This morning I left Earlysville, having spent a long weekend in what could only be described as a crash course in dementia awareness. Once again I stopped and quickly photographed the white oak I've photographed many times before - the morning sky was already washed out, the grass brown from unusually warm temperatures and a longtime without rain.
There was an acute event, a distinct episodic event - triggered by the dementia itself, possibly complications from a drug that my father was on (Aricept) and a horrific healthcare provider who exploited his fears and fed his paranoia. It was confusing, hurtful, deeply sad, terrifying, crazy, compassionate - and at the heart of it was my kind, passive father. It was new territory. I can't go into the details now, I am too drained, and probably won't share the events of the past week on these pages.
All I know is that at some point this weekend a light went off in my head and I thought "This is what dementia is. It is here."
While I was away, Katherine emailed me a poem, understanding just a bit the personal hell that dementia brings into a home and a family. I watched my father, seeing in his eyes sometimes the inner battles he was having - his mind racing, his mind trying to grasp on to what was real - but being unable to. Then moments of comforting clarity.
I now know the heartbreak of this illness.
In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
---Or the path narrowing,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.