When the Light Goes Out
If you Google the title of this piece, you will get a number of profound thoughts from people like Gerald Ford and others usually referring to the loss of a loved one, etc. or you may find an article about what to do in a power failure. This piece will be similar, maybe, but not the same and certainly not too profound.
I met her when I was staying with my grandparents and working on the farm down in Sandy Point. I hung around with some of the other teenagers over in the town where she lived and got invited to her birthday party. That’s where it all started.
She was one of the smartest people in her high school, cute, witty and played the piano to boot. I always like it when she played the Boogie Woogie! She could play anything she had the music to although many people never knew it. She was shy about the piano playing.
A couple of years after high school we got married and she always worked in some decent type of job or another. A large financial institution was her first job and she moved on from there to the Clerk of Superior Court in Bibb County. When we moved to Decatur she went to work immediately, with a recommendation from the Clerk in Macon, to the Dekalb County Tax office. Then to Kraft Foods.
When we moved back to Macon, she went to the most prestigious law firm in town and was there till she decided to be closer to the kids everyday she would take a lower paying job at the school office after we moved back to Sandy Point.
She decided to go back to college and she took up accounting and went on to get her CPA certificate and worked for a prominent firm in Macon. When we moved back to Atlanta she went to one of the largest private Accounting firms in the State and was tax manager there. She did all this while raising three sons, playing the organ at church, being a wife and running a household and helping care for her parents.
She was a whiz with numbers and I never did a tax return in all the years we were married after the first couple of years. She paid all the bills and was an excellent money manager. I always regretted letting her look at anything I had written because she would kindly point out all the misspelled words and poor punctuation. She would make some little comment like, “You probably want to correct the spelling and put in a comma.”
She retired from full time work in 2004.
On a Wednesday in April 2013 all this changed.
This was the day the light went out.
It happened after she got her hair fixed and shopped for shoes and did what normal people did. We were going out of town for the weekend. She had paid bills on the computer, answered phone calls, made sandwiches, cooked meals, cleaned house, drove a car, and bought groceries. She could drive to the mall or down to see family and greet people on the street. She jogged three miles a day.
But, by May 5, 2013, she could not do any of these things. She hasn’t made a phone call, turned on a computer or made a banana sandwich since. If you ask for the phone you may get a dish towel.
After a series of occurrences of Urinary Tract Infections, high blood pressure and other unknown factors, and two weeks in the hospital she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Now, she can do little for herself. Even putting on pajamas requires assistance. Something a three year old could probably do.
If you started a discussion about who has the worst disease or what the worst disease is, you could get a lot of answers. The disease or infirmity a person has or their loved one has will likely be named as the worst: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, loss of sight, kidney failure. You would likely not be able to convince them otherwise. Nor would you try.
I will only say that with many serious ailments and afflictions, you don’t lose the entire person. They can still carry on a conversation, call you on the phone, discuss something you’re looking at on TV and talk about old memories and plan for some new ones. You are not left alone while the person still remains in the house with you.
I have helped care for a dying father who had an inoperable brain tumor. That robbed him of who he was, too. My mother had a perforated colon, and heart disease and kidney failure. All terrible diseases and the list is large of other terrible ones as well. Too extensive to go on this small page.
I have had friends that were paraplegics and some had speech impediments and other things that interfered a normal life. Some that have battled cancer and endured the rigors of chemo and surgery and radiation. Open heart surgeries. None we would wish on anyone.
When you look at her today, she looks fine. With a nice outfit on and her makeup and hair done, she still looks striking for her age. But when we walk into Publix and she holds my hand to keep from getting lost in aisles, people see quickly: the lights have gone out. The person I knew all those years has left.
When I put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and show her how to brush her teeth, it makes me sad. Sad for what she has lost and who she was. When I have to help her take off her PJ’s and put on her outfit for the day or help her get a shower, I want to yell at someone. WHY!? I am told there are some 15-18 million people doing the same thing I’m doing. I wonder if they ever want to yell? Or if they do. There are several million of us but it seems like just one too many I ‘m sure.
There is no one to yell at. It is easy to shy away from people with mental illness while sympathizing with others with “mere physical infirmities”. Mental illness makes everyone a little uncomfortable.
Not a physical infirmity that you can see but the person I knew disappeared in April 2013. Once in a while there is a flicker. But mostly its darkness. No hope is held out for recovery.
No cures or treatment are available. There are depositories, places where you can put these troublesome folks and move on with your life and many have no choice but to do that. I have chosen to tough it out as long as I can for her. I don’t know how that will work out.
And, as long as I am able, I’ll hold the light for her.