It’s a crazy world. The news will tell you that. Fortunately, the news is pretty easy to avoid. But sometimes crazy sets up shop at home, and you can’t avoid it.
October ’89 was like that for me. The helicopters kept flying over my home in downtown Santa Cruz, surveying the damage of the Loma Prieta earthquake, their intrusive sound reminiscent of Vietnam war movies. Mourners set up a vigil outside a wrecked building, calling to someone they thought had survived, their voices carrying across town, inescapable and heart-wrenching. Life was already surreal, as we waited for power, water, and out-of-county supply lines to be restored. But the unwelcome sounds made it worse.
These last ten days, I entered a surreal world once more. My dear mother-in-law has had a stroke. While she waits for an opening at a rehab center, her world is a ward with eight other women, several suffering dementia. Her neighbor talks to herself and people not there. Another calls plaintively for assistance – the toilet, some water, to get out of bed. Another asks repeatedly for a cup of tea. For my mother-in-law, suddenly in the new role of patient, able to manage few words, with limited motion on one side, the unwelcome sounds of her companions must make her new situation seem even worse.
How do you cope, when you just want to get out of there, but there is where you belong? When your surroundings are so surreal, but leaving just isn’t an option? When there is no quick fix, no easy way out?
You can start by asking yourself these simple questions:
- What do you need to be doing right now?
- What is the next step, the next sign of progress?
- What is something you can be looking forward to, long-term?
To my mother-in-law, I offered answers to these questions, reminding her every few days, giving her things that she could remember and act on in the days and weeks ahead.
But on my last day in the ward, after a tearful goodbye to my mother-in-law, I turned to her neighbor. This lady had talked to herself, and talked to people who weren’t there, but every so often, she had spoken to me. And I had responded. And she had been there, in the reality of the moment. I asked her to look after my mother-in-law. A crazy request perhaps, but if, on occasion, she uses a moment of lucidity in conversation with my mother-in-law, it will be a good thing.
And when your world has gone crazy, every little good thing helps.