Ross and Bronwyn

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Ross and Bronwyn

In 2010 Bronwyn and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary. Just over a year earlier, a geriatrician had considered Bron’s symptoms and ordered further testing.

There had been niggling indicators that things weren’t right. For instance, Bronwyn was getting frustrated when handling the shopping. Her short-term memory loss was increasing and she was no longer able to help cook meals or perform many other household chores.

She was, however, still able to do the laundry and hang out the clothes. In fact, she relished being able to do this so much that I ensured the clothes hamper was replenished every night.

Bronwyn lost her appetite and, unless prompted, would often forget to eat. Her weight dropped, and she started giving up doing the things she loved, like driving and playing golf. Still, we persisted with our regular date night (actually, a date lunch!) for as long as we could.

Despite Bron’s increasing problems, our prized Winnebago remained at the centre of our retirement plans. As we travelled, Bron insisted on keeping hold of the map, reading aloud all road-signs and notices, until finally the day came when she tearfully conceded that she had no idea where we were.

Upon switching to the GPS navigator, Bron argued vehemently with it from the outset. This stopped when I changed the female voice to the male option. Fancy another woman dictating where we went!

Our travels posed a number of problems. Once, I could not locate Bron’s now extensive range of medications. After a trip to the pharmacist, GP and hospital to get replacement scripts, I later found the medications hidden in the fridge, on top of the ice cubes.

At North Haven – an area previously familiar to Bron – she became lost for the first time. Fortunately, she found her way back, although tearful and shaken.

Parking at an amenities block, I hoped Bron might be able to use it independently. But instead she stood still, clutching her clothing and shower bag, obviously disoriented.

Following advice from our specialist, the Winnebago went. A year or so later, Bron tried to get out of our car while travelling at 80km per hour. This brought to an end our geographic travels, but our life journey had far to go.

During the toughest time of my life, I told our GP that I could no longer care for Bron at home. She shadowed me when she was not sleeping during the day, and slept fitfully at night. There had been some incontinence and she objected to respite.

While we were fortunate to find a vacancy in the facility of our choice, Bron’s first weeks were sad and lonely for both of us. I was medicated and counselled for clinical depression. Bron’s anxiety increased, her weight dropped and the ripples of her illness spread through our family, especially amongst our three daughters.

As family members continued to spend time with Bron, prompts such as photographs and the occasional visit from the family dog helped with communication. Events or celebrations involving large groups, however, became a source of anxiety, and we gradually began to decline these invitations.

One Mother’s Day, Bronwyn was hospitalised after eating scented soap. We think she may have mistaken it for a treat. It was allergenic, so her faced swelled and her breathing was threatened.

Upon her return from hospital, Bron’s anxiety and fearful demeanour increased. Our supportive GP has since prescribed medications that have made her life less painful.  Now she sleeps, and our visits are more peaceful.

I’d like to share a few of the many things I have learned to do throughout this journey.

Say ‘I love you’ more often.
Be flexible, live in the moment, and adjust plans whenever necessary.
Converse without asking questions.
Repeat information as much as it’s needed, without losing patience.
Maximise non-verbal communications: hugs, touching, kissing and smiling.
Interpret body language.
Seek out and accept all the help and support available.
Understand the importance of legalities: wills, power of attorney, enduring guardianship, and end of life directive.
Postscript – Bronwyn died on 29 July 2016. Our thoughts are with Ross and his family.