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Alzheimer's is just part of "in sickness & health" for this caregiver.

I recently watched a clip on the internet where Pat Robinson talked about advising a man to divorce his wife who was a victim of AD.  Mind you, this is not a criticism of the Reverend or the man’s desire to begin a new life.  We all do what we have to do.

“She’s gone,” the distraught husband had told Robinson.  “She’s gone — just gone.”  Affirming what he believed to be true, the husband was seeing another woman. Understandably, he yearns for companionship, happiness and everything that was once held so dear in making life worth living.  Advising that he remain financially responsible for his wife’s wellbeing, a divorce was recommended.  After all, the man had already left his marriage. With advice from clergy — not necessarily approval — I am certain the husband felt an enormous burden lifted from his shoulders.  Nevertheless, it isn’t my place to be anyone’s judge.

There was nothing said about his age or how long they had been married.  A good while ago we had friends who were a few years older than we – married for a long time.  Happily married with grown  children and numerous grandchildren, Jean and Boyd lived a good life.  Suddenly, Jean became very ill with cancer.  Together, they fought the brave fight, but lost.  Boyd was left alone and not even the devotion and company of his children was enough.   Loneliness is a torturous and demoralizing companion.

Eventually, he married again and for a while the newlyweds were happy.  The new wife, and I’ll call her Sadie, was a good woman who had been widowed, so it was natural for two lonely souls to reach out to one another.  However, the fates were not kind and within a few years, Boyd developed Alzheimer’s.  Coping as best she could, for as long as she could, Sadie finally returned Boyd to his children saying, “I’m gone,” and she divorced him.

I can’t say that I was surprised.  Dedication and long-term caring for a victim with AD is no easy task.  A few years of togetherness, even in a happy, but short, marriage, doesn’t form a good, solid foundation such as one fortified with 40 or 50 years of history which creates the required devotion and “long suffering” it takes to see the illness through to its ending.  I don’t blame Sadie for ducking out.

If all the stats were in, and this is only a generalization, I do believe that women are better at coping and as caregivers than their counterparts, and I’m not talking about Sadie.  Most men are not natural nurturers, whereas women appear to come equipped with budding broad, encompassing wings and caring hearts, bursting into full bloom with the birth of the first child, or some other life-changing phenomenon.  From there on in it just gets better.

And yet I’ve seen friends show by their actions that my observations may be biased, if not downright wrong.  After a year or so caring for his wife Elaine, Arch moved the two from their family home into a cozy apartment in a semi-care facility where they could be independent with help as needed.  He cared for her as she muddled along with mild AD in a most kind and loving way until he fell, broke some ribs and died of pneumonia.  It was then they separated, she going to the home of their son and his wife and finally to a full-care facility, and he to eternal rest.  Perhaps I can again return to the thought that we just do what we have to do, and it probably has nothing to do with gender, nor does it have anything to do with right or wrong choices, but it has everything to do with us as individuals and who we are.

I’m reminded of a sweet email that circulates across my screen periodically.  It tells of an old man waiting to have stitches removed from a minor cut on his hand, and continues something like this:

The nurse watched as he fidgeted and looked at his watch, and then asked if he had another appointment.  He explained that he spent each morning feeding his wife breakfast at the nursing home — something she could no longer do because of having Alzheimer’s.  “Does she know you?” the nurse asked.  “No,” he answered.  “Then it won’t matter if someone else feeds her breakfast just this one day,” she concluded.  “It will to me,” he replied.  No need to wait for the doctor. The nurse quickly removed the stitches and sent him on his way.  An added p.s. reminded us that we all need to learn how to dance in the rain.

“God won’t be angry with you,” said my son-in-law Tim.  “If you need to place Ken in a full-care facility, I’m sure He will understand.” Attempting to ease my worry following a horrendous automobile accident early in 2010 I knew he was guiding my way into options for my return home and decisions which would have to be made.  “It isn’t about God,” I replied.  “It’s about me.”

As it worked out I have wonderful caregivers to help with Ken and I’m glad he’s here at home.  I’m glad I can come and go without guilt, or do busy work and stop in my chores to pat his shoulder and say, “Hi, Hon.  How are you doing today?”  He may mumble something or he may not, but he’s here with me, and that’s what I want – what I have chosen.  I’m glad that I can check on him before I go to bed, tuck in the covers, kiss him on the forehead and tell him once again that I love him. “Through sickness and in health – till death us do part.”  Divorce?  For me – that’s not an option.

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“Ow!  That hurts my back,” I groaned, not knowing where I was, who was moving me or why.  Aware of bright lights, sirens and men’s voices, I heard someone say, while enclosing my neck in a brace, “Broken neck, possible broken leg.”  I thought, “Are they talking about me?  I don’t want a broken leg, much less a broken neck.”  I had no way of knowing what had happened, but suddenly the thought ran through my mind that I had been in some kind of accident.

Across the inside of my head stretched a blackboard which appeared to be blank.  Slowly, printed in white, as if someone were writing with chalk, there flashed a phone number.  Call my son,” I mumbled, repeating the numbers before me.  Then, as surely as I knew Keith’s phone number, I repeated both Ken’s and my HMO medical numbers.   “I have a pacemaker and my husband has severe Alzheimer’s.  Don’t let him wander away,” I added, somehow knowing they would need all of the important information.  “Can you tell me your name and birth date?” another voice asked.  I answered his question and gave him Ken’s name and birth date as well, then faded into an unconscious place.

Obviously, the driver of the maverick car did not correct as I had assumed.  Instead, his vehicle must have remained in the diagonal line aimed in my direction.  I was like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery, the trajectory of his set course was fixed on me.  He couldn’t miss.  In retrospect, who could have known he had spent the afternoon drinking and was drunk out of his mind?   Authorities could only calculate the speed of his car as it crashed into my SUV just behind the driver’s door.  Out of control, the maverick bounced off before slamming two more times into the rear of my vehicle, spinning it wildly before coming to a stop — facing in a southerly direction.

Inside, I had been unaware of  impact, the first blow no doubt knocking me out cold.  I can only speculate on what followed.  The seat belt, which I had buckled, failed.  I believe it retracted on impact, and in so doing snapped the metal-locking end into my lip, cutting it just under my nose at the same time knocking out one bottom tooth.  The air bag deployed, but without the seat belt holding me in place it was ineffective.  Lacking any restraint, I became air born and was somehow hurled through the window and onto the street where I lay until paramedics arrived. 

By comparison, Ken’s injuries were minor, but still required several days of observation in the hospital.  Restrained, confused, combative and unhappy, our concerned children insisted he be released for better care at home.

While my family waited and worried outside the trauma unit, I was finally stablized by a group of dedicated and extraordinarily skilled doctors following an hour and a half  of intense effort.  Medically, I was a mess.  The team of professionals battled various internal organs which threatened to shut down because of shock; there were cuts, contusions, blood loss, and massive bruising, broken ribs, a broken neck and head fracture.  They worried I could suffer a stroke or be paralyzed as the neck fracture was a top vertebrae pressing on vital areas and nerves which commanded life itself.

During a moment of consciousness I requested a blessing of healing from the clergy of my church.  Their anointing words of comfort, hope and promise fell upon me like a warm blanket on a cold night.  Finding peace among the turmoil I also found rest, allowingy myself to let go and let God further work His  miracles.  When awareness allowed me to ponder, I reviewed my broken and bruised body and while I will never dismiss the seriousness of my many and varied injuries, I am still amazed that I only suffered a broken neck, head fracture and broken ribs.  In actuality, I should be dead.  I can only believe there must be some part of my life’s mission which has not been completed.  Why else would Heavenly guided unseen hands cushion my descent to the pavement?

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