Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

I posted a story back in January about my friend M.J., who became Bar Mitzvah at age 77, and learning the Hebrew portion of his Torah, despite his dementia. The last five months following that have been a little pockmarked with bits and pieces of physical and cognitive decline. He entered assisted living back in March. He has had a few health problems related to his circulation, as well as coordination/balance issues. None of these declines are huge jumps but more or less "by inches." As I was telling one of the nurses, "It's kind of like his mind and his body are having a contest as to who craps out first, but neither is in a hurry to win."

When he decided to go into assisted living, he decided to come to Kirksville rather than stay in Columbia, because, as he put it, "The social situation is better." M.J.'s dementia is not an Alzheimer's type dementia, it's more of a vascular one, which means the deficits are more specific, and, therefore, he has more of an "awareness that he is failing" compared to folks with an Alzheimer's type dementia. I think a lot of his sense of his "social situation" is that the folks he'd lived and worked with for 40 years could see his decline more clearly and he could sense "being treated differently." My friends and acquaintances in Kirksville have basically only known him since he began his decline, so to them, he's just "the guy he is." The only real problem is that moving to Kirksville put him 90 miles from his synagogue, but our friend Dan, who also attends services there, is glad to bring M.J. along to services and congregational events when possible.

The hard part about a long-time friend with dementia is that you catch yourself almost forgetting at times the full breadth of the person he or she used to be. You get glimpses, flashbacks. For about 12 years now, I realize I have been on this constantly changing landscape in relating to M.J., where he drops, plateaus, and drops again. Each time you have to readjust to the new plateau in relating to him, it's a "fly by the seat of your pants" operation. You find yourself so wrapped up in the adjustment, that it's easy to forget the guy you knew in his prime.

What I am noticing is the jumps aren't getting any steeper, but the plateaus are getting shorter. I have always been able to adjust reasonably well to this overall, but with some rocky moments sprinkled in. Both Wallace and Carrol have been aware of some of those rocky moments, and I have always been grateful that they have two different styles--Mr. Ethereal and Ms. Practical. I have also been grateful that they both realize I'm not looking for "direction" from either of them, just a mirror. I am lucky in that they both have distinctly separate personality aspects that mirror my own, and each is able to validate my thoughts in their own way.

Carrol sees the "nuts n' bolts" of maneuvering through situations; Wallace tends to like to put things in a bigger perspective. I remember chatting about one of those "plateau adjusting days" in conversation to each of them at separate times. Carrol's answer was "Hey, this is grief, and grief comes at funny times, and just giving it a name doesn't make it any better. It's important to accept those moments for what they are, and trust that the meaning of it will become clearer over time. We don't really see a lot of stuff until we are at a place we can look backwards." Wallace's answer was that "Well, look at it this way. Every piece of him you 'lose' is not really lost, it's just being given back to God. It was his all along. We don't like it when God gets in the way of our delusions of control. But keep in mind what we might see as 'loss' is actually M.J. becoming closer to God. It's painful b/c it's not your trip, it's M.J.'s." Two totally different conversations, but both applicable.

But once in a while something happens where I realize there is something that will remain even after he's gone. Yesterday I got a glimpse of it, and it had nothing to do with M.J. directly.

My colleague at work had a situation where he was going on the absolutely wrong track on a diagnosis. He asked my opinion and I gave it, but I could tell he was not convinced. I suggested doing some additional testing and letting the results speak for themselves. As it turned out, I was right, and when we were talking about it afterwards, he said, "How did you know?" I realized that it was because of something I had learned when M.J. was my trainer, nothing earthshaking, just something I had "picked up" because of his vast knowledge of "the basics" he used to have. I'm not even sure at this point M.J. would know what he had taught me in this specific instance. But at the time it happened, he certainly did, and this piece of knowledge lives within me. I passed it to my junior colleague, and now it lives in him. The second law of thermodynamics shows its face in weird ways. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it is merely transformed.

Sometimes I think the second law of thermodynamics is one of my "windows for seeing God."



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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