When Reality smacks you upside the head

Reality bites. hard. Ever notice?

Saturday was one of those reality check days.

Last week was full of beautiful weather days, so when it worked out for us to take a drive to visit someone we love we took that opportunity. It was time for us to visit. She has been failing quickly; each time they brought her to visit us this year there has been a marked difference. Now that she was recently moved into a nursing home (a very good one) it was our turn to go to her.

The three of us got off to a late morning start, directions in hand. By the time we arrived in the area, almost an hour later, we thought she would soon be having her lunch and we didn’t want to interrupt. It was about 11:40 so we found a little seafood restaurant and took our time there.

The instructions we had been given were easy to follow and it wasn’t long before we got pointed in the right direction again. Soon we found the creatively designed, tastefully decorated building – our destination – set back from the busyness of traffic and away from city life. Besides the alternating attractive colour scheme, we noticed high iron gates around well-kept garden sitting areas. It was immediately noticeable that no residents could wander off and get lost or harmed.

After we made our way through security – a must-have feature for this type of nursing home – we found our way to the second level and down winding halls with paintings on the walls and nautical-named units. Upon entering her section we were told she was in the dining area. That’s when reality met us head-on.

Up until that time we knew she had become frail, more and more confused and forgetful, and recently very restless which made it too difficult to keep her safe at home. (If you know much about Alzheimer’s disease then you understand what I’m saying. I’m leaving out a lot.) We were not prepared to see her being fed her lunch. We were not prepared to see this loved one, when taken back to her room where we waited to visit with her, seemingly hardly aware of our presence.

What we expected was to be able to converse with her on some level. We expected to have a conversation that would be disjointed, even nonsensical, perhaps, but at least some kind of communication once she sorted out – even temporarily – who we are. I was prepared for her to not remember me even though she has known me all my life; I could have handled that. That is not what we found. What we found was the cold hard reality of advancing Alzheimer’s. Our sweet, funny, fun-loving, precious loved one is getting away from us. Through the medication that helps to keep her calm and safely and respectably manageable she seems to be fighting to hold on to who she really is, but it is a battle no one yet has been able to win. That is the horror of it. That is reality. Cold. hard. reality.

It was emotional for the three of us. One of us visiting her that day is on the same path, although not as far along. We don’t know if it registered with him that what he witnessed – a journey taken by his father decades before, then his younger brother, and now his youngest sister – is also the strong possibility of where his journey will take him. We don’t know. We won’t ask.

Our drive home was more subdued, conversation minimal, each of us travelling with our own thoughts.

A few hours earlier I was noticing how lovely our Autumn colours are as the leaves are changing from their greens to reds, yellows, and orange hues. I was admiring and thankful for God’s handiwork in the beauty around us. On the drive back home I noticed everything in sharper little snapshots.

Autumn colours

gorgeous displays of colourfully painted leaves, click!

the dull grey of dead tree limbs set against the blue sparkle of a pond, click!

streaks and layers of a rippled blanket of clouds laid across the sky in various shades of grey and white, click!

muddy tidal waters filling a river, click!

stands of tall dead grasses, click!

the small bright green car driving in an oncoming lane, click!

Each place I looked seemed to have its own glory, as if my mind was grasping everything in new awareness, capturing little moments of wonder after a time of sadness. Funny how the mind does that. It’s as if God was reminding me … 

This is reality, too. Enjoy it.

Post Script: I learned while writing this post that she did have a memory of his being there to visit her, and that is good.

Comments? Anything to share?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

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17 responses to “When Reality smacks you upside the head

  1. Such a cruel illness and one that hurts others more than the sufferer. I’m sorry much of the joy of the day was driven out for you. There are advances all the time with Alzheimers and other age related illnesses. I hope there’s a major breakthrough soon.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    • Thanks, David. Yes, what we say about Alzheimer’s is that we lose the person twice … first to the disease, second to death.

      What is exciting is that the leaders in Alzheimer research are right here in Nova Scotia! Yes, they are making advances and I am hopeful they will soon find that essential piece of information to get the upper hand in this horrid disease. There is definitely progress in that regard.

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  2. Having been part of that day, I am certainly thankful for every blessing we receive each day: dirty dishes – we have enough to eat; dirty laundry – we are clothed; housework – we have safe shelter; errands to run – freedom; and the list goes on. So easy to take things for granted!

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  3. A sad but needed reminder to cherish every moment, and the time we have still with our loved ones. Thank you.

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  4. Sometimes it is astounding how quickly a person can go “down hill” especially with a disease like Alzheimer’s. Your post reminds me to hug my kids and call my parents. I believe that you relative, on some level, sensed all of your presence. I do hope you take more time to enjoy the fall colors!

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  5. Alzheimer’s is such a cruel disease. It’s been a 15 year journey for my grandmother and our family so far. In earlier comments, you say Alzheimer’s means you lose the person twice. For me, I feel like it is repeated loss. I have to try to process the loss of her every visit I make (she lives 8 hours away-I wish I could visit more). That being said, my latest visit was one of the best I had had in years. I brought up my daughter – her 8 month old great granddaughter – and she actually made prolonged eye contact with me (that hasn’t happened in years) and called my daughter a very beautiful girl (a lot of what she says now isn’t so coherent so that was very special). I recently blogged about Alzheimer’s (and my grandma) too. I wish you strength and peace on your journey with your loved one.

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    • I am sorry about your grandmother. How very special she was able to express to you what you needed to hear from her, and what she needed to say. I just read what you blogged about her. Well said.
      It is so hard being away like that from your ailing loved one. In one way eight hours is better than clear across the country, (one of my daughters lives in AB, so she might get to spend a few days with family once a year), but eight hours also makes for a difficult day trip. I hope you get to spend many more days with her.
      Thank you for your kind wishes, and for taking time to leave a comment. 🙂

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  6. A very touching post, Lynn. Reality certainly does bite by times. I found in Brian’s mum’s case it helped , not to concentrate on the past, and what was, but to accept the person we were left with. It sounds easier than it is. Still, we all find ways to cope with the harsh realities of life. Spending our time wishing things were different only makes us feel worse. Eventually, we settle in and accept things on some level whether we want to or not.

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    • Laura, I agree. We all cope differently. I think we have to allow ourselves a little time to mourn the loss of the person as we knew them and then move on with the one we have. Much like you said. On Saturday we were faced with things in a way we were not expecting yet, so it was a bit of a shock, since we see her only occasionally. In my own caregiving situation there is regular exposure to the one afflicted, so even though we don’t like what’s happening it is less of a shock when things happen out of character.
      Alzheimer’s is a horrid disease, there is no way around that.
      Thanks for your thoughtful input, much appreciated.

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  7. This is sad, but it is a part of life even if we don’t like that part. I hope your dad still is fine. 🙂

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  8. This post is a good reminder to appreciate who we have while we still have them. Have you read the book, Still Alice. Although it is fiction, It helped me realize what Alzheimer’s can do to family and relationships. Thanks for this heartfelt post. Blessings to you and yours this Thanksgiving.

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    • Yes, Darlene, I have read Still Alice. It is such a good book, as you said, to help understand a little more about Alzheimer’s from the viewpoint of the one with the disease.
      Thank you, and I send blessings your way this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

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I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

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