My aunt Heather is proceeding down the long tunnel of dementia. I’ve become her primary caregiver. She lives in a retirement home in Midland, Ontario, so really, the staff there are her primary caregivers. We live almost 200 kilometres away from each other. I had to move her there, urgently, two Augusts ago, when her spouse, my aunt Bev, wound up in hospital for what would be one of many long stretches.
A private retirement residence can’t handle such a disease once symptoms become significant. And Heather’s disease is quickly outgrowing the home’s capacities. She “has behaviours,” to use the parlance. She’s hurling socks and clementines at staff when they enter her room. She’s wielding coat hangers. She’s yelling at people who talk too loudly in the hallway. She’s pounding on walls, on doors. We’ve been here before. The drugs that were helping her appear to have stopped working.
I met with someone from the health unit last week to talk about what “behavioural support” might be available. The trick now, beyond more monkeying with her prescriptions, is to come up with all the strategies we can think of to keep her feeling all right until one of the twenty long-term care homes she’s waitlisted for, facilities closer to me and to where Bev lives now with her sisters, with staff who have knowledge of Heather’s disease and how to meet it, calls up and says they have a place for her. I hope for a short wait and prepare for a long one.
My aunts were both United Church ministers. They also expressed some big problems with the church and with the paternalistic notion of a singular male God. I don’t know if she can call up the details of her vocation anymore, unless prompted, reminded. One aspect of that work has remained with her, however: the administering of care. When she’s not railing at the receiving of care, she walks around the home giving people’s hands a squeeze, offering a kind look, an arm around the shoulder, a moment of acknowledgement and warmth. Language has largely unfastened itself from her now, but she sends that care out to people anyways, utters the syllables she can find. I’ve seen a few residents perplexed, amused, by this. But I’ve seen more who receive that warmth so willingly, so thankfully.
My aunt Heather likes to dance and go for walks. She loves animals and children. She loves ice cream and anything sweet. She loves to look at photographs. And she loves a good joke. Next week, Omicron-willing, I’m going to bake some cookies and bring her best buddy Ruby the Dog up to see her, and we’ll have a bit of Christmas. And I’d like to tell her some good jokes, make her laugh for an afternoon. Dementia can erase all memory of an event from one’s mind in an instant, but the emotional tenor remains and reverberates. A good feeling, a good laugh, lasts.
So I would love for you to send me some jokes. Kid’s jokes, knock-knocks, groaners, plays on words. You’d be giving a wonderful gift to a woman who’s having a rough time of it these days. Stories don’t always land anymore, narrative’s too hard for her to follow, and memories are next to impossible. But she still likes joking around. She still appreciates irreverence.
As thanks for your jokes, below is an image of what I finalized with M&S, my publisher, this week. The guts of the book are nearly ready, too. We inch ever closer to Fast Commute being out in the world.
Happy December to you. May your days be merry and bright.