I just returned from six weeks in NZ due to my dad, Rick, breaking his hip. He has a combination of Parkinsons and dementia…. it’s been a tough run as Rick has struggled through delirium, confusion and agitation (but surprisingly little physical pain). As his primary caregiver, I returned to help figure out the next move. It’s easy to attach judgement to this situation and feel a bit hard done by as his diagnoses came on the heels of my mother’s death in 2009. Couple that with my brother Adrian’s death in an avalanche in 1994 and life does feel unfair at times.
So what to do but look for the silver linings? One is that NZ is a country with socialized healthcare with some wonderful and varied medical people. Rick has been in the psychogeriatric ward at PMH since March 9 and he’s been treated beautifully. Another silver lining is that shit happens and you just spiral into negativity if you dwell on the negs. So the lining is positivity. Another positive is that we are loved and Rick has an awesome group of friends and family who do not give up on him. Those are friends I’m happy to call my own. Another great thing is that Rick still lives in my hometown of Christchurch and he fell down in early fall. I stayed with great friends by the hills and enjoyed many bike rides and surfs. The great Sarah Macnab coordinated my living in the moment and I enjoyed music and good times that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Uncertainty certainly remains but what I learned (and posted on FB) is that people with dementia are forced to live in the moment, painful though that moment may be, it will pass. We ride the downs and focus on the good moments. Some are even great. We cry when it’s hard and sad – and then patiently recover our equilibrium. There is lots to learn about acceptance and understanding of neurological illness and aging (which don’t have to go hand-in-hand of course).
I used to think that strength was about effort – but it’s not. It’s about letting go and accepting that heaps of things are beyond our control and you just have to remain nimble, able to flow with the conditions and do what you can, when you can. It’s like that in the mountains, especially in changeable old NZ. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to take what I’ve learned in the mountains to my lowland life!