I just heard the thump of his cane across the floor, followed by the closing of the bathroom door.
And so begins another day with Charlie.
How long I will continue to hear the announcement of his morning ministrations is anyone's guess. Sometimes, after an especially troublesome day, I find myself wondering how long I can go on like this. I realize with a shock, that I am almost looking forward to the morning when there are no longer those finite sounds. The ones that warn me another day of coping with the poor lost soul that is my husband has started.
It began five years ago with a startling episode of confusion, followed by several days of weakness, lethargy and depression.
The diagnosis was a small stroke – one that did not affect his speech or ability to walk – but rather left him with moderate brain damage and the ensuing loss of short-term memory.
Several similar episodes have resulted in progressive dementia, bringing on all the frustrations that accompany the thief that has stolen the very essence of who he is.
No, he hasn't put his glasses in the refrigerator, or left the house barefooted on one of our frigid New Hampshire mornings. But he has gone out in the car for a ten-minute errand and found himself in unfamiliar territory, 35 miles from home.
Except for an occasional drive to get his hair cut at the administration building in our senior living complex, his driving days are over. Even then he gets lost getting from the car to the salon, or leaves by the wrong exit and then can't find his car; the salon knows now to call me when he leaves so I can anticipate his safe return.
He recognizes family when they show up for a visit but he no longer remembers his daughter's married name – she's been married twenty-five years - or where she lives.
His days are spent with a calendar on his lap, hanging on for dear life to anything that will ground him in time and place. Even with the calendar in front of him, he asks me a dozen times a day, what day it is, what time is his appointment.
Who is Dr. Park, and why does he have to see him?
It's just another day with Charlie.
The most difficult part of this man-child relationship I am coping with is cleaning up after one of his increasingly frequent bowel accidents.
The doctors have tried to address the problem, but none of their "solutions" have been effective. Charlie is overcome with embarrassment at this regressing to such a degrading place in life. On the other hand, his mind can't understand why he should resort to wearing Depends on days when he doesn't have a problem.
I feel like an insensitive, wicked old crone for insisting that they are a necessity.
Charlie now walks with a cane, his mobility impaired years ago by an aircraft accident that left him partially paralyzed. To walk from one end of our cottage to the other is all the walking he can do comfortably.
Yet he is insisting that we take a ten-day cruise to Alaska, with its accompanying, two-hour bus ride to the airport, eight or nine hour plane trip, and shore excursions including kayaking, rafting and a long sightseeing train ride.
I gently, but firmly, tell him that it just isn't possible. But I am fraught with guilt for depriving him of something that he would dearly love, and looks forward to with longing and anticipation. His mind hasn't reached the stage where I can let him think I have made the arrangements; he still has enough recall to catch me on that little act of deceit.
Even his long-term memory is becoming affected by the creeping dementia. He insists that he has visited countries where I know he never set foot, tells me he was shot down in Viet Nam – not so. Although he served in Viet Nam, his accident was during the cold war in England.
I never know what he is going to tell someone we come in contact with about his past life, his current health, or his family. I just try to silently let them know that he isn't quite mentally competent, and they should therefore understand that he is to be agreed with, not questioned.
So now you know why I hear, with anxiety, that thump of the cane announcing his awakening for the day. I dread the day that I can no longer cope and he has to go into long-term care (or short-term, depending on how long his valiant heart holds out) because I know he will not go willingly.
He says he is going to live to be ninety-four, the magic age when his mother finally gave up her fight. I don't doubt that he is right. I have told him he will have to go it alone for ten years because my "magic number" is eighty-four.
In the meantime we will struggle on, me with my gimpy knee, him with his gimpy mind and legs.
It's another day with Charlie.
After all – these are the golden years!