I got depressed today! It happens. Although this blog is about how to make the final 15% of your life fulfilling, and most of the time I do feel happy and fulfilled, there are times when depression overwhelms me. Not clinical depression: not the kind of depression that comes over a person for no reason in spite of the fact that life seems to be going well. I’m talking about the kind of depression that happens when life is tough. My life has felt tough recently. Correction: I should say that my husband’s life has been tough lately. It’s watching him deal with the tough parts that has made my life tough. Whoops! That’s not totally true either. Some days it’s hard to be completely honest. My life has been tough lately too.
Dementia steals so many things from the person who is experiencing it (and their loved ones). Over the last few years, my husband has had to sell his beloved Harley and his Madass Motorscooter, and then he had to give up driving completely. He’s had to give up the freedom to go anywhere he wants on his own; to be home alone if he chooses; or to go out in the garage and work on his projects. In short, he has lost the freedom to feel like an independent adult. But as everyone who is a caregiver knows, watching a loved one suffer such terrible losses has a profound effect on the observer too.
In an attempt to extract myself from the state of depression, I tell myself how much worse it could be. My father died at the age of 48 from a terrible form of cancer; he suffered intractable pain for a long period of time and my mother, his caregiver, was unable to help him. That situation was worse! Much worse!!! Anyone who has a child who is suffering pain experiences far more intense grief than I do. I know how fortunate I am that my husband’s pain is manageable and that his losses can be reduced by my efforts and the efforts of others. I do have the ability to be of some help to him. In part, this blog is being written to chronicle the efforts that he and I are both making to compensate for his losses and to ensure that his life is still fulfilling and pleasurable.
However, the knowledge that others have it much worse and that there are things I can do to be helpful doesn’t always completely eliminate the pain or the depression. I wish I could tell you it did and that I have all the answers about how to make that happen but, of course, that would be a lie. Today, my inability to help as much as I would like got the better of me and I had a period of severe depression. I do everything I can to replace the things that have been lost with other things that are equally pleasurable. When I’m feeling well myself, this is much easier to do. For example, I’ve been working on a way to add a sound system to our home that will allow Bill to enjoy music in any room of the house. He loves music! If I can be successful at providing him with the ability to have beautiful music any time he wants it,
I might be able to compensate for some of the losses he has experienced. But music can only do so much and when I am not doing well myself, it’s much harder to be of help to him.
I am in the process of giving up some activities that I loved very much because I need to be at home more to care for Bill. I have served on the board of an organization I value highly for more than five years, but board meetings and fundraising efforts take up a lot of time and energy and cause me to be away from home more than I can currently afford to be. Something in my life has to be given up if I’m going to meet all my obligations, and my work on the board is the thing I’m giving up. I invested a lot of hard work and creativity into serving on that board. It is a very big loss for me to give up that activity.
In part, I am replacing it with the activity of writing posts for this blog. The blog posts can be written at home so I can have lots of fun and meet my obligations too. Bill participates in writing the posts and the activity provides pleasure for both of us without the necessity of my spending time away from home. Bill had participated in my work with the organization where I served as a board member but his physical challenges have made his involvement impossible recently. I know that once I get this blog going, it will become a way that I can communicate with others and give and receive help while including Bill to a large degree in the activity, I’m quite certain that at some point in time, I will no longer feel the loss that I’ve been experiencing today.
Bill was able to be a tremendous help to me today when I realized how depressed I was feeling. At first I was reluctant to talk to Bill about it because I didn’t want him to feel responsible for my loss in any way. I thought I should just suck it up and not admit to my feelings of grief. But then I realized that I just can’t start down that path. What has made our marriage work for 52 years is that we talk together about everything and I needed to continue to do that even when it was difficult. So I spilled it all out and it was hard and it did upset him at first to hear what I had to say.
We didn’t stop communicating when it got difficult however. That is the only thing that saved me. Bill deserves most of the credit for that. When I try to spare someone’s feelings by withholding communication, he always insists that I continue to communicate, even when it’s his feelings that I’m attempting to spare. By working our way through it, I was finally able to get past all that grief and tell him that being with him was the most important thing in my life and it was worth experiencing a few losses to be able to do that. It wasn’t pretty! I’m not one of those people who can look nice when I cry. I’m someone whose head fills up with snot (Is there a pretty way to describe this), whose eyes turn red and who looks like a wreck within minutes. But Bill never lets me quit talking just because my appearance becomes unsightly. He is ruthless about making me continue to talk anyway. By the end of the conversation, I had Bill crying too but somehow he always remains very handsome while doing it.
Getting old involves a lot of losses. I think that’s true for everyone who manages to live as long as Bill and I have. I also think that when we suffer a loss, we need to talk about it, cry about it, look like a mess if we have to, and then get over it. Bill and I had some gains by the end of that conversation and they compensate for the losses. I told Bill that I wanted him to stay with me as long as he could and as long as his life was worth living, and that I would do everything in my power to try to see that his life continued to be worth living. He kindly insisted that his life is still very much worth living. I hope that is true. I also told him that when he felt his life was no longer worth living, I wanted him to feel free to get out of here. I saw my mother become a widow very early in her life and she survived it. I know I could do the same.
I’m fortunate because Bill and I have already had 52 years together. My parents only had 20 years together before my father died. I’m convinced that my parents are together again on the other side. I have good reasons to be convinced of that and I might even share those reasons some day, but not today. My mother had to wait more than 30 years to be reunited with my father. I’m already 71 years old. If Bill died tomorrow I won’t have to wait that long. How’s that for finding a silver lining. And yes, I have been told that my tendency to find silver linings in everything can be annoying.
Bill and I both had a lot of realizations during our conversation. It may have been messy and it may have been painful, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone there with a camera (no selfies here), but I’m very glad we talked. It’s still hard to give up my involvement in the organization I’ve worked with for so long. Talking about it didn’t make that loss or the pain it caused go away. But it did compensate me for the loss by providing me with some wonderful communication with my husband.
P.S. I read this post to Bill before I uploaded it to our blog site to be certain he agreed with what I had written. He had forgotten the entire conversation. Dementia sucks!! But as I read the post, the words helped him regain his connections to the memory and I realized again that it is not the memory that is stolen. It is the ability to access it. I’m learning how to rebuild that access more quickly. I don’t ever want to stop communicating with him because a little extra effort is involved. Anyone who has tips on the quickest way to queue up a memory is welcome to leave them in the Comments section.