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.

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Mary Ann and I have now had our fifteen minutes of fame.  The article on our situation, with picture and all, was published  in our local paper yesterday morning.  The fame has already faded.  Oh well.  Who wants to be plagued by the paparazzi anyway. 

At various times during the day today, I stopped by the computer to read  posts on the spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia online support group.  Since there is an expectation of confidentiality in that group, I will use no names. 

One member of the group wrote a very graphic and painful post, venting a level of frustration she feared would shock all of us.  She revealed a depth of pain that is almost beyond description.  What drove her to write was not just a passing moment of feeling sorry for herself.  It is hard to imagine anyone going through the impossible dynamics of her circumstances and surviving. 

What is more frightening is that no one was shocked at her shocking vent.  They understood.  She just put into words feelings that many in the group experience.  What is frightening about it is that it revealed just how much pain there is out there.  What is frightening about it is that those of us who are not yet experiencing the later stages of the dementia in our spouses have that level of pain to look forward to. 

One of my first thoughts was thanksgiving that Mary Ann has a comparatively mild level of dementia at this point in its progression.  We have a quality of life that would be the envy of many who are immersed in the worst of the dementia.  We can get out to eat — maybe a little messiness, but the job gets done.  Mary Ann’s memory is still better than mine.  That is pretty scary!   Since she is lighter than I am; I can still provide the physical help needed to get basic needs met.  Our communication is limited, but it still happens.  We can travel, with some difficulty, but we can do it.  Mary Ann’s needs are still within the range of our friends who volunteer to spend time with her while I do other things.  Most nights she sleeps reasonably well. 

As I have revealed in some of these posts, we have frustrating challenges that push us to the limit.  We live in a narrow margin of functionality.  We are one fall away from the end of being able to manage here at home.  Any compromise to my health could destroy our system here with one another.  None of the other options out there is acceptable to either of us.  One or the other of them might become necessary, but they are still not acceptable. 

While the difficulty of our situation does not measure up to so many others’ situations, venting frustrations is still a necessary safety valve.  Those of us to do the caregiving and those who receive it need to release some pressure once in a while to stay sane! 

I am convinced that it is healthier to name the pain we are in once in a while, to admit to ourselves and whomever we trust enough to do so, that we just can’t handle it any more.  It is far healthier to vent than it is to try somehow to sustain the illusion that we are fine when we are not always fine.  We may want everyone to think we are noble, self-giving, saints who just love caring for our Loved One every moment of every day.   The price we will pay for maintaining that fiction will at some point be a psychic meltdown — probably a physical one too. 

The challenge is to find ways to vent our frustrations without hurting ourselves or anyone else.  One of the best ways seems to me to be just what the person in our online group did when she wrote out all those thoughts that seemed to her to be so horrible.   Another way to vent effectively would be to have a trusted friend or cluster of friends who can listen to some ranting and raving without getting upset with you, or worse yet, telling you that it isn’t as bad as you think. 

Some work out their frustrations in other ways.  The occasional, “oh fiddlesticks” or “gee willikers” spoken with great gusto can release a little tension.  Just make sure that the grandchildren are not within earshot.   One of my vents of choice is to string together a long, loud and involved rational explanation as to why what just happened should not have happened.  My kids just loved those lectures.  They would often say, “Dad, can we hear that lecture again, it would be so good for us.”

I have said this in former posts.  Taking the time to process what we are going through and writing about it in this blog has provided a surprisingly powerful mechanism for working out my frustrations.  Maybe it is as simple as talking the frustrations to death.  (And  you wonder why my posts are so long.)

There is a piece of reality that frees me to take off the rose-colored glasses, look past any illusions about my goodness, or strength of character, and expose the nastiness in me, the ugly character flaws.  I understand the One who made me to love me so powerfully that my nastiness, character flaws, even my doubts and anger are not strong enough to ward it off.  I can vent to my heart’s content and remain safe and secure, able to get on with life in a meaningful way after the safety valve has released some pressure. 

For those of you who do not share my understanding of reality, the same is so.  Setting aside the pretense and the illusions and facing down the harsh realities of who and what we are, provides us with a sort of reality therapy that allows us to get through the worst times and come out able to live meaningfully in the face of terrible circumstances. 

Caregivers need to vent frustrations.  Just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else when you do the venting!

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.