When my husband of 10 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it turned our lives upside down. We met each other late in life, and not having children meant I’d had the luxury of doing my own thing for much of my life — I had lived and travelled overseas and ended up doing work I loved, as he did. Now I had to stop work, suspend the research grant I was on, become a carer. Suddenly, I was confronted for the first time in my (admittedly selfish) life with putting someone else’s welfare ahead of my own.
My husband deteriorated quite noticeably. He began to stumble around and couldn’t distinguish distances or depth. He would stand in the shower vaguely rubbing himself with the water. When we went to the coast, he had forgotten how to swim. Ordinary conversations lacked the cues we rely on to keep the momentum going — cues in our facial and vocal expression, general responsiveness, the spark of the interchange — and I was devastated to realise how deadening it could be without these subtle acknowledgments and affirmations.
Within a year or so I could not leave him alone for long. From being a free spirit I felt to- tally imprisoned. And as I secretly and resentfully experienced these feelings, I was overcome with crushing guilt that I could even think such things. How could I think about myself when he was having to deal with this nightmare? All this meant that I was very anxious, waking at 3am, tossing and turning, with huge lists of jobs and worries churning around in my head.
One evening I was invited to a reception organised by the local carers organisation. I hadn’t been out for a while on my own. I got dressed up to go; I could leave him for an hour. When I got to the venue I felt self-conscious, not knowing anyone, so took a glass of wine and sat down at the edge of the room. After a while there were speeches and a carer stood up to talk.
She was thanking the organisation for all it does for carers when inexplicably I found myself weeping silently. Tears were pouring down my face unbidden. I sat there helplessly, immobile, feeling deeply embarrassed, with my blouse getting wet, keeping my eyes down, not even able to wipe them. Then suddenly I felt someone move to sit next to me and gently take my hand. I looked up to see an elderly lady; she started softly talking to me, comfortingly.
She was obviously a carer. She understood my grief. She held on to me until I recovered. But as I felt her hand, I realised that there was a tremor there. With a rush I realised that she wasn’t a carer after all. She had dementia herself, and the quiver in her hand had given her away. I had been comforted by a stranger who had far more reason to need comfort herself than to give it so generously to me.
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what? What is sprinkled on top of a traditional brandy Alexander cocktail?