Saturday, March 05, 2016

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Lose

A dear friend of mine is sliding rapidly down the cognitive hill with diagnosed dementia. He used to fly airplanes, climb mountains, and study martial arts under a master who grew up with Bruce Lee and learned from Yip Man. Now he can't find his own way from the bathroom to the living room or make his way there without wobbling precariously. He used to speak intelligently and articulately about everything. Now his utterances are more like word salad. And he can scarcely dress himself or use the bathroom without help.

He's totally dependent on his dutiful wife to whom he clings like a drowning child to a lifeguard. About the only respite she gets from his near stranglehold is when I bring him here to the house to sit and talk and watch TV with me, when he's not napping, while she hangs out at the local Thai Buddhist temple with my wife and the other "temple ladies," as they call themselves.

Yet, he's not reached the point of being oblivious to his accelerating decline and dependency. In fact, he's acutely aware of them and magnifies this awful awareness with his predilection to ruminate interminably on his deterioration. His mind works like a needle on a beat up old phonograph record. The needle hops and skips all over the place producing scratchy, cacophonous noise or gets stuck in a deep groove repeating the same passage again and again until someone moves it. And there seems to be nothing anybody can do to reverse or even stall his precipitous descent into mental oblivion.

So what he tells me with increasing frequency that he wants to do about all this is to end his own life so that he won't continue to burden his wife or anyone else with his growing dependency and to wallow in a disintegrating, purposeless existence that brings him no pleasure much less joy. And I find myself unable to sincerely tell him anything that might reassure him or lift his spirits, because I can't think of anything reassuring and inspiring to say to him. And when I try to do it anyway, it comes out sounding pathetically awkward, hollow, and perfunctory and probably doesn't fool him, despite his compromised condition, any more than it does me.

The truth is, if I were in my friend's shoes, and someday I might very well be, I wouldn't want to go on either. So I can hardly blame him for feeling the way he does. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't think he has the means to do anything about it except inexorably sink to his natural demise.

In the meantime, all I can do is hang in there with him and be the best friend to him I can be as his tragic dissolution continues unabated.

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