My next book, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times, chronicles the lives of two brothers before, during, and after WWII. The final chapter of that novel is entitled, “The Imprisonment of Old Age”, but only recently have I discovered for myself the true meaning of that chapter. In that final chapter, Dr. Harold Whittington describes the ever tightening noose that seems to strangle the life out of him as he reaches his 90s--no driving, no independence, loss of physical ability, mental decline, and the like. Most poignant is the loss of his wife of 65 years. It’s one thing is to write about someone else during such times, but quite another to experience it yourself. At the end of December, my 58-year-old wife was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease. It’s an odd name. Few have heard of it, yet it’s the second most common cause of dementia in the USA. I have now studied some of the published information on Lewy Body Disease and can summarize by saying it is a mix of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s rolled into one. There is no cure. There are no treatments. It is fatal.
So what does one do under such a circumstance? I believe my wife has between one and eight years left, so we have set out to define how she wants her life to end with dignity and finality--to avoid the imprisonment of old age. She wants all paperwork accomplished now, before her inevitable slide into the oblivion of dementia. She is directing the distribution of her brain and internal organs, and establishing her Last Will and Testament. She is strong, and I am deeply moved by her spirit. Of course, we are both in mourning, something one expects after passing, not before. In the case of the dementia diseases, however, the mourning begins with the diagnosis. From a caretaker’s perspective, I have begun to clear my calendar of all responsibilities, for I know the days ahead must be dedicated solely to making my wife’s last days as comfortable and frustration-free as possible.
Life is not fair. If it were, I would pass first. I am, after all, fourteen years her senior. Unless fate intervenes, that will not happen now. So, in the time we have left, and while she is still able to appreciate the world around her, we will take cruises she enjoys, and we will travel to places she has yet to experience. I’ll write about some of those experiences in the months to come. We will try to ignite the joy of living everywhere we go, and I hope we can bring you along with us through the stories I post in this blog.
Thanks for reading,
James L. Hatch