My husband is a nice guy. He’s thoughtful and helpful and generous. He has a big heart. In spite of the dementia, or maybe because of it, he’s become even more helpful. Several times a day I hear, “Is there anything I can help you with?” When we’re out doing errands, I’ll think he’s walking behind me and find he’s vanished. In a minute or two, he’ll reappear. “I was helping a woman with her bags,” or “I was holding the door for that mother with the stroller.”
However, he does have his weak points. One of these is his impaired sense of rhythm. Add to that twenty-five too many pounds, difficulty following a dance pattern, moderate memory loss, and you’ve got a guy who is not a dancer.
My husband and I have been going to community folkdance sessions for perhaps five years. Most of the dancers are over 60. Some are beginners, and some, like myself, are more advanced. Many have been attending Thursday dance for longer, and yet still only do the basic, simple dances.
Enter Ari, an experienced dancer with a low tolerance level. A few weeks ago, he told me that I should tell my husband not to try the harder dances. I balked. “Don’t you hold sway over your husband?” he demanded.
I was upset. Normally I back away from confrontation; I abhor and fear conflict. Yet I called Ari out into the hall and we had words. Then I cried in the bathroom for a few minutes. But next time he came to dance, it got worse.
Ari was doing a tricky dance next to my husband, who couldn’t keep up. “This dance is too hard for you,” I heard Ari say. ” You should sit down.” (Imagine what the world might be like if we told children, “Don’t do this, it’s too hard for you.”)
“Screw you!” my husband replied, to his credit.
Ari huffed his irritation. He threw up his hands dramatically, drawing everyone’s attention, and went to a different part of the line.
Which is what he should have done in the first place.
To my knowledge, there has always been an unspoken folkdance etiquette: If you don’t want to dance next to someone, you move away. Simple.
You don’t tell someone not to dance. This isn’t a performing dance troupe. It’s a bunch of seniors who love folkdancing.
Two of my friends supported me in confronting Ari. But his actions had tapped a huge, complex emotional response in me. I was furious that anyone would be unkind to my sweet-tempered, ill husband. And I was hurt by Ari’s lack of understanding. This small incident brought out all the anger, sorrow, frustration, loneliness, and guilt I carry as a caregiver, as well as a new protective instinct.
What words were exchanged escape me now. I was too upset. I only remember the last thing I said. “That was mean!” I snarled, as I threw my belongings together and left. My husband trailed after me, totally confused as to why I was so upset and leaving early.
The incident had me in tears on and off for a few days. I realized that Ari and I had the same desire: to enjoy dancing without someone’s interference. Nevertheless, he “made a bad choice,” as we say to kids.
By report, Ari still doesn’t seem to feel much empathy for my husband, or for me as a 24/7 caregiver who just wants to enjoy folkdancing. The highlight of my week is being able to dance without having to monitor my husband for an afternoon. At the dance center, he’s safe, he’s active, and people are accepting and good to him. Well, with one exception.*
I will not give up attending folkdance with my husband. The experience, though, has scarred me. But it also surprised me, because I discovered how protective I am. Mother bear, indeed!
Update: Ari apologized.