Rita Schwartz is a longtime agebuzz subscriber. A native New Yorker, she graduated with a degree in music from the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and she has an MA from NYU in music therapy and government. She has had a long and varied career including working for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Aging, and the Health and Hospitals Corporation. In the private sector, her work has included government relations and political consulting. Now retired, she serves on several boards supporting music organizations, women’s issues, and Democratic politics. She was inspired to write the following post after experiencing firsthand a close friend’s decline from dementia.
I lost some words….and I lost the post-it notes where I write words. I could not remember, so I called a friend and asked her if she remembered the words. No, she could not. They may pop up again, or not, and I won’t remember why I needed those particular words.
I am no longer elderly. I am old but does that mean I am losing my memory and functions?
I do not take a lot of medications for memory. I’m trying to cut back on as much medicine as I can. But, before the pandemic and isolation set in, I exercised, biked, swam, played piano, and read regularly.
But all of that has been lost for the last year and I worry about whether or not I will be able to capture my past and move it into an unknown future.
I read all the commentaries about how to work at memory loss and what it means. I do as much nutrition counseling with myself as I can and walk as often as possible. But still, I wonder, “Why did I walk into this room?” “What did I want in the refrigerator?” Oh my. And I am alone, without a community to walk with and joke and eat and complain about grandchildren.
But sadly, the most difficult is having a friend who really has dementia. A real friend of many years, of happy and sometimes not so happy times. We had real ties- births, deaths, laughing, crying sometimes. She’s a friend, deep and real.
We have known one another from our not-yet-married days to young children to summering together and watching our children in the water, with a small and loving community, tight but open. We shared work talk, recipes, teenagers problems, schools…all the small and big problems that make up a life. We had holidays together, special events, husbands who died.
She still knows who I am, but is only in the moment. And slipping away quickly. She is physically healthy, also now in the old category. But soon she won’t know her friends or her family and this is so hard to come to terms with as we try and keep her in the moment.
For a close friendship, which has lasted through several generations, is rare and valued. And trying to help her connect and watching her slip away faster and faster is like watching a loved one die…slowly. But she will not die, except inside…and will be lost. How do you mourn such a loss? When there is still life?
How to proceed, when your own pieces of paper are slipping away.
I don’t know.