I’m having more of these good-days/bad-days experiences.
Monday, evening I met with a Gettysburg College class on homelessness that had come to Washington for some direct contact with poverty. In preparation, they’d read Not All of Us Are Saints, my book of stories about my providing care to the poor in Washington. I gave them a brief lecture on the origins of poverty in the inner city, and they had lots of questions. After an hour and a half, the students were flagging a bit, but I decided to tell them about my Alzheimer's. That seemed to re-energize everyone, and we had a good discussion. Once again, I had no trouble in a small-group setting. It was rewarding for me and, I think, helpful for them. I was gratified.
Then I came home to discover another of my screw-ups. We’ve been trying to get rid of bedbugs in our apartment (long story). The last time we’d used the vacuum cleaner was to suck up any lingering critters. Marja had wanted to throw the vacuum bag away so that any of the bugs swept up wouldn’t escape back into the apartment. But I decided we could just take off the bag, seal it in plastic and reuse it the next time. Then I stored it in its usual place inside the vacuum cleaner without even a note anywhere to remind us what I’d done. Monday, Marja had spent much of the day scouring the apartment to get rid of the bugs, including a fair amount of vacuuming. When I came home, I took over, only to eventually discover the disconnected, sealed-up bag. We’d both spent a long time vacuuming with a machine that sucked things up but then leaked them back out again.
Unfortunately, I didn’t remember anything about what I’d done with the bag. So I blamed Marja. She, naturally, blamed me. After a little bit of the typical husband/wife back-and-forth, I felt angry and blurted out something like: “So anything that happens is now automatically my fault?!!” Only gradually did I begin to remember and recognize it was, indeed, my fault. It was humiliating.
But, given my Alzheimer's, when something ridiculous happens and neither of us knows why, doesn’t it make sense to assume that I was responsible? Occasionally, of course, it will be Marja’s fault (her memory isn’t perfect, either), but by far the likeliest candidate is going to be me. That’s just the reality. And that means that I have to come to terms with it.
I would like to get to the place where I can, even in the moment, acknowledge that I’ve probably done whatever ridiculous thing that just happened. I would like to get to the place where I don’t feel defensive or humiliated. Perhaps both Marja and I can get to the place where we don’t need to waste emotional energy pinning down who did what. Perhaps we can get to the place together where we even laugh at the ridiculousness (if it is, in fact, funny).
I think we can get there, but it will take work on both of our parts.