The Communication Conundrum

by Ginnie Horst Burkholder

The wedding festivities are over, and I am ready to get back in touch with all of you.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the e-mail responses to my blog. I have laughed and cried, felt helpless, hopeful, and happy, as many of you have shared your own personal stories with me. So, I am back. Knowing that your stories and mine run so parallel is an antidote to the isolation and loss that nips at my heels. Connecting with you is the big stick that fends off the loneliness caused by lack of meaningful communication with my spouse.

Our conversations, if you can call them that, range from the ludicrous to the normal. Nelson’s hushed tones and mumbling, combined with his dementia, tax the process for both of us. We have lost a crucial tool for connecting, and sometimes it seems we have run out of resources to draw ourselves together. Still, the fluctuations of the disease give us interludes of togetherness – when I am able to see them.

“We have a treat!” I say one day, knowing Nelson’s appetite for sweets.

“Whose retreat?” he asks. I consider this. I could use one, but maybe now is not the time to say so. Timing is everything, they say.

“How about we give you a shower?” I am feeling him out to see if he is alert and willing enough for the process.

“What green thing?” he asks.

The shower can wait, I decide.

We are in the bathroom when he picks up my razor. I reach out and take it saying, “No,
that is mine.”

“Well then, where is yours?” My mind seems toyed with. It laughs. It cries. It gives up.

They say you should speak slowly, enunciate, and have them look at you. We are both movers. I could probably save myself a lot of grief if I stopped moving, faced him, got his attention, and then spoke slowly with good enunciation. But does anybody really do that? All the time? I should try. See what happens.

I would do it if there were an emergency, wouldn’t I? I should get in the habit now.

“Slow down. There is no fire,” I say one day when his body is moving faster than his mind.

“Where?” he asks, looking alarmed. OK. I get it. Get his attention. Don’t speak on the run. Enunciate. Speak slowly.

“I beg to bicker with you,” he says one day.

“You want to bicker with me about what?” I ask.

“I forget.” He laughs, and I join him. Forgiveness and forgetting really do go hand in hand with dementia. Sometimes, there are blessings to dementia if we can admit it.

Having lived with someone for forty years makes communication easier. I know his code.

When he says, “Do you want to see Jim today?” I know he means, “I want to see Jim today.”

“How would you like some oatmeal?” means, “I want some oatmeal.”

No matter how dirty his glasses are, if I ask if they need to be cleaned, he will say, “They’re good.”

Or if I ask him if he wants to do something, he will rarely say no. Instead he will say, “Maybe tomorrow.”

Then from time to time, just to keep us guessing, this crazy disease throws in some normalcy. He asked me very clearly where we were getting the money to put in the new furnace. Wanting to reassure him, but knowing he wouldn’t be able to follow the details and explanation, I waved my hand, grinned, and said, “Oh, we have money all over the place!”

Smiling, he looked at me and just as clearly said, “You don’t leave me anything to worry about.”

Sometimes communication actually does what it is supposed to!

© Ginnie Horst Burkholder 2008

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