On Monday the husband of another friend who had been diagnosed with younger onset dementia was buried. Of course, this has been part of the reason I have fudged a few blogs this week… We found out he had died on the last day of the Alzheimer’s Australia 15th national conference last Friday, and it was a hard gig attending his funeral, very sad for his family and friends, and extremely confronting for us.
The death of everyone we love is difficult to deal with, but when the death is from the illness we have also been diagnosed with, it is much closer to the bone. It confronts us, makes us realise ‘it [dementia] will get us in the end’, as one well-meaning registered nurse reminded me a couple of years ago. I’ve been to many funerals in my lifetime, including the funeral of a man I loved who took his own life almost 28 years ago.
My mother’s family saw funerals as ‘opportunities’ to farewell someone well, with open coffins at the Church for everyone who wished to view the body of the deceased. Tears flowed, but so did the love and joy of having known the person. My great gran suggested we cry at weddings – because that is when your real troubles start, and should celebrate and be happy at funerals – because that is when your troubles are over, and because she was deeply religious, you were going back to your maker.
It always amazes me how much we learn about the deceased, a person who we thought we knew well. In Tuesdays with Morrie, they have a living funeral before Morrie dies, so he can get to hear and enjoy the accolades from his family and friends, usually left until the person dies. The death of a loved one is always sad, and the funeral is usually traumatic. It takes something from you, but it also gives you something back. Perhaps an inner strength, or the advantage of another traumatic experience, but one that changes your heart in some way.
But facing up to the inevitable decline of dementia is extremely difficult. Entering a nursing home, passing by the door of the secure memory unit (jail) is confronting every single time we have to do it. Visiting friends with dementia, who have declined more than you have, and then attending the funeral of someone with dementia is difficult to do. Attending support groups for PWD and their loved ones is not supportive (at least for me); they simply reinforce what is ahead as no-one gets better.
Life is like that, with or without dementia, and we live until we die.