiver, to enter his reality. And it was our niece who reminded me how easy that can be.
Of all his roles in life, I think my husband has enjoyed being “Uncle Doug” more than any other. He has loved spending time with his nephew and nieces, and his are often the first presents opened “because you know it’ll be the best!” One summer day our youngest niece came to play. The deck was a pirate ship, the beach was a beauty salon, the lawn was a gymnastics studio, the lake was a mermaid cove filled with dolphins, manatees, and narwhals. It took me no effort at all embrace this imaginary world . . .
OK, of course it’s not that simple. But with time, and patience, and practice, I learned how to slip away from what I consider to be real, and join Doug in the place he’s inhabiting. I can talk with people he sees (and I don’t), can “remember” a recent dinner with his (late) parents. I can carry on a one-sided conversation.
I have never questioned my niece's love for the Douglas stuffed animals her Uncle gave her. Why did I ever think love for an inanimate object had to end with childhood? Last year I bought my husband this cat. She is loved (but survives when ignored), meows, purrs, stretches. She provides a good conversation starter, is a good listener, can be petted and carried (but also dropped). (Bonus: she doesn't need feeding, and doesn't have a litter box requiring daily attention.)
(photo: contents of box may not be exactly as depicted!)
I try to do the best I can, with the information and resources I have. I’m often wrong; I am thankful for so many second chances.