The solitary life of the dementia sufferer
It seems cruel that a person who has enjoyed vital life, must endure this final state
I never heard her raise her voice. Was it because she was too shy to think she had a right to be loud and angry?
Maybe so, but more likely it was just because she was kind-hearted. Her own childhood didn’t provide the best fodder for developing patience, yet she did. As a mother of three she likely had lots of opportunities to shout but, no, that just wasn’t how she did things. With her friends and family she was gentleness topped up with generosity. With the rest of the world she was modest, putting others first with a cheerful countenance, curly blond hair and a beautiful smile.
Her talents were many. She excelled at school, especially math, and her high school teachers tried to talk her out of quitting school to go to work, but back then in the 1940s that was what girls did. She never disappointed a boss, especially when it came to bookkeeping. When she did something she did it well, be it business demands, domestic chores or creative arts. Her husband always worked long hours, being part of a family business, so it was she who wallpapered and painted and decorated their home, then helped other family members when they were starting out. She sewed many of her own clothes, one outfit I especially remember, a midnight blue taffeta dress with a draped neckline that made her look like Marilyn Monroe. She’d styled it first using a ‘judy’. I’d never seen a dress form before and she showed me how to adjust the model to my dimensions. Two weeks later I received a surprise, two outfits made by her. They fit perfectly.
Her home was her haven, a nest for her family, where her nieces and nephews were welcome and where she moved her mother in when the need arose. I never felt I had to knock on the door before coming in to find giggling children, food being sampled in the kitchen or family members gathered around the TV watching soap operas. She used her business acumen in the family business and later started her own business running an antiques booth in a local flea market. Painting as an art form rather than a decor tactic consumed her time too, her work reflecting her gentle and bonnie nature. This was a talented, vibrant and kind woman with lots of get-up-andgo who never did anything wrong.
Now she shouts. Loudly. She is really angry. There is no smile, just a continual frown of fear and, sometimes, puzzlement. Her hands are unoccupied unless they’re trying to undo the belt that keeps her in the chair. She is incarcerated, with the institutions’ hours for meals, exercise, and sleep ruling her life. She relies on others for the basic necessities of life, whether she likes them or not. Usually not, going by her mood. No interests fill her days now, only the chair and a bed and long hallways. What was once a lovely woman now shouts aggressively using swear words that shock and startle. She angrily questions our identity when approached. She has a reason. She must ascertain first if we are ‘the enemy’, part of the threat that beleaguers her every waking hour. She is always on the verge of tears until she succumbs in deep sobs. Her slumber is deep, probably druginduced. This is not her. She isn’t who she was.
For most of their married life she and her husband and their children lived in a lovely little home with grapevines and tomatoes growing in the back and two beautiful blue spruce in the front yard. Those spruce continued to grow for more than 80 years, as did she, reaching to the sky with all manner of possibilities. Their trunks went on forever as the spruce needles, way up high, tickled the sky. Last month I drove by and the trees had been struck down by chainsaws. Overall, the best solution. The kindest solution.
Meanwhile this most considerate of women, felled by dementia, is trapped in a life neither she, nor those who love her, would have chosen. She is totally out of her depth, as were her caregivers at home. Is this the answer? Really? Why must she end her life serving a sentence of solitary confinement, tortured by fear, drowning in despair and depraved by confusion?
She deserves as much as the spruce that once stood guard over her home. It would be the kindest cut of all.
Penny Gumbert is a freelance writer who lives in Stoney Creek. While the subjects of this commentary are anonymous, the story is true.
Penny Gumbert writes of a dementia victim: ’Why must she end her life serving a sentence of solitary confinement, tortured by fear, drowning in despair and depraved by confusion?’