I was perhaps the closest by virtue of living with him. Joe had always been fiesty and combative. It seemed his nature. He learned early to lash out at anything he perceived as threatening. He balanced that with a soft and generous side. The scales seemed to be tipping toward the negative as his disease progressed. Another aspect that may have entered the equation was onset of dementia. This is a strange illness in that it shows up in off hand ways and is difficult to clearly diagnose absent any concrete measurable symptoms. But at times something would seem off kilter. I can only imagine what it may have been like in Joe’s shoes. After all, he was the one who was facing perhaps the end of his life while all the while experiencing a decline in quality of life. I was only the outside observer.
I do not know if it was dementia or something else but an example of how something small could become odd with no clear reason could provide an example of how things were being faced. Besides physically feeling ill, Joe was facing financial difficulties. In this area he had always been adept at juggling the most balls with out mishap. How that his income was nil and expenses the same he had trouble keeping the same balls aloft. His truck had a damaged tire that while still holding air was unsafe and would not pass a coming vehicle inspection. It took him most of the day to find a dealer who could sell him a new tire for just about the balance Joe had in his checking account. I followed him to the dealer and gave him a ride home. Later when we went to pick up his truck the tire had not been changed but the truck had received a shampoo. Now we had a truck that looked good but would not pass inspection. We went round and round over this trivial matter and I felt hard pressed to make peace with Joe’s decisions.
My task was to try and stay calm, clear and collected while providing care for someone I loved who appeared to be on a down ward slope with little chance of turning that around. Joe had very little energy left for even smallest household tasks and this may have bothered him a lot, since he had always been active at cleaning and tidying his surroundings. He took most pride in how well he maintained his yards. He loved planting and caring for his vegetation. In the fall he would plant profusely with pansies. In Atlanta they would bloom all winter providing color when most of the world was turning bleak. It was falling more upon me to care for the landscape. I found work with my hands in the garden provided a sense of grounding that helped me maintain a positive attitude in care giving. Perhaps part of his legacy was to instill in me a penchant for working outdoors on my hands and knees digging in the dirt when all else seems amiss. Since then I take my times landscaping and gardening, ,lawn mowing and raking, clearing and hauling in the yard in order to prepare myself to deal with any difficulties that may arise. Thank you, Joe; it works.