Saturday, October 22, 2011

Does Alzheimer's short circuit grief or make it worse?

Does AD interrupt normal processing of events, such as grieving a divorce after being married more than 35 years? I grabbed my second husband straight off the courthouse steps, so to speak, and we became a couple before the ink was dry on his divorce papers. In fact, we had met the year before, when he was still married but separated. I, on the other hand, had been divorced 17 years and had already gone through grieving the loss of a life that was not all bad. I had sorted through all the physical, mental and spiritual junk and had moved into another realm.

He hadn’t.

Therefore, it should have been no surprise to me when it hit him; it took me a few months, however, to realize that this was normal grief and not part of the disease.

His divorce is seven years old, where mine is 25 years old. We married less than two years ago. Still honeymooners. If that seems surprising in the face of this horrible disease, just chalk it up to the triumph of the human spirit. Even AD has not wiped out our attraction for one another. Not yet anyway. So when he recently started vocalizing constantly about all the mistakes he has made, I naturally assumed he considered me one of them. But he doesn’t.

What’s happening is a tribute to our love and devotion to one another. He is falling apart, but he’s doing it in a safe place. At some level he trusts my love enough to reveal himself to me. He isn’t grieving the loss of his ex-wife, the person. He’s grieving the loss of that life. It was a life where he was young and healthy, strong and dependable. He knew who he was as well as lifelong friends and neighbors. Now he is in a different state geographically as well as emotionally. His state of mind changes daily. He can no longer trust his own eyes and ears. His feet and legs betray him often. He denies AD as the problem, but he knows his mind is an ever-changing array of confusion. However, deep down in his soul he knows God gave me to him to help him through this. Or maybe that’s my imagination. Even so, I believe it strongly enough for both of us. And at nearly 70 years of age, I have learned to trust my signal that something is right. It is joy.

When I have hit on the truth about something, I feel joy.

Joy is the tipoff.

Now I can listen to him lamenting without feeling sick about it. Yes, in addition to AD, my husband is coming apart. No, I can’t reason with him and make him feel better because his reasoner is broken. But I understand completely because I went through the same thing after my divorce.

I was married to my first husband for 31 years, and believe me it was not all bad. I missed so much about that life when it was over. I had to reinvent myself. And for my new husband to have to reinvent himself now that he has Alzheimer’s? How is that supposed to work?


I’m trying to find a way to make this funny. Ever since I had my knee replacement, my husband is obsessed with housework – cobwebs mostly.

Actually, he freely admits that until I was away from home for three weeks, he never noticed them before. Believe me, that is not because they were not there. It’s just that we live in the country, amidst spiders and such. Ya knock ‘em down, they build ‘em back. No big deal.

Until now. When I was in rehab he began noticing things like dust and cobwebs. He figured out a system to make cleaning the kitchen easier. (This you will not find me complaining about.) Dishwashers were foreign objects to him. Now our dishwasher is his friend.

This could be funny. He went to Lowe’s and bought a 12- foot pole to attach to the vacuum so he could reach the high ceilings. One night he cleaned them all down then took a flashlight the next morning and located the offenders. He killed at least half-dozen grandmother spiders. They are not large enough to be grandfather spiders. This is why this is not funny: He hates our home and where we are living. At a time when I most need to be settled in my life, he is in such an uproar that he actually said, out loud, “How did two people ever get themselves into such a tragic situation.”

-- Tragic? I asked.

-- Yes. This is a tragedy.

I walked out of the room, thinking This man is not only demented, he is a fool.

Dementia is so much more than memory loss.

And the last thing dementia is, is funny.