One of the happier sides of visiting Dorothy in her new ‘home’ is being greeted by the other residents and the staff. There are ten or so others, each with their own room but who share a common dining room and lounge room. There are also two other lounge rooms where small groups can gather, maybe for some group activity or where visitors can have some private times and lots of walk space, inside and outdoors.
There are just two men residents in Dorothy’s little community but, like almost all the lady residents, they don’t socialise much – conversation doesn’t come easily for any residents, or visitors! But that little group have become used to each other, their habits and idiosyncrasies, and have settled into a happy, if not close, relationship.
I have been visiting nearly every day and I am now able to remember most of their names – most of the time – and the staff, too. As I greet them by name they respond with lovely smiles and I think they actually enjoy having me there to share in some of their regular daily activities. I sometimes stay for a meal. That’s a lovely way to be closer to someone over a meal, I always think. Some have difficulty managing to feed themselves because they have forgotten how to handle eating utensils, but the patience of the staff is quite extraordinary and meal times always run smoothly with their help. It reinforces, at my every visit, our family choice for Dorothy’s accommodation here.
I no longer visit every day for several reasons. The first was that it really affects my silly old brain. The reality of separation each time and the permanency of it strikes hard as I leave after a visit. The other reason is that, cruel as it sounds, Dorothy simply doesn’t seem to remember when I last visited. At first, I knew it was difficult for her, too, to accept ‘me going, she staying’. Previously we were hardly ever apart. But as you will know, if you know Alzheimer’s, she soon forgets any encounter and reverts back to the present moment. But…you can’t do that so easily! The staff are really good at momentarily distracting her as I leave. Of course, I always kiss her goodbye and now, most times, her attention shifts to a neighbour or some activity near her as I walk out. The moment has passed for her – and a new moment has arrived, but my moment lingers, my heart aches and I still often shed a tear or two as I head off.
I am beginning to accept the reality of Dorothy’s condition. If you are also ‘in this boat’, I want to tell you that separation will undoubtedly affect you more than you anticipate, but…like me… you will need to accept that we can’t change the situation, or our partner, but we must learn to change ourselves. Change and remain strong in spirit, because only then can we properly and emotionally support our partner. Easy to say, hard to do, but do it we must, and will!
Having a routine is a help; keeping involved in lots of activities, including eating well, and having some exercise is vital (so everyone tells me!). My routine also includes putting some time aside for friends, and visiting, and reading and watching the TV, especially the news! Those things, and an activity like this web page. keeps me going. And mostly in a happy frame of mind, but sometimes the days aren’t long enough!
The routine includes normal household chores, too. Cleaning, meal planning and cooking (well, remembering to unfreeze!) and laundering, are top of the list. Ironing is well down the list, in fact not even on it. Shirt collars are the only part that shows, and these days they look good when drip-dried, anyway! I do have some help, an hour every fortnight to do the bathroom and kitchen thoroughly. I guess as my age reduces my flexibility, I’ll be looking for a bit more help before too long! By not visiting each day, and maintaining a varied and interesting lifestyle away from Dorothy is helping me to be more ‘alive’ for her. I can talk to her about what’s happening in my life; she seems to accept that my life, now, doesn’t include her in what I do when away from her.
That sounds awful, but it’s very ‘freeing’ for me to not be restrained in what I tell her! Yes, I still feel selfish and guilty when I go about my life, alone. But I can’t offer any alternative. To live constantly in Dorothy’s presence, the way she is now, I know would destroy me. By maintaining links with friends, neighbours and family, and continuing to worship each week, I have regained a little bit of my clear-headedness and energy. I need to be a rock for Dorothy, not another problem for my family.
I try to not confine my discussions with others to the singular topic all about Dorothy and how she is. To do so, I think you’d agree, would dominate the encounter and probably destroy a friendship. We all need to share , but that has to be both ways!