A lockdown is ordered because of danger. It’s meant to control movement, to contain, to protect. It’s designed either to prevent dangerous escape or to stop dangerous intrusion. A lockdown may happen at a prison, a school, a college campus or a computer system. Or at my home.
I call my sweet Barbara the ‘Stealth Lady’. She silently moves from room to room, picking up objects along the way and relocating them. Sometimes it’s a towel, sometimes an important paper I forgot to file (hide). My Stealth Lady can be asleep in a chair near me, when suddenly a door alarm is screaming. When did she wake up and leave the room?
The home health nurse gave me some advice: buy some locks. After that, I kept all outside doors locked except the sliding glass door in our bedroom and the one opening onto the back patio. These have alarms that go off whenever the door slides open. I turn off the front door alarm when a friend visits. Sometimes, I forget to turn it back on.
Twice recently dear neighbors have rung the front doorbell, bringing Barb home. “She was just visiting me in my garage”. Her arm was around Barbara, sweet, comforting. At another time and with a different neighbor, “She was at the end of the cul-de-sac”. This precious lady also had her arm around Barb, sweet, comforting. She was afraid and crying. A friend had come to see Barb the previous night and I forgot to lock the front door. I try not to act incompetent. I feel incompetent. I am incompetent. Every Alzheimer caregiver is incompetent.
Today even the sliding glass doors require keys to open them. I keep the laundry room locked, the walk-in closet, the pantry, the entrance to the living room, the gate on the staircase to the second floor. I eye Biscuit’s dog crate and wonder how large they make them. “Stop That!”, I chide myself.
Normally, a lockdown is temporary. When the danger passes, this emergency step is lifted. While Barbara can walk, she will always be in danger. I don’t want her to get hurt. I don’t want her to be afraid. I will do whatever it takes to protect her. Of the adjustments I have made, I hate this lockdown most of all. Each time I must turn a key, I feel guilty. I hate the thought that I’ll get over this feeling, that this lockdown will become the new normal. But it has to become just that.
Mark Twain says, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” I thank God for three special friends whose wit and sense of humor can make me guffaw. It really makes a difference. –lg
Barb has emerged from dark months of misery into more pleasant days of aching discomfort. In October, a seizure driven crash to the floor left her with a compressed vertebra. For weeks she screamed in pain. Her marvelous doctor was in touch almost daily, working to ease the suffering. At last a vertebroplasty repaired the damage and the pain eased some. But it stalked her, nagging at her, never leaving her alone. The Alzheimer’s Disease blocks her from knowing her own story and keeps her from helping to heal. A curtain has fallen over a brain once filled with purpose and intent, and behind it the cells are daily entangled.
Each new day for Barbara is full of misery, loneliness and suffering. Peace and tranquility are long gone. Eric Hoffer says she’s old and nobody cares about her misery. We know that AD scares away friends. Alzheimer’s and friends are incompatible. “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief,” say the Swedes.
It’s been said that misery is a communicable disease, that half of us could sit at the dinner table sobbing. My daily task is just to deal with things and not be overwhelmed with misery and anxiety. Many find respite from misery through humor. AD destroyed humor in Barbara. This is a challenge because humor is one way I pal around.
I grieve, grieve that the person that has meant so much to me for so long, is daily falling out of my grasp…and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Home is a place of sharing. For more than thirty years we’ve shared our neighborhood, the street where we live, the lives of our family, the things we own. That’s what I need, to share.
I caught a large mouse with an adhesive trap last night. But he got away. I couldn’t share this with Barbara. It was a big funny deal, but I can’t joke about it. I can’t get her advice on planning this small game hunt. And today, when I checked on the sticky traps, I found the washcloths and towels she had thrown on top of them, bonding everything. I got so mad. She had no idea what I was mad about. I can’t even share anger.
In one of his articles in a local paper, a dear friend recently wrote of the sudden loss of his father forty years ago. A drunk driver smashed into his dad’s car and death yanked him away. His words capture the intrusion of grief and its refusal to withdraw. My friend’s words both haunt me and comfort me.
“How could this vital, formidable figure, whom we loved deeply and consistently, suddenly disappear, for no good reason, as if by mere chance? “
“There have been many good days since, many joys and great pleasures. But a certain distress remains, an absence not to be filled. And nothing since he vanished has ever been quite right.”