Tonight I attended a birthday party for a long-time friend who turned 75. Enough said about the party.
Rhonda arrived alone as her partner Nancy is now living with Dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, at a memory care facility.
I asked Rhonda, “How is Nancy doing?”
She replied, after a brief moment of thought, a tip of the head, and a slight almost imperceptible shrug of the shoulders; a resigned-sounding, “Fine.”
She tried looking for words to continue her answer but I interrupted, smiling, “I know.” Fine was usually my stock answer.
Now, right before bedtime, I was thinking about that again. I got out of bed to write the beginning of this post because I did not want to lose my train, let alone my thoughts.
When people would ask about Gregory, the best I was often able to come up with was, “Fine.”
“And how are you doing?” They would ask.
“Fine as well.”
Both those answers were true. Not made up, not under or overstated. Just, “Fine!” No need to go on.
When living with and loving a person who has been diagnosed with a difficult medical condition, an incurable disease in which the cognitive abilities of the person living with the disease would only get worse, and did get on and off worse and sometimes better and eventually disappear over time; how could you really answer the question, “How is he doing?”
Comparatively speaking, “Fine. Thank you for asking” is a real answer. Sometimes I did not want to go into detail, sometimes the events of our lives were so confusing that I did not know how to go into detail.
Periodically the question, in the right setting, is a sincere request to hear how the person is doing and going into a little detail is OK, staying short of being boring or whiny, or saying too much for too long.
The concept of “fine” in effect means, “I have learned to live with the new normalcy of our life and most of the time I am comfortable with that. When it is not fine, I usually do the “not fine” part in the privacy of my home or the privacy of my mind. When I need to cry at night I do so silently so as not to wake Gregory and when I need a really good cry I take a shower since I will be wet anyway.
Just the question and inquiry by the other person is enough to let you know that they are thinking about you and yours and doesn't really need an answer. “Fine.” Often times friends would not even ask about “the elephant in the room” and that made it even larger to me. Gregory was still alive, an important part of my life, and how dare they not even consider him?
These thoughts surface now and then but are, and should be part of the past now that we have celebrated three years since Gregory passed. But now and then, when triggered for whatever reason, like being at a party, I realize that the pain is still there.
Loving and living with a person who has been diagnosed with Dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, is a very lonely way to pass one’s life. When the person has moved on to their next adventure on the other side of life, the loneliness continues. Only different.
“Thanks for asking. Fine. Really, considering, fine!”