Prologue: The Turning Point
Sometimes in life when you least expect it, fate knocks at your door. You can draw your curtains, look through the peephole, and even pretend that you’re not at home. But in the end, your efforts are to no avail. Fate is standing on your doorstep, tapping his toe, waiting to look you square in the eye and hand you an enormous challenge, a burden greater than any you could have imagined and certainly one you could never have predicted. In the end all you can do is swing the door wide open, stand back, take a deep breath, and face the challenge head-on. This is what happened to me in 2003 when I became responsible for the care of my mother-in-law, Nan.
Years earlier if you had told me that one day I would be managing the life of someone suffering from severe dementia, I would have said that it was impossible, out of the question. In the first place I never could have imagined myself in that role, let alone envisioned Nan spiraling down through the stages of this devastating disease. I never could have predicted that I would be forced to maneuver my way through the sibling rivalries and ancient jealousies of my husband’s family. I never could have predicted that I would be called upon to provide essential care to a member of the family that I had joined through marriage. And I never could have predicted on that fateful day when I finally agreed to embrace this challenge, that I was about to embark on a journey filled with moments of all-consuming heartbreak, and surprising moments of unexpected love and joy.
Nan began showing symptoms of the early stages of dementia in 1998 when she was seventy-seven years old, but managed to live on her own for several more years with the help of nearby family and friends. However, as her disease progressed, there came a time when her behavior could no longer be overlooked or swept under the rug. Once it became obvious to her entire family that it was no longer safe for her to live alone, a debate began regarding where she would live and who would be responsible for her care.
This was an emotionally charged time for everyone involved and it was only after countless phone calls and lengthy negotiations that a decision was reached. Nan would move to Virginia and my husband and I would be responsible for her financial and physical well-being. Through the clarity of hindsight, I realize that I was the only person who knew exactly what this meant. For although my husband loves his mother as much as any son can, the demands of his job do not allow time for the day-to-day challenges of caring for a dementia patient. I think I was the only one who fully understood that Nan’s care was destined to land squarely on my shoulders.