November 18th, 2022
Facing one's fears
When I was a child I was close to my grandmother. She took care of me every Friday evening when my parents and older brothers went to the church. I was too young to go, that’s why they had to have someone babysit me.
I’ve fond memories of those nights in Grandma’s little apartment on Main Street West in Hamilton, Ontario—of the Coca-Cola and scotch mints she gave me. Grandma was afraid of the China-man working in the garage across the street. Mom tried to help her with it, but some fears just don’t go away. I used to watch out the window of her apartment with him, just in case I might catch of glimpse of him there.
My grandmother died in her nineties when I was in my late teens. She’d been progressing with Alzheimer’s for about a decade. Mom and I used to go and visit her in the nursing home every Sunday and I’d play her favourite hymns on the piano for her. She loved The Old Rugged Cross. One day I guess I didn’t play it well enough because after I was done she looked at me and said, “That was nice, Terry, now play The Old Rugged Cross.” So, I played it again.
Another day at the end of our visit she said that she was glad that she’d met me. By this point in her dementia she’d forgotten I’d been a part of her life for all of mine up until then. I guess she thought I was just a stranger who happened to spend time with her on a particular Sunday afternoon. And she called my Mom by Mom’s dead sister’s name. That was hard for Mom.
A generation later, my mother died in her nineties. Throughout my childhood, mom and I did things together like baking cookies. At one point Grandma told my mom that I was almost as good as a girl; I think she meant that as a compliment.
After I was married and moved away from hometown Hamilton, Mom and I would talk weekly on the phone and Mary and I would go back home to visit as often as we could. I remember her saying “Oh, Terry …” in that voice that was both amused by and annoyed with me. We always cared for each other.
Eventually, Mom and I didn’t talk on the phone any more as her dementia progressed. Now she was the one in a nursing home. Mom had a different sort of dementia, caused by progressive strokes, not Alzheimer’s. More and more of her abilities fell by the wayside and her pain with arthritis took away her mobility. The last words I remember her saying was an agonized, constantly repeated, plea for help. The nature of help she needed was never really clear. It was so difficult for me to hear because I was part of the helping professions and yet couldn’t do anything to alleviate her distress.
So why do I blog this?
I blog because I’m doing that psychologist thing called facing one’s fears. Both of these important relationships in my life had their final years severely mentally compromised. It seemed a sad and tragic way for their lives to end given the vitality and amazing competency of their adult lives before their dementia.
I made my way professionally in this world through the capacity of mind and heart. For over four decades I cared for folk with mental health challenges. It was a caring that required mental acuity and flexibility, that and the capacity for empathy and compassion. But now in my seventh decade I recognise that my genetics might carry me down the path of dementia (if some other health issue doesn’t get me first).
It terrifies me—the possibility of dementia, not the death.
So to face my fear, I’m writing. Obviously, this rather explicit blog acknowledges the fear. But I’m doing so with another project too. Currently, I’m writing a novel about a seventy year old fellow who is starting to show mild dementia. He doesn’t really notice, but others around him do. The stories of his earlier life happen to be annoyingly vivid in his mind, so strong that he can forget where he is in the present, wander off, not handle things well.
Of course the main character, Steven, is me, me done up with enough changes of life work and family members and events so that it’s all quite fictional. There are some similarities though. The ideological context in which Steven grew up was very much like my own (the Gospel church). What Steven came to value through his life work was very much like what I came to value in mine, the humanistic undercurrent of respect for the uniqueness and values of others.
I’ve come to believe that good works of fiction reveal what is true on the deepest human level, a deeper level than the psychological theories of my past profession. It’s not circumstantial or objective truth, not the sort of reality that can be proved by statistics, but the truth known through meaningful relationship and judicious self-reflection. It is the sort of truth that emerges within the individual mind as it looks back out at the world through the lens of honesty and integrity.
I’d love for some of my blog readers to come on this writing journey with me. This new novel is structured using a succession of short stories, each complete in itself. When the collection is taken together it forms its own story arc. Given this structure, I can easily bring you on board with some short stories, the kind you can read in about ten minutes with a coffee or a cocoa. You can find out more about getting access to these stories on the ENGAGE! page of this website.
If you’re interested in this fascinating, yet fearsome, journey send me an email and I can get you started. email@example.com.
You can check out previous blog's clicking on the links below
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.