The Big Issue : Edition 442
22 THE BIG ISSUE 27 SEP -- 10 OCT 2013 The Leaving MY HUSBAND LEFT me. There was no unpleasantness, no recriminations or arguments. In retrospect, there were signs I should have picked up on, but I didn't want to acknowledge them. The leaving was slow, but there was no way we could stop it. First, Don was concerned he couldn't remember people's names. I said we all forget names as we grow older; even some young people are hopeless with names. Then there were slip-ups we could put down to age: forgetting a pin-number, diffculty reading the street directory, adding oil to the petrol for the mower... There was disenchantment with television programs, because the plots were too hard to follow, the regular search for keys, wallet and watch. Don had always been laid-back, and nothing worried him unduly. Gradually, though, the anxiety set in, and he became concerned with minute details. Is the door locked? Where is my toothbrush? I don't have any money. Where are we going tomorrow? Where is Hester? (The dog.) Is there any food for Hester? Don went willingly to The Memory Clinic to undergo several tests. We both expected the diagnosis, but when the written report came confrming Alzheimer’s Disease he said, "It's hard to see it in print". The most upsetting result of the test was a restriction on where Don could drive. Later his licence was cancelled. This challenge to his independence, his longstanding status as a capable, responsible adult, hit him very hard. He referred to the disease as "bloody Alzheimer's". Don became self-obsessed, referring to past achievements: his teaching abilities, his retirement career as a marriage celebrant, pieces of furniture he had built. It was so sad to hear him reassuring himself that, although most of his skills were disappearing, he could give a good account of his life. I kept a diary during this time, partly to let off steam and partly to monitor the progress of the disease. As I read over it now, I am ashamed at my anger and impatience described so clearly. I can only hope I controlled much of it, but the record of events proves otherwise. I read where I lost my temper, spoke angrily to Don or burst into tears. In the newspaper, I saw reviews of books and flms where the partner of the Alzheimer's victim is sustained by love, has unlimited patience and sees his or her role as a gift. Well, that's not what it was like at our place. Are these people super-human? Do they have spiritual guidance? Are they born martyrs? Perhaps, I mused, their partner was easier to handle. I felt a little less guilty when I talked to the husband of another 'sufferer', and found they had similar feelings. When people visited us, Don found it hard to follow the conversation. He would wait for something familiar to come up and try to contribute. Sometimes the conversation had moved on to a different subject. Doggedly, Don would rephrase his input, which had long since lost its relevance. Gradually he withdrew from conversation, and sat quietly, unable to keep up. Eventually it became almost impossible for the two of us to have a meaningful conversation. Don lost interest in anything beyond what affected him. There was no point in me telling him about people I had seen, or places I had been, as it was too hard for him to process this information. We couldn't discuss the latest activities, achievements or worries about the children or grandchildren. Gradually, words became so hard for him to remember that I could rarely make sense of what he said. We discovered that there were several community services to help stimulate dementia sufferers. The employees of these services were wonderfully patient. The people they took on LESLEY GRANT DESCRIBES THE GRADUAL DISAPPEARANCE OF A LOVED ONE.