For this memoir, I’ll take the third person. It’s informative for me to view the events from an observer’s distance. I’ll be Joy, and my husband will be Phil.
Back in the early 2000s, Joy and Phil were busy professionals. Joy worked full-time teaching English as a New Language (ENL). She wrote columns for the union newsletter and other publications. Phil had two offices for his hypnosis clients, one at home and one in Monroe. When he wasn’t helping people quit smoking or lose weight or eliminate phobias, he was spreading his brochures around Orange and Ulster Counties. He often had appointments at night, which suited Joy just fine, as she liked to have the house to herself after work.
If Joy had been less busy and more alert, she might have wondered about the books Phil kept buying: Improve Your Memory books. Train Your Brain books. And the supplements on the counter: Brain boosters. Joy knew that Phil’s mother had died of Alzheimer’s disease, in a slow decline until reaching the age of ninety. Phil never expressed any fears about his own health, but the books spoke for him. Joy wasn’t attending.
Joy retired in 2011. Phil took time off for them to travel and visit family in Italy. When they got back, Phil started having trouble with his schedule. He missed a few appointments. Joy found out that Phil had been seeing a neurologist who called Phil’s issue, “memory loss.” A year and a few tests later it was an official diagnosis: mild vascular dementia.
The neurologist ordered a driving test. Phil was incensed. “There’s nothing wrong with my driving!” But there was. He made left turns in front of oncoming cars. He drove too fast and too close. Phil failed the driving test. “It’s that woman’s fault,” he complained, blaming the examiner.
Joy took over the driving. Fortunately, in spite of his indignation, Phil didn’t try to take the car keys and leave. He didn’t argue about who was to drive. So perhaps Phil felt insecure about his own abilities.
When they visited family in Spain for some weeks, Joy did all the packing. Phil could no longer organize himself to complete tasks like choosing what clothes to take or ordering additional medications from the pharmacy. They argued about Phil carrying his own passport and plane tickets. Joy was afraid he’d misplace them, as he often misplaced his wallet and phone. They settled it with a pouch around Phil’s neck. It was up to Joy to make sure he put it on every morning.
Phil stopped working after that trip to Spain. He could no longer do the jobs needed to maintain the four-bedroom house, and Joy was tired of the additional responsibility. They moved to a two-bedroom apartment. Phil was unhappy that his tool collection was downsized and sent to a storage unit. There was no need for a lawn mower or a weed-whacker. He stopped initiating new activities or new conversation and spent most of his time rereading magazines or doing crossword puzzles.
Each month and week, Joy noted more losses. He couldn’t remember where the utensils and dishes were in the kitchen, so she labeled the drawers and cabinets. He didn’t know which clothes were appropriate for the weather. Joy chose his outfit each morning. Phil couldn’t remember which pills he’d taken or whether he’d taken any at all. Joy took over medications and supplements, putting them out in a cup at breakfast.
Phil asked sad questions, like “What’s your daughter’s name?” and “Was I married to her?” (Maddie, his first wife). If requested to get something from another room, Phil would forget what it was he had to bring.
Joy was in despair. For her, each day was Groundhog Day. Everything was on repeat: the directions needed for daily routines, the comments he made about the food, the weather, the houseplants. “Thank you for making breakfast,” said three times.
Joy boomeranged from frustration to anger to guilt to sorrow in an endless loop. If she yelled at him, she felt awful. He was, in spite of everything, a sweet-tempered, loving man. Phil lived in the present, and while each experience was fresh for him, Joy felt buried in dullness.
And then came the Corona Virus. And it all got worse. Cut off from social interaction, Phil lost more of his cognition. Joy entertained herself with jigsaw puzzles and sewing projects and Zoom meetings. But times were hard.
And that’s where we leave Joy and Phil–for now.