I am not completely sure why.  Some things are harder to accept than others.  There is one visual cue that removes all my ability to keep things in perspective.  It takes me right up to the edge of my ability to cope, and then pushes me over.

There she was, half way across the bathroom, walking with her pants around her ankles.  I had stepped out for only moments to give her some privacy.  On the way out, I asked her to please remember to push the button when she was done and reminded her not to get up until I arrived to help her get up.  She did neither.

That visual cue seems to release my deepest fears that the next fall will be the last one.  It surfaces every feeling of frustration that comes when her choices seem to fight against the very help I am trying to provide.  That visual cue pushes me over the outer edge the confidence that I can care for her here at the house until the end.

I got her dressed, put her on the bed, and had to leave the room for five or ten minutes to gather my composure and try to regain perspective. I wonder if part of my reaction is a safety valve blowing off steam to keep the boiler from exploding.  I wonder if it isn’t a grieving process going on that I ignore until something like that visual cue shatters my illusion of control.  I wonder if part of it is my refusal to admit to myself just how hard this is.

Yesterday morning when I went outside to clear the drive and sidewalk of snow for the Volunteer, she tried to get up from her chair, fell and took with her the table in front of her, knocked the computer monitor to the floor along with a cup with some juice in it and a number of other things on the two tables around her.  She was lying in a heap among all of it. Gratefully, as always, she was not hurt at all.  I was upset that I couldn’t so much as go outside to shovel the sidewalk without her getting up, creating the vulnerability for a fall.  Then I felt responsible.  While she couldn’t remember why she got up, I had not gotten her a new box of Kleenex, I had not gotten her fresh water, I had not taken the audio receiver with me outside so that I could hear the electronic doorbell, which she would not have pushed anyway.  I realized again how hard it is to anticipate every impulse need and provide for it so that there will be no need to get up.  It is hard to anticipate and cover every impulse need of another person — one who cannot tell you those needs in words.

She has been having a difficult time keeping things clear the last couple of days.  There are flashes of lucidity, but most of the time, it the hallucinations have continued, verbal communication has been virtually gone, and there have been times of great confusion.  At supper tonight, after working on the baked potato on her plate for a long time, mostly with her fingers, I asked if she saw the meat.  She said no.  A large piece of meatloaf was there on the plate right next to the potato she had been working on. She has often been in eyes closed mode.  She will be acting in every other respect as if she is doing things normally, except that her eyes are slammed shut tightly.  Often when that happens and I ask her to open her eyes, she will answer that she can’t.  I have learned how to walk her from one place to another when her eyes won’t open.

I just came back from the bedroom.  Mary Ann had gotten up on the side of the bed.  She was trying to pick up needles that were not there.  As we were sitting there, a couple of times she told someone to stop pulling on the quilt hanging on the wall a few feet away.  She asked we how soon we would be getting out of here.  Then she asked how we were going to get all the furniture back.  I asked if she was thinking that we were in a different place from our home and that the furniture had been moved here.  She said yes. Like Capgras Syndrome, this is a Delusional misidentification syndrome.

I just went back again.  This time she asked me to take the girls out of the bedroom.  When I asked if they were our Granddaughters, she said no.

At the same time, earlier today when I mentioned the library, she suggested that we eat lunch there.  Since we couldn’t find a parking place, we at at Bobo’s Drive-in.  At the library, she managed to pick out two books from the large print section. We had sundaes at G’s after the library.  When we got home she ended up wanting a nap.  After an hour and a half, after taking medicine and using the bathroom, I took her out to watch television.  She got up and headed back to the bedroom to nap some more.I had to wake her up for supper.

Back again. She is just having a terrible time accepting that it is night and time to be in bed.  She wanted to get dressed this time.  It is about 12:15am at the moment.

I have just been with her a few more times.  The last time included a snack and a paper towel to wipe up something that was not there.  It is about 1am now.  I am wondering how much of the night will be spent with the delusions and hallucinations.  Last night we were up quite a number of times.  There has been very little sleeping in happening in the last week or so.  The interrupted sleep is not helping the coping skills, nor is it helping the delusions and hallucinations.

I am going to edit this now and get to bed in hopes that my presence will help.  There is no good reason to hope it will help, but I am too tired to stay up any longer.  I guess interrupted sleep is better than no sleep.

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It was disturbing to look directly at her face during a severe episode of fainting.  Her eyes were open but completely blank and empty of any indication of her presence.  She was fighting for air, breathing through her nose, making the ugly sounds that usually come when she goes out completely for a time.  I don’t suppose it was any worse than the worst we have experienced almost daily lately, but this is the first time her head was back so that I could see her face.  Mine was only inches away since I have to use my body to keep her from falling forward.  I guess every other time, her head has been down, so that I only could only see the top of her head or her forehead.  I always thought her eyes were closed during these episodes. 

I guess it was just an encounter with the full reality of what goes on when someone faints.  It is hard to watch her fighting so hard for air.  I am grateful that she never remembers the episodes. 

With that said, actually, today started out better than any in the last couple of weeks.  She had no fainting spells from the time she got up and had pills and breakfast, through getting dressed, and some intestinal activity that has almost always included or ended with fainting.  She did decide to lay down for the usual morning nap, but it was not precipitated by fainting as has been so most of the last days. 

The major fainting spell came after the nap.  There were some other episodes during the day, but not as intense as the first.  Somehow during these last two days  it has seemed as if we are on an upturn from where were heading through last Sunday. 

As you can tell from what I described at the beginning of this post, it is not much of an upturn if it is one.  Especially this morning before the severe episode of fainting, I was feeling as if Mary Ann was rallying.  She may still be doing so.  The thought of her rallying brought to mind something I have gone through with others and have experienced myself. 

As much as any of us who is caring for a Loved One with a chronic degenerative disease or a terminal disease wants our Loved One to improve rather than decline, there is an odd sort of emotional stress that comes with the improvement. 

What happens when there is a decline is that there is a sort of grieving that goes on.  There is a jouney through some or all of the stages of grief.  If the decline is severe and long enough, the Caregiver can make it all the way to acceptance. If the Loved One then rallies, it is sometimes hard to “unaccept” the decline. 

I have been coming to accept that we are in a new stage in the disease process maybe one that is leading closer to the inevitable conclusion sooner rather than later.  Since we have lived on this roller coaster for so many years, I do not simply let go and commit to anything about how permanent a particular change is or how far along we are in the progression of the disease.  It is still hard to let go of the feelings that start to grow in the gut and then realign with a new reality when things improve. 

At the moment, I am not sure how far the decline has taken Mary Ann, whether it is turning around, whether we are at a new normal, whether meds can bring her back to a former level and, if so, for how long. 

The truth is, we don’t actually need to know the answers to those questions.  We both just need to deal with whatever comes each day, making plans, fully aware that we may not be able to work the plans we have  made. 

On this roller coaster, it is scary when we are dropping down a steep decline in the ride, and it is a struggle to adjust when the ride turns us around takes us up out of that decline.    Gratefully on the upswing or downswing we feel secure in the spiritual grounding that sustains us.  It frees us to have all the complex emotions and fears, live with them and through them, without despair.  It is just our life.  The specifics may differ, but it is not unlike the lives of most of us.  There are ups and downs and in betweens.  It is just life. 

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Downstairs on a quilt rack is a queen-sized Sampler Quilt. A Sampler Quilt is a quilt made with many different patterns that serve as samples of traditional quilt blocks. That quilt was stitched entirely by hand — no machine quilting. The stitches are even and very, very tiny, the way quilt stitches are supposed to be. It took Mary Ann two years to transform pieces of fabric into a completed quilt. Parkinson’s has stolen from her the ability to handle a needle at all, let alone sew a quilt.

Those who have a progressive disease with no known cure are forced to watch their abilities, abilities that that helped define them as unique individuals, diminish until each one crosses a threshold that leaves them empty of that ability. Each loss is a little death. It is grieved just as if a piece of her/hiim has died. Each loss brings with it all the same stages that have been used to describe the grieving process that is experienced after losing a loved one.

Most of the times Mary Ann and I find ourselves in conflict it is because we disagree on the degree to which one of her abilities has diminished. She is convinced she hasn’t crossed the boundary that leaves that ability on the other side, out of reach. I am often more ready to find acceptance than she is when an ability is lost to her. While the conflicts are unsettling, seeing her fighting acceptance reassures me that she is still her feisty self. When I see her accept whatever loss it is, I feel a deep sadness that a little of her is lost.

Watching someone you love lose a bit of herself grieves the Caregiver. To put it in more dramatic terms, Caregivers watch their Loved Ones die a little at a time for however long the caregiving goes on. While that is a harsh way to speak of it, calling each loss a death helps put in motion the process that ultimately can lead to acceptance.

Please understand, there is no way to make this part of the life of a Caregiver and Carereceiver pleasant and fulfilling. What can happen is by accepting the loss, full attention can be given to the task of building a new reality that has new ways of finding meaning and fulfillment. That, of course, is far easier said than done.

As a Caregiver, I am tasked with finding new ways to live meaningfully, when old ones are no longer available. I cannot stop the progression of the disease, the process of decline, but I can look for places to stop along the way, places of significance and meaning, places that could not be discovered if still trapped in the grief.

As I was thinking about this today, it dawned on me that the chronically ill and their caregivers are not alone on this journey of loss and grief and the need for acceptance. Every one of us who has seen a gray hair or felt the sharp stab of some arthritis or seen wrinkles where the skin used to be smooth and taut, every one of us who has been defeated at our favorite sport by someone younger and more agile has some grieving to do.

Since we are all mortal and confronted by our mortality at every sign of aging, we all have the challenge of identifying what we have lost and moving through the grieving process to acceptance. Otherwise we will waste the time of life we are in trying to live in a time long gone. We will miss whatever opportunities lie embedded in the present, opportunities unavailable to us until now.

For those with Parkinson’s Disease or any other seriously debilitating disease, the pace of the loss is increased, the degree intensified. There is just more grieving to do and more acceptance to seek. The abilities in those with a progressive disease may diminish to the extent that it seems virtually impossible to find anything left for them to do.

In almost forty years of pastoring, I have been invited innumerable times into peoples’ lives at the death of someone they loved.  (Sometimes it was someone I loved too.)  Sometimes the death came at the end of a long life. Sometimes there was a protracted illness. Sometimes people stood watch as their loved ones died painfully.  Sometimes the death came so suddenly as to leave them breathless, having had no time to prepare or say goodbye.  No matter how it happens, a death must be grieved. It is not a matter of one being harder or easier to deal with, each must be grieved.

For those who are Caregivers for someone with a progressive disease for which there is no known cure, the grieving is spread over all the years of Caregiving.  There are times when the pace is measured by small steps and times when there are frightening leaps toward the inevitable end of the journey.  Grieving is an important process in the journey.  It gives us a chance to express a variety of emotions, to deny for a while whatever it is that has been lost, to spew out some anger, to spend time wondering what we could do to change it, to just feel bad about it for a while and finally to recognize it for what it is, another step we have taken as we travel along with each other and the disease.

When we move through grief in a healthy way, the accepance that comes frees us to be ready to see what possibilities lie in the present.  We are able to see them and judge their value by what is so in the present, not by a past that is no longer accessible.

It must be added that those of us who deal with Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and a number of diseases like them have the even more frustrating challenge of grieving the loss of one level of functionality, only to see it return for a time, then disappear, return again, all without any identifible pattern.  It is sort of like the weather in Kansas and Oklahoma.  If you don’t like it, just wait a bit, and it will change. One loss may be grieved many times.  There is joy when what has been lost returns and sadness when it leaves again.  We have the challenge of grieving the loss of consistency and the ability to make and realize plans based on the abilities that exist at the moment.  We have to develop the ability to turn on a dime and change directions based on what is so in each moment as it comes.  Our need is to come to acceptance that we are not on a train moving at a measured pace in a certain direction.  Our need is to accept that we are on a roller coaster with all the twists and turns, ups and downs, with no way of knowing when or where we will be next.  We know the destination for certain.  We just have no idea when that destination come and the roller coaster will stop.

In the meantime, the journey with Parkinson’s or any debilitating disease accompanying us demands that we learn to grieve effectively.  The grieving helps us find our way to acceptance so that we can live in the present, so that we can see and take advantage of whatever opportunities lie in the present as it really is.  The ability to grieve losses effectively frees us to live with meaning and purpose the life we have each day as it comes.  The day we are in is the only one we have for sure.  Grieving well frees us to live it to the full.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.