(com­forted)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Mag­gie Brady Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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.

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to Which novel by Jef­frey Eu­genides re­ceived the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fic­tion? This year, the Veron­i­cas had a hit with a song ti­tled

what? What is sprin­kled on top of a tra­di­tional brandy Alexan­der cock­tail?

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