Alzheimer’s has been kind to my father-in-law.
It has softened George’s mind in such a way that he doesn’t remember what he was like before. He doesn’t remember his life even a year ago, when he could still drive. When he could still go play poker sometimes. When he could still manage a conversation without losing track of what he was saying three or four words in.
He’s not angry. He’s not afraid. He’s happy.
His doctor says this is the best you can hope for with Alzheimer’s.
Dementia has been way more of a bitch to his wife.
Carole is still sharp enough to understand exactly what’s happening to her. She is terrified of how fast her independence is slipping away and how much her life is changing. She cries easily. She gets angry and frustrated, but doesn’t have the words anymore to articulate those hard, heavy emotions.
Dementia highlights her innate personality traits that, when she was healthier, she could control. Like her tendency to be passive aggressive.
Instead of asking ‘what’s for dinner?’ she says ‘I guess I’ll make sandwiches for dinner.’ And if I take her at her word — that she wants to make sandwiches for dinner — she gets angry.
Even though I make dinner for her and George every night of the week, no invitation required.
As she slips deeper into dementia, her anger becomes more and more childlike. She won’t look at me. She stomps around the kitchen, making dinner at three in the afternoon, looking for attention that she won’t actually accept.
She cries. She always cries.
She says, we’re a burden on you, just find us our own apartment.
Which, of course, is another act of passive-aggression. She doesn’t want her own apartment.
And I want to say — Christ on a cracker, why don’t you want your own apartment?
And also — You aren’t a burden.
I say both. Or I have said both, lots of times.
It helps for me to tell her that she’s not a burden. She wants to stay in our house. She desperately doesn’t want to go into assisted living, even though it would mean more independence and more activity.
Less sitting in her room watching game shows. More bingo and friends and group activities.
But she won’t consider it. She can’t bear to have it brought up.
Dementia has been less kind to her than to her husband. She is intensely aware of her decline. She’s afraid.
I think it scares her that George isn’t afraid. He had a strong personality, right up until about a year ago. He made every decision. Carole revolved around him like the moon around the Earth.
She’s come unmoored in her orbit and she’s not handling it well.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.