This post deals with the value of having a live-in partner, caregiver or helper. If that is not your current situation feel free to ignore.
I’m 73 years old, Keith will soon be 74. Some would say that’s not “old” but to me, it is—in many ways I didn’t anticipate.
I expected my limbs would be somewhat less agile as I aged, that my hair would gray, that I likely would lose some of my stamina. But basically, I thought I would maintain most of my physical and mental capabilities. My assumptions were based on the aging I witnessed of my mother and Keith’s father, both of whom were very active, mentally sharp, and spry until their deaths in their late eighties.
But I was wrong—at least in the area of mental acuity.
Being diagnosed with MCI was a condition I hadn’t anticipated or even been aware of. Immediately after my diagnosis I searched and scoured the internet for a definition of this ominous-sounding mental defect and read and re-read the articles I found. Within the first year of my diagnosis Keith and I attended the Mayo Clinic Habit Program, specifically designed to help people with MCI and their caregivers better understand their sutuation and possible future. I continue to learn all I can about memory and cognitive decline.
Nevertheless, my journey with MCI has been unique to me—and by association to Keith as well.
While there are the standard suggestions for coping with MCI (healthy diet, sleep, exercise, consistent routine—all of which I do regularly), my most valued resource in coping with my condition is and has been my proactive and engaged partner. Keith is not only my caregiver, he is my coach, companion, and very significant other.
As my coach and companion, Keith keeps me from withdrawing. It is very easy for me to talk myself out of inviting friends over for a visit or to share a meal, and I frequently cancel activities I’ve enjoyed in the past such as my yoga sessions, community events and presentations, even short trips to visit friends and relatives. I’m hesitant about traveling long distances, and I avoid crowds.
In essence, I have a tendency to want to hibernate.
Thank goodness for Keith. In his gentle way, he encourages me with a gentle pep talk and a recognition of my hesitation, even as he reminds me of how much I’ve enjoyed these very same activities in the past. He assures me with offers of help in whatever way he can, such as making meals on the grill when we have friends over, handling travel logistics, and accompanying me to many events which he would not normally attend.
As my partner, Keith is consistent in preserving and maintaining our intimacy. Throughout the day Keith embraces me and confesses his love. He tells me I’m pretty and holds my hand during our walks. And most importantly, he ensures the regularity of our making love.
Being intimate is restorative to us both. Touching, caressing and holding each other erases for a time every flaw and fear. Restores my security. Rejuvenates my spirits. For a time I feel totally normal, like my old self; a welcome respite from the anxiety and stress of trying to remember and feeling negative when my mind falters.
Even as I love and trust Keith, completely, there are times I resent his offers of help, his encouragement and even his loving embraces. Often these emotions arise when I’m tired, stressed, or feeling sorry for myself. Then I lash out and take it out on him. (I remember reading somewhere that we act the most harshly toward our loved ones, because we trust they will forgive us.)
At some point during these periods of negative thoughts, I inevitably catch myself and refocus on all the support and love Keith gives me. And I pause to consider how empty my life would be without him, and how his touch comforts me like nothing else can—a memory I think will be long, long lasting.