Recently Harold and I went on a fifteen day cruise to Hawaii with my brother, his wife, my sister, and her husband. While at our last port, Kona, my brother said, “I saw something today that I’ve never seen before on a cruise.” Since he is the most seasoned “cruiser” in our family, this statement surprised me.
“I saw them load a body on the boat this morning.” He went on to say a hearse came to the pier and picked up the body.
“At least he was living when he died,” my sister-in-law said. “It’s a heck of a lot better than laying around in a nursing home waiting to die.”
This made me think about something my mother said several years ago after Jim developed dementia. She said, “I’m sure glad that you and Jim didn’t put off traveling until retirement.” So was I, since retirement was never meant to be for us. Travel, we did! Mostly we traveled west—to Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico. In addition, we expanded our journeys by going south, north, and east—sometimes vacations and, other times, on business trips.
The important thing is that we lived. Jim always said planning a trip gave him “something to look forward to.” His lifestyle growing up was that of a vagabond. Getting in the car and heading out to a new territory meant adventure. A new day, a new experience. When the Fisher family returned to a locale, it was a sense of returning “home” to reunite with friends, family, or the weeping willow tree that grew in the front yard of a house they once lived in. Either way he was happy. He was living. He had many “homes” that resided in his memory and heart.
I, on the other hand, grew up living in one house in a remote area of the Missouri Ozarks. Travel was not something we did. Until my senior trip, I had only been out of state one time.
Other than the difference in our traveling experience, Jim and I had a lot in common. We both came from big families without a lot of material possessions, parents that remained married until death, relatives that played guitars and sang country music, and a love of family. We both grew up with cousins as our best friends and playmates.
Eventually, we found our groove—living in one area to satisfy me, but traveling to satisfy Jim. Even after Jim was diagnosed with dementia and traveling became a different kind of adventure, we still managed to revisit the familiar, Colorado and Branson, and to experience new locales—Maine and Nova Scotia. We continued to live.
If there’s one thing I’ve figured out from our journey into dementia, it is that living is a choice. When you consider the long-term scope of the disease, the choice to make the best of the time remaining seems more important than ever.
Don’t waste the time you are given in the early stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, adapt. An adventure may be as simple as a trip to the park or Dairy Queen for a milkshake or taking a wheelchair for a spin around the parking lot.
I can’t think of anything more heart-wrenching than watching a loved one’s emotions, memories, and skills deteriorate, but the one thing you have is the gift of time. Although it may seem that time is not your friend when you reach the later stages, it is a gift that people often do not have. Clutch and cherish those moments. Choose to live until you die.
Copyright © February 2015 by L.S. Fisher