Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Mark Johnson.

A Toast
Here’s to Aloneness and her second cousin, Loneliness.
May we continue to especially savour and enjoy the former.
Without being absorbed by the latter.

I wrote those words during the last six years of my wife’s life. She was in a care home, where I placed her with the family’s support, after she had phoned the RCMP to report a stranger (me) in our house. The officer reminded her the night before her admission, “You need to see a doctor, right now. ASAP.”

He was right, but his words were not recalled by her as we drove to the ferry, then Lions Gate Hospital the next evening. From there, she would go to a care centre on a secure unit about three months later. She was extremely fortunate when we found this care home. The nurses, staff and therapists combined professionalism together with unfathomable warmth.

Now I saw her. Then I didn’t. Losing her one teaspoon at a time felt like a cruel drama.

Much of this today is with hindsight. What unfolded over the years from 2011 to 2017 was a sense of progressive, inexorable loss. Now I saw her. Then I didn’t. Losing her one teaspoon at a time felt like a cruel drama, one step forward, two steps backward, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year.

At times she and I could and would feel quite close. I would sing to her. Dance with her. Rub her back or the nape of her neck. Yet the comforting spooning also began to diminish, steadily but almost imperceptibly. “Maybe next week,” she would gently and quietly remind me, after I had awkwardly reached out for some snuggling or cuddling time.

Within all this, I found myself bouncing back and forth between aloneness and loneliness; again, this is largely with hindsight that I am aware of these experiences and memories.

Loneliness is powerful and impactful, but not a necessary part of being human. Loneliness is often simply aloneness
poorly tolerated, or experienced
but not learned from.

Aloneness is part of being human; an important part of the human condition, the existential psychologists would remind us. Loneliness is powerful and impactful, but not a necessary part of being human. Loneliness is often simply aloneness poorly tolerated, or experienced but not learned from.

And so, those of us loving a partner with dementia may often find ourselves consciously and/or unconsciously puzzled by the mixture of these two emotional experiences. Aloneness is a strident challenge to our very being. Yet, what doesn’t destroy us, makes us stronger.

Loneliness can be a miserable, unhappy, cantankerous experience. But if we fight our way through our loneliness, what may we find on the other side but… aloneness!

A stronger, braver, healthier person.

How do we fight through that gap that separates loneliness and emptiness from the incitement that is the gift of aloneness?

And now, probably telling you what you already know: How do we fight through that gap that separates loneliness and emptiness from the incitement that is the gift of aloneness?

We believe that it can – and will – happen. We don’t insist on doing it by ourselves, but don’t hesitate to reach out to others. Friends. Family. Counsellor. Our family physician.  Support group members who have faced and/or are facing similar bouts of loneliness and aloneness related to loving a special person who is – or has – struggled with the grips and vise jaw of dementia.

And if you are ready for a new gift, search along spiritual pathways. Prayer. Meditation. Go anywhere where it feels safe to let go, to reach out, to share and explore spiritual possibilities. If this is not you, think about it twice before discarding these new trails, paths or passageways.

Remember to comfort yourself with this thought: you are living within a crisis. And within several oriental dialects, this translates as two things: a) a time of danger. And b) a time of opportunity.

“Love knows not its own depth.  Until the hour of separation.” – Kahlil Gibran

What I have learned—in between my grief, sorrow, tears, heartache, anguish and pain—is that Alzheimer’s (and I strong suspect) other forms of dementia are gifts. Wrapped within tragedy, loss and heartbreak.

This is not meant to wrap a candy coating around your grief. But to comfort, and remind you that there is a larger, maybe much larger picture here. And one we may not want to examine, explore and reflect upon at this time. That’s okay. But keep an eye, an ear and especially your heart open to the larger picture that dementia is a part of.

And that is the gift. That is dementia.

Within a marriage. Or indispensably, enormously absolutely important relationship that you are part of.

Kahlil Gibran, the author of The Prophet, reminded us that “Love knows not its own depth.  Until the hour of separation.”

Dr. David Cowan Kirkpatrick worked for 40 years as a psychologist, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. His new book, Neither Married Nor Single: When You Partner has Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia, explores the changes that can occur between a couple when one is facing dementia. He lives in British Columbia.