Life is all about transitions. We are born, we age, we move forward, we learn and we mature. As innocent protected youngsters (if we are blessed by good parents) we grow into adolescents, leave home, become young adults forging independent lives. We embrace middle age and finally older adulthood and retirement. If we are lucky, we reach old age. Lots of adventures. Change happens, even if you don’t leave the city of your birth.
A few months ago I wrote a difficult but heartfelt account of “As Long As We Both Shall Live.” This dealt with our long-term marriage and love story of over six decades. Now my dear husband, afflicted with Alzheimer’s, is in the Memory Care unit of our life care facility. While the pressure of 24/7 caretaking is lifted from my shoulders, the move for John resembles a roller coaster ride. Some days he is cheerful while others he is unsettled. All part of the disease, yet a new phase for my once mostly unflappable hubby.
Having visited him twice a day for over two months, I was advised last week to scale back. “Joy, try to be less predictable. It will help John adjust better.” Yesterday when I told him I was leaving to do errands, he was obviously displeased. By last night, he was better. The disease alters a loved one’s personality. John is “high functioning” versus those who are in the final throes of dementia. At least they are impervious to their situation. What a blessing for them.
A few weeks ago a lovely man moved into the room next to John’s. A kind, courteous and thoughtful fellow whose wife is being treated for brain cancer. While he is “high functioning” on some levels, he is consumed with seeing his wife. The other night as I was leaving, he asked me, “please drive me to my house.” He wanted to pick up his car and visit his wife. Of course, the car keys are no longer accessible. His tired eyes were brimming. He showed me his room, void of any pictures or personal momentos. Both daughters live a few hours away, have children at home. Tasked with the care of their mother whose medical condition is immediate, they have yet to visit their dad. My heart aches for this man. His transition is traumatic. It is painful to see him pacing the halls carrying his walking stick, sun hat on his head, and pleading to be released.
I admire the staff’s serenity and patience. When a resident like John’s neighbor repeats his requests constantly, they divert him or stall him so that he does not feel ignored or dismissed. “Stan’s” determination to visit his ailing wife is so profound that one knows this transition for him is a glimpse of hell on earth.
Although I pretend not to feel guilty when John is unhappy, I am….and my dreams are frequently filled with indications of the struggle we face. Living under separate roofs is a huge transition for each of us. I am conflicted. So far, I am not lonely. Rather I admit to feeling relieved of providing constant care. To have an occasional lunch or dinner with friends is energizing. To pop into bed early, turn on TV, watch a movie or read a wonderful book feels luxurious. And to sleep without interruption is a comfort. But I do miss John’s soft breathing, holding his hand while he falls asleep. Chances are we will never share a bed together again…..gulp.
Yes, this is a huge transition in our eighties. But the changes we elderly folks face are evident all around us. I keep reminding myself that many seniors are not as fortunate. Many people in this country must depend on adult children to care for them. Many over 55 communities cannot provide end of life support…rather they only offer social interaction and efficient living space, minus medical treatment. No matter what, John and I are blessed. I would not want to live anywhere else in the world.
Reading the paper these days indicates how many changes are occurring in our country…in our world. Troops are leaving Afghanistan each day, and worries about the resurgence of the Taliban are real. Bringing our interpreters safely home before the final troop withdrawal in September worries me. But we can’t keep fighting a losing cause. History proves that the middle eastern culture is steeped in its own deeply rooted mores…vastly different from ours.
Concern over the long-range effects of Covid on our youngsters’ learning is real, too. And planned changes in curriculum are anathema for many parents and grandparents. We want our innocent youngsters to grow up untainted by bias. We want them gifted with endless opportunities to learn and grow and to think for themselves, without being told what to think. We want them taught history as it truly happened. And we want each person to be evaluated on an individual basis rather than by skin color or national background. Does this sound idealistic? Probably it does, but our US Constitution proclaims that “all men are created equal.” And as long as I draw breath, I will believe that a person’s CHARACTER is the only yardstick by which to understand him or her.
One of the best advantages of living in many areas of the country (and even Canada) during my 83 years has been the opportunity to meet and know different people, to experience various cultures, and to learn the history of each place.
John and I were born in Cleveland, Ohio where the steel and lake freighter industries provided endless opportunities. My own father was an admiralty lawyer. I grew up taking occasional summer trips on ore boats traveling the Great Lakes. I attended Connecticut College in New London where the Coast Guard Academy was located across our campus and the submarine base was a short distance away in Groton, CT.
After our marriage, we moved to beautiful small-town Ticonderoga, NY and learned about Fort Ti , Ethan Allan and the Green Mountain Boys. Next we enjoyed Edwards Air Force base in California, the home of the X-15 and many future astronauts. Other homes included Salina, Kansas, a Strategic Air Command Base AND the heart of grain silos with miles of endless level landscape.
I loved Mobile, Alabama, its seafood, Mardi Gras whoopla, Azalea Trail Maids and history of the Battle of Mobile Bay. We traveled parts of the Natchez Trail. Far north to Ottawa, Canada with its tulips in spring and Rideau Canal in all its frozen glory enabled business men to skate from home to office.
Five years in Livermore Falls, Maine revealed a tight family oriented town sustained by International Paper Company mills. Livelihoods depended upon paper machines running smoothly. Twelve years in Fairfield County, Connecticut with NYC and its incredible culture a mere hour away…glorious Fun…Plus living near a charming Connecticut town where some of my earliest relatives settled and flourished. Finally we moved to Richmond, Virginia …once the Capitol of the Confederacy…(including a two-year stint in Davidson, North Carolina, the site of charming Davidson College and Lake Norman). We made friends everywhere and learned volumes.
I would not trade our myriad experiences for all the “tea in China.” Transitions demanded invaluable acceptance for this new cycle of life. Does not make it easy, but certainly manageable.
Even if life events allow us to remain in one place, as it did my mother for 94 years, transitions are unavoidable. I watched my mother adapt to widowhood with grace and dignity, yet I witnessed her adamant refusal to leave her home of sixty years. As a result, her last months of life were a traumatic shock for her.
Truth be told, we must make choices as life tosses us challenges. No one has all the answers, no one can choose for another. However, we can adopt the attitude that we will accept whatever happens to the best of our ability.
As one unknown writer so wisely said: “If there were no changes in life, there would be no butterflies.”
Aha! I love this quote and you all, too. Hugs galore.
Top photo: Bigstock