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BREAKOUT: DIMENSIONS OF GRIEF & LOVE & DEMENTIA

EXPLORING THE DIMENSIONS OF LOVE & GRIEF & DEMENTIA
A Presentation by Michael A. Horvich
TEXT EDITION

OPENING COMMENTS

The story I am about to share with you is very personal. I’m comfortable with crying in front of you, however it is very difficult to cry ... and speak at the same time. So if I do get choked up, I will pause, take a few breaths, and be right back. Probably before you even notice I have gone! Thank you for your understanding.

I am NOT presenting my story to you today as an EXPERT in the field of GRIEF ... NOR as an EXPERT in the field of DEMENTIA/ ALZHEIMER’s ... but rather as someone with the DIRECT and INTENSE EXPERIENCE of having LIVED with both of these issues.

ABOUT MICHAEL

Let me tell you a little about me … I am an educator, have worked with children in regular education as well as those with special needs.

I was an administrator for a Talented and Gifted Education Program, taught Junior High Spanish, and taught a number of university level education courses and seminars.

I have been retired for 20+ years but have been more than active as an educator, speaker, writer, poet, blogger, actor, opera supernumerary, children’s museum curator, Flea Circus Ring master & Dementia /Alzheimer’s caregiver partner.

ABOUT GREGORY

Gregory earned his BA at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and received his Master’s Degree from Harvard University where he studied Architecture, with Phi Beta Kappa recognition.

He ran his own high end architecture and interior design firm and served as architect of record for renovations at the Baha’i National Shrine in a suburb of Chicago, Wilmette, Il.

Gregory was a writer, an artist, was well versed in music and art history, was a concert level pianist, spoke French, and won many awards for his architecture and interior design skills.

DIAGNOSIS

GREGORY, my husband of over 41 years, was diagnosed with DEMENTIA, most likely ALZHEIMER’S, in the 29th year of our relationship. He was 55 years old. He died 12 years later at age 68 due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.

I might say that Gregory & I lived WELL with Dementia/Alzheimer’s, refusing to accept the diagnosis as a “death sentence. Also, I never referred to it as HIS diagnosis but rather OUR diagnosis.

There were more GOOD times than there were BAD and we PREVAILED!

GREGORY, for the most part, dealt with HIS CHANGES and GRIEF in his usual CALM manner.

Eventually the Alzheimer’s created a BUFFER which kept him from fully being aware of the changes through which he was going.

Not everyone is as FORTUNATE as we were.

GRIEF

How I dealt with MY GRIEF is a different story. After a number of years, the GRIEF over Gregory’s losses my often playing a guessing game at how to understand what he was going through and how to support him and my increasing responsibilities for both of our lives over time, was beginning to take its toll.

But rather than wallowing in our situation, I actively worked to make our life and days as normal and enjoyable as possible and that helped me to cope with the situation.

My bouts with MILD DEPRESSION and GRIEF increased over the twelve years Gregory & I walked the Dementia/Alzheimer’s Path.

Early in the experience, I turned to my computer to write and to process my experiences, since I could no longer talk things through with Greg.

I learned to cry myself to sleep at night without shaking the bed so I would not wake him.

Sometimes he and I would have a cathartic cry together ... or a MEAN exchange followed quickly by an apology; but for the most part, I dealt with my GRIEF alone.

Many long term “friends” deserted us. I understood their not being able to witness the changes Gregory was going through but none- the-less, their desertion HURT! I was SAD as well as ANGRY.

SUPPORT

Family and friends did the best they could to support us but what could they really do considering they had their own lives to live and many lived in other parts of the country.

I pretty much was on my own. About four or five years into our journey, I looked for and was fortunate to find, Peter, my Jungian Psychologist who really met my needs. He supported me when I was on target with my thinking and challenged me when I was off.

For many people, their religion and their faith community provide the needed support. I do not fault this, but Gregory and I never found peace of mind in religion. He considered himself a RECOVERED CATHOLIC and I consider myself a CULTURAL JEW.

What IS IMPORTANT, is to find someone, someplace, or something to provide one with the much needed “shoulder to lean on!”

Both Gregory and I had studied various Buddhist teachings and felt comfortable with them. I read more about Buddhism and learned how to meditate. I found Corinne ... I call her my Guru ... and she helped me continue on my path to understanding meditation and Buddha’s teachings.

To this day, I attribute my studies in Buddhism in helping to keep me sane, to supporting me through our journey with DEMENTIA/ ALZHEIMER’S, and to cope with GRIEF. It gave me HOPE ... at least on a day to day basis ... that our life would be OK.

HEALTHY vs UNHEALTHY GRIEF

For this presentation, I wanted to make clear in MY mind ... ways of thinking about GRIEF.

HEALTHY vs UNHEALTHY. This is probably the most obvious difference. All types of GRIEF, while causing various degrees of suffering and pain and duration, can be experien