What would a fly on our apartment wall make of a day watching my husband and me? How would we—the caregiver and the man with dementia– look to an observer’s eyes?
The moment I awaken and sit up, I hear my husband say, “Good morning, dear.” I mutter “Mornin’” or give a silent wave in return. I don’t transition well from sleep to wakefulness, Fly. I’m not a cheery, chirpy robin, first thing. To me, it feels like my husband needs to know that I know he’s there, from the second I open my eyes.
But how does this look to you, Fly? Do I appear grumpy and unkind?
During the day, there are times I avoid meeting his eyes. I make him disappear by withdrawing my visual attention. My excuse for this behavior is that I crave solitude, so I don’t acknowledge his presence with my eyes. Multiple times a day, though, I do look up and he’s watching me. I have an audience all of my waking hours, Fly. Even when we’re not in the same room, he’s listening. If I drop a book or make a loud noise, he comes trundling up the stairs. “Are you all right? I heard a noise.”
Fly, I know he does it because he’s so anxious. He depends on me for everything. Am I being mean in the way I respond, Fly? It’s just too much sometimes, him clinging and watching. I get impatient, Fly. You’ve heard my tone of voice. I’ve heard it, too, and I feel guilty. But I’m not a saint, Fly.
In my defense, Fly, you do realize that we’ve been shut up in this apartment with only each other for over two months now. Am I making excuses?
He’s an old man, Fly. When we take our daily walk, he shuffles along behind me on his arthritic knees. I do turn back to catch up with him, Fly. And if the tension in my muscles is too much, I jog ahead for a while and then jog back to him.
I’m embarrassed to have you observe our mealtimes, Fly. We both read while we eat. There’s not much talk, because he doesn’t have much to say. He tries, though. Sometimes he’ll read aloud part of an article from The Week magazine. And read it to me again a minute or two later.
Oh, Fly, you’ve heard me tell him, “You already read that.” I know I should nod and smile and listen and offer an appropriate comment. But, Fly, it’s like living with emptiness. And it’s so sad, Fly.
Do you see the sadness of it, sitting there on the wall? Do you hear how he asks me, “Is it okay if I eat this?” “Where does this go?” “Is something cooking?” “What’s on the agenda today?” “Did I eat breakfast already?” His whole life resides in me, Fly. The truth is sometimes I hate it.
I know you’ve seen me weeping, Fly. I admit to wallowing in self-pity. It’s been hard to let the dreams go, Fly. It’s been hard.