Being a carer or relative of someone with dementia is considerably more than simply being responsible for a life. Most of us have borne this responsibility when we had children. The realisation when you hold the baby in your arms that the life depends utterly on you, is not only something from which you never recover; it’s the moment you grow up.
Taking responsibility for a demented person is more than the moment when you mature, though it is indeed taking the reins of another life. You are not just the driver, you’re the team of huskies too. Safe in the sled, wrapped up in furs is the poor demented passenger. On every side loom huge dark trees, their branches laden with crystal snow. If you steer too close you will precipitate the avalanche that won’t just chill you, it will fill the sled and freeze the passenger. On all sides, sometimes keeping pace with you, often running ahead, rarely falling behind, are the wolves who will devour you and your cargo if you falter even once. At any time the passenger may stand up, take all the furs off and fall, naked into the snow, freezing to death before you have had time to go back to save them.
The faster you run the more tired you become. The place you are running to is an open grave. Your task is to deliver your burden, still wrapped warmly in the furs, still safe, preferably so happy that all they have noticed is an exciting ride across a frozen landscape. The danger, the fear, the exhaustion you must keep to yourself. Who do you have to help you?
You have me, you have the anecdotal evidence of anyone who has made the journey and survived. You have all the medical professionals who are riding on the runners. You have the Internet, a place full of maps, which can show you the lie of the land, which can show you where to go, which can tell you ‘here be wolves, here is a glacier.’
How do you run the race successfully? Like any race the key is to stay one step ahead. Look ahead. Face the task bravely. Read everything you can and always embrace the worst case scenario. Prepare for the precipice but hope for the flat snowfield with no pitfalls. Learn how to get out before you fall into a pitfall, memorise the ladder. You will find out soon, in fact the minute you get the maps out, who will stay with you and who will run away. Waste no time on the runners and remember to thank the outriders often and well. Keep everyone who cares, on the GPS, tell them where you are and where you are planning to go next. Like any race you need to work out first and keep it up. Do whatever it takes to get your own endorphins circulating. Don’t take to strong drink, you could freeze and never notice. Do take a rest whenever you get the chance. Train up the B team of relief huskies as soon as you know the trip is afoot. Prime them to be there in one phone call and trust them. When they are pulling the sled, don’t pull with them. Dig your warm hole in the snow and sleep so you are refreshed when you wake. When you are running, if the scenery is hilarious, laugh, if it is grim, run faster, it will pass.
Trust your paws, they will carry you there. Trust your nose and your instincts but check all incoming information with the medical team on the runners. Protect the passenger from the worst of the blizzard if you can but make them see the fierce beauty of the landscape if you have to and then wrap them up in the furs again.
In the trip you will grow. You will turn from a cub to a fox to a huge polar bear, your shoulders will swell, the reins will lighten and every brave step taken at the right time will make the next step easier and the ground will fly beneath your strong steel claws. Every human is a social animal, you were built for this and can do it. Never underestimate the passenger, they exist in the slipstream of courage with which you pull the sled.
None of us ever knows which trek we may be called upon to undertake but if you keep your wits about you and run the race every second to the best of your ability, it could be the ride of your life.
JaneLaverick.com – runny.