It seems so unfair to complain about frustrations with someone who is suffering from such a terrible cluster of diseases, Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, and heart disease on top of all that.  My aches and pains and various annoyances are tiny by comparison to Mary Ann’s challenges.

Someone in the Lewy Body Dementia Spouses online group replied to me this way [I am paraphrasing]:  You may not have the disease, but, as the primary Caregiver, you suffer from it too.

Those of you who know Mary Ann love her and respect her very much.  Those who know her best know that she has a chip on her shoulder that refuses to allow her to let anyone push her around.  It is one of the things that drew me to her and one of the things that drives me crazy!

With this complex and maddening combination of symptoms that come and go and come again, sometimes in minutes, dealing with the ordinary daily activities can be utterly frustrating.

Mary Ann can move from concluding something completely untrue and impossible in her less lucid moments, seeing things that simply are not there, to being completely clear in her thinking, remembering events more accurately than can I. One result of the times of dementia and lucidity being interwoven together, is that I am not sure whether to take seriously what she is saying or not.  I am not sure if she is confused about something, unaware of what she is really saying or doing, or she is willfully exercising pushback, proving again that she can do what she chooses no matter what effect it has on me.

Last night was a restless night.  No amount of begging her to stay settled in bed could keep her from getting up.  Again, there were multiple trips to the commode, even when there appeared to be little or no actual need to use it.  There were changes in the covers, shifts from facing one direction to facing another, need for a snack.  Then this morning she decided to get up at 6:45am to eat and take pills.  Normally, she sleeps until 8:30am or 9:30am.  I was up with her most of the first half of the night.  There is no point in my trying to get to bed and to sleep during her restless times.

After pills and breakfast she wanted to watch television.  Once she is up, I have to be there with her, awake and accessible to her since she gets up and walks, subjecting herself to the likelihood of a fall.  Her schedule determines mine.  She reluctantly agreed to lie back down in bed.  Gratefully, she slept for almost three hours, allowing me to do the same to try to make up for a very sleepless night.

The frustrations continued with our at least daily battle over what to eat.  There were available to her, chicken salad that I had made, fresh sliced smoked turkey and provolone cheese, some lasagna from the freezer, some roast beef and vegetables from the freezer, eggs, bacon, fresh strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe. seedless white grapes.  I spent at least forty-five minutes trying to get a response on what she would eat.  She came out to the kitchen in her search for something else different from what I had offered.  I asked about the lasagna, which she had liked very much.  She said it wasn’t as good the second time.  That one pushed me to the edge.  I asked again about the smoked turkey.  She said no.  Then, after almost an hour of this, she mentioned salami.  We had gotten that when we got the turkey at the store. It was hard for me to accept that it took that long to find our way to something she was willing to eat.

My assessment of her goal was that we go out to eat.  Since we can’t afford to eat out every day, that goal is frustrating to me.  We had gone out the last three days.  To waste all that food in the refrigerator because it just didn’t measure up to the wants of the moment is an intolerable thought to me.

The rest of the day was spent watching reruns of the most depressing and demoralizing accounts of the criminal behavior presented in vivid detail in a marathon of one of the incarnations of the Law and Order Series.  Since the house is small and I need to be very accessible to Mary Ann, it was hard to avoid at least seeing portions of some of them.

We did manage to get out for a while (a very hot day) to get some ice cream.  Then there was church tonight.  We had some freshly made food brought over to the house by a parishioner and friend later in the afternoon.

In writing this post, I have risked diminishing Mary Ann by speaking so candidly about my frustrations.  She has reason enough to be frustrated with me at least as much as I am with her at times.  She does not have the luxury of writing out those frustrations for others to read.

As unfair as it is, this is one of the ways I process my frustrations so that I can maintain my equilibrium as I serve her needs all day every day — and night.  My hope is that by putting my frustrations into words here, I can be a better husband and Caregiver to her for as many years as we have left together.

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.

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It was a terrible sounding crash.  I had just gone into the kitchen to take my morning vitamins.  She had had breakfast and pills, was dressed, had been to the bathroom, was watching a television program she likes.  Normally, that is a safe time to walk out of the room for a moment.

Not this time!  It sounded horrible.  I ran out to see what happened.  She was not hurt.  That is the most important thing.  The table lamp was glass, gratefully, it had not shattered when it went flying.  Everything on the end table was spread out on the floor, the phone, a thick ceramic coaster was broken in half, a few other items that had been sitting on it were here and there.  The speaker on the stand next to the table had fallen to the floor.  None of it hurt her.

The end table itself was broken into pieces.  She wasn’t hurt.  That is the important thing.  It is just an end table.  Why did it upset me so??  People are more important than things.

It is odd that some things carry more symbolic significance than the thing or the event itself.  My Dad made the end table.  He was not much of a woodworker, but for at time after he retired he made a number of things out of some beautiful Black Walnut boards. There is a history that is embedded in that table.

My Dad grew up on a farm, but worked in an office his entire career.  Throughout my childhood, we went for rides looking for the perfect piece of property in the country to buy.  When I was eleven years old, he found it, twenty-six acres of woods and creek with a few tillable acres on the other side of the creek included.

One day when Mom and Dad were out there puttering, the weather changed.  They headed into a little seven by ten foot structure made of a few boards and some screens for staying out there on occasion.  When the storm ended, there were at least twenty full sized trees that had blown down, Oak, Ash and Black Walnut.  Three of them had fallen on three sides of that seven by ten, flimsy box they were in during the storm.

Those trees were cut into three-quarter inch thick boards and then dried at a local lumber yard.  The Oak and Ash trees became board and bat siding on the house they built to move into when Dad retired.  The Black Walnut boards provided paneling for the basement and end tables and book cases and lamps and candlesticks, a coffee table, and other items that reside in the homes of their children, the five of us, no longer children since now we range in age from 66 to 80 years old.

It is just an end table.  It’s demise is a reminder that nothing in the house is safe.  The fall itself is another reminder that we are out of control here.  I reacted with loud questions, “why didn’t you push the button?”  It sits right by her hand.  I come and help when that electronic doorbell sounds. She has been fainting numerous times a day in the last couple of weeks.  I have asked again and again and again that she push the button, that she let me help her when she is walking.

Seeing Mary Ann lying on the floor, seeing the broken table, a lamp that could have broken and cut her, carried with it the painful reminder of how close we are to not being able to sustain this here at the house.  I couldn’t stop it from happening.  She wasn’t hurt, the damage was not to her, just to material things.  I won’t tie her in the chair, but short of that, there is no way to stop her from putting herself and our fragile life here at risk multiple times a day.

A Volunteer came over shortly after this happened.  She has taken the table to friend who will look at it to determine if the pieces can be put back together in some form or another.  We will see.  Then I lunched with a friend who has finally had to move his wife to a nursing home because he could no longer do the very things we are trying to do here.  The challenges of sustaining that arrangement at the nursing home are also daunting.  It is difficult to find the boundary between being able to manage at home and needing to move to residential care.  It is analogous to the plight of the frog in the water on the stove, heating up until he boils, never realizing the danger until it is too late.

While I am physically able to care for Mary Ann here, I will do so.  The one dynamic that complicates that detemination to care for her here is the ability emotionally to do it.  I released some frustration by talking loudly about my feelings when I saw what happened.  Talking with a friend with similar circumstances helped.  Sitting for an hour in my beautiful spot on the hill, watching deer(among them twin fawns), listening to music, thinking, praying, all helped.  Thinking about and now writing this post helps.

As always, the hardest part of an event like this morning’s fall is handling the fact that I am not the sweet, thoughtful Caregiver who is always nurturing, helping without a word of complaint, the Caregiver I should be.  I shouldn’t give a rip about an end table.  She didn’t want to do it.  Later in the day she said, “I am sorry I broke the end table.”  It just happened.  I can’t blame her, but, just as she can’t keep from popping up to walk when at some level she knows she can’t do so without putting our current life at risk, I can’t keep from reacting in that first moment with frustration knowing that it didn’t have to happen.  I need not to pretend that I don’t have feelings of frustration and bury them in that pretense. Trying to do that really would make me crazy.

On the positive side, once its over, we just get on with whatever needs to be done.  My loud talking provides an immediate safety valve release of frustration.  We return to a loving relationship.  The glass lamp is now at the other end of the couch in a place she very rarely goes near.  There is a floor lamp taking its original place.  For the moment in place of my Dad’s table there is an end table that I made, a simple one that should be easy to repair if broken.  I will begin a search for something to put there that has no corners into which she could fall, something with room for the phone and a few items to reside.

It is just an end table, but at the same time it is a symbol of much more in our system of survival here, physically and emotionally.  The table is broken, we are not.

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.