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time with the auntie ...

Thursday, May 24, 2018
... when I went to Valdosta on Wednesday. I might as well confess when I was ready to leave, she was still standing by the locked front door. On the inside where it is secured to keep residents from leaving on a whim. With a key-pad, coded exit, in order to protect those who might wander from getting out and disappearing. The rest of my confession is that I took the coward's path, and left through another door. Walked to the end of the hall and slipped out a different door. Slinking away, where she would not see me get in my car and leave. I will feel guilty about that for a few days, and then let it go.

We have all read the newspaper or heard broadcast reports of people who go for a loaf of bread and never return to their loved ones. Sitting out in the porch with a glass of lemonade, you step inside, then return sixty seconds later, in that instant they de-materialize. It happens with greater frequency as the population ages, and more people live long enough to display the gradual effects of dementia. That loved one takes a notion to walk away, on some urgent interior mission, going who-knows-where as they are lost inside their disabled minds -and simply vanish.

The auntie was waiting for me, hoping to get back in the car and not be left there at the residential facility, a place she would be confused. Not realizing, unable to understand that she will continue to struggle with chronic forgetting, never again able to retain any information, with practically zero short term memory. She will always be subject to the locked door - forever be forced to stay where she does not want to be. A person who has been self-reliant, independent, adventurous and ready to travel all her adult life, now limited to going only when another person is willing to chaperone, literally take her by the hand, agree to take responsibility for her safety.

Heart wrenching to see, as she slowly looses ground, becoming more and more forgetful. We have the same conversation over and over: she will ask about family members, the same questions every few minutes. Unaware she is repeating herself, making me repeat myself. Causing great frustration as the necessity for patience with the patient increases when the conversation seems to be on a continuous loop.

I left, knowing she was there near the door, expecting me to come back down the hall. Where she would make her best effort to persuade me she should go along, not be left there where she has been living for nearly a year, in the residential facility. She is in a beautifully maintained environment. Attractive gardens outside where there is something blooming year-round. She is provided with all the basic necessities, plus surrounded by a caring staff, populated with compassionate affectionate people who are willing to listen, cajole her into showering, help with getting dressed, address her complaints with good humor and patience. Three meals a day, that are so appealing she has outgrown her pants, and needs  larger sizes.

After a long conversation with the head nurse late yesterday, I am persuaded the auntie will never be happy, something in her personality seems to cause her to be unable to be content. Maybe that fierce independence, that mule-ish, head-strong temperament she has nurtured all her adult life is the source of her inability to be at peace. Surely she should have seen this disheartening end coming: with a father who died in nursing care with memory loss, and two siblings who struggled with dementia, there was no way for her to not expect this.

Family members, my cousins and I, have made efforts to get her to have a conversation about what she would want. Preferences if she were unable to care for herself, make her own decisions. She maintained the posture of an ostrich and refused to discuss options. Now, here she is - in the place she would least like to be: with other people making all her daily decisions. Sad to say, she was so desperate for someone who could shoulder all this (genetic) misfortune, the blame for much of her confusion was placed directly on me. The same 'me' who has been willing to step up/in and do what needs doing.

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