Ted has lived with us for about a month now. Until today, I was pretty impressed with myself about how I was handling it. Please understand, I have been stressed and I feel that. Nonetheless, I felt like I was doing a great job. I had researched and considered and developed all sorts of strategies for helping Ted through one of his tough days. At times it had been a bit of a strain to be patient. But, hey, I was succeeding!
Deep inside, I knew that I was due for a fall. I knew because I heard myself think, "Hey, this caring for a person with dementia isn't that big a deal if you do your homework and stick with a few basic principles. Why do people say it is so tough?" I needed a strong dose of humility. I got it.
I woke Ted from a nap so that we could have lunch together. He began to relate a story that he had told me a dozen or so times before his nap. The story may have had a core truth in it, but the variations were huge each time he told it. He and Juanita had been on a beach somewhere and met a wildlife photographer. That much was consistent. Not much else was. The beach was in Florida, Oregon, Brazil, or somewhere else. Juanita and Ted were photographed by accident. Photographed for a fee. Photographed when they tripped a camera sensor. They never saw the photo. The photographer printed the photo on the spot. He mailed the photo to them. They were both in the photograph. Only she was in the photo. Those are just a few of the variants.
Ted became increasingly aware that his story was not consistent. He was very frustrated by his inability to get the details right. I listened calmly. I offered encouragement while acknowledging his difficulty. I tried to nudge Ted toward the positive aspects of the memory. None of that seemed to help for more than a second or two. I came up with what I thought was a very clever idea. I grabbed one of Ted and Juanita's photo albums and said, "I've got a job I think you'll enjoy. Search through these photos and see if any of them are the photo from the beach." The idea was dead on arrival. It was worse than dead. It stirred Ted up even more. There were many photos of Ted and Juanita with other folks. Ted became more and more disturbed as he realized that he had no memory at all of those other folks. He also realized that if Juanita were here, she could walk him through each photo, identify the people, and let him know when it was taken.
"I've lost my memory. I've lost Juanita. I'm not even a person any more. I am just a blob that exists."
"But Ted, you know your room here. Let me show you. See how many familiar things are in this room!"
"Yes, they are familiar, but I can't remember why they are. I don't know where they came from"
There were several more failed attempts on my part and I was beginning to panic. What if Ted was like this a lot? How could I handle it? I thought I knew what I was doing. Wrong.
I thank God that Barbara returned home from her walk about that time. She listened to Ted and said something like "Oh daddy, you will be o.k." And in a few moments she had him laughing and joking as if the whole melt down had never happened. I saw her do it, but I don't understand how she did it.
O.K. Time for the truth. The truth is that I will come up against difficulties with Ted that I will not be able to handle well. I will survive. But I hope it is a long time before I get that warm fuzzy little thought about how good I am at this caregiver business. I really hate to pray for more humility, because it almost certainly would require additional humiliations. I don't want to pray for more patience. That always seems to require suffering.
God, forgive me. For I do not know what I do. Thank you lord for sending help when I needed it most. Help me lord to feel compassion for every caregiver, regardless of how "good" they are at care giving. Help me to care more about helping Ted than I do about proving how capable I am.
I need you God.