The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Anticipating Death

I am terrified about my husband's illness.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Melody, you’re having some difficulty with your husband?


Melody:           Yes. Not difficulty with him, but he was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and this has come as a tremendous shock because he doesn’t have any of the what I would think would precede it. He’s very healthy, he’s 72-years-old, and he’s a very healthy man. He doesn’t have heart problems. He doesn’t have any health problems, period. Anyway, he was diagnosed with this, and when the doctors told us, he was very blunt. As I guess doctors perhaps have to be.


Dr. Kenner:      No bedside manner.


Melody:           Right. He just said, “You have Alzheimer’s. I’ll write a prescription.” So I said, “Well, will you help us strategize what to do?” And he said, “I will provide the strategy.” That was the end of that session. But I did ask for a second opinion because he is our family practitioner.


Dr. Kenner:      I was going to recommend that.


Melody:           I said I would like for a neurologist to read the MRI and he said, “It won’t make any difference in the picture,” and I said, “No, it won’t change the film, but perhaps a new set of eyes? A different mindset. A different training. A specialist would see it perhaps a little differently. Are you sure on this diagnosis?” And he pretty much just handed the prescription to us and dismissed us.


Dr. Kenner:      Okay.  


Melody:           I’m just venting I guess, but I want him to have a second opinion.


Dr. Kenner:      There’s no question about that. If you get a serious diagnosis like that, any legitimate doctor shouldn’t resent that. If anything, they would say, “I’d love to get another set of eyes looking at this.” I’m not saying he’s not a legitimate doctor, but I am saying that his bedside manner could use some warming up a bit? Maybe some nice hot chocolate or apple cider he could use?


Melody:           Or stronger!


Dr. Kenner:      Just be happy that you’re not married to him!


Melody:           And I am concerned. The thing is, and I have disciplined myself to stay offline and not research it too much, because that tends to be my mode of operation, but I didn’t want to scare myself too much. The line you hear is, “Fatal and no hope.” I feel like I do not want to put myself in the state of denial. I want to be as open to the diagnosis as I can be. At the same time, it is terrifying.


Dr. Kenner:      That is exactly right. Let’s say that you get the second opinion and the second doctor confirms that it is Alzheimer’s. But, your husband is still healthy. I’m assuming what brought him into the doctor were some memory impairments or maybe some motor activities a tad off?           


Melody:           The interesting thing was, as we prepared, we have made an appointment to see another doctor, a neurologist, but as we prepared to go in, we know this. My husband, I’m going to say about February, seemed a little down. Post-holiday and that sort of thing and I said to him, “Do you think you might be depressed?” He’s never been depressed. He’s never had a depression, but he said, “Maybe I am. I just don’t feel real good.” So we went to the doctor and he did put him on a drug called [inaudible 00:04:06]. He took it and we realized – he took it for four and a half months – we realized that all the symptoms he had occurred during those four and a half months. So when he went off the medicine, because I called the doctor and asked if we could wean him off of it, I think he’s acting a little anxious and confused and a little agitated, and so we went off of it, and he started to get better right away. He just was better right away. So to me there’s a connection there.


Dr. Kenner:      Let me sum up what I’m hearing, and that’s that you definitely want another doctor to rule out was it just an adverse reaction to medication that he was put on for several months? Four and a half months or so. You definitely want to rule that out, because medication – I don’t know that particular one – but it definitely can give you different symptoms. It can mirror a problem that looks like it’s much more serious. Your mind, if it turns out to be Alzheimer’s, you do want to prepare your mind for that. Number one, the two of you do need to grieve. I mean, you do need to allow yourselves to cry and process the fact that if it’s the horrible word – terminal – it’s terminal. And then after, you can’t just push that under the rug and pretend that nothing is happening. You want to do some of that, but you don’t want to get bogged down in that. Just enough to let your mind connect the dots so you’re not, as you said, you don’t want to be in a state of denial. That’s beautifully put. But the other thing you want to do, as long as he is happy – he might not be happy – but as long as he’s around, enjoy it to the max.


One of my favorite examples is my grandfather, at the age of 98, he knew he had a terminal illness. He was on his deathbed, essentially, with everything plugged in at that age, and I went up to him and I had read a lot on anticipatory grief and how to deal with it and it’s so important that people still experience that they have choices. The clinical granddaughter, and so I looked at him and I was with my uncle and I said, “Is there anything, what can we do for you, or what would you like to do and what choice?” Giving him some choices and he looked at us and he said, “I would love to see a tango.” So my uncle and I did a tango for him. That has stayed with me from since he died, many, many years ago. But what that tells me is when I know that I have a terminal illness, I want that attitude, to milk everything I can out of life. That’s what you want to want for yourself. You will need to strategize, if you’re going to be the caretaker obviously, you do need to have some backup, and you do need to prepare to nurture yourself, to start to build a parallel life too – that’s what it’s called, really, it’s your life – but have some outside activity, whether it’s a book club or something else that you enjoy. You’re not abandoning him, you’re just being reasonable.



Movie clip       

Male:   I know what Burt is going through. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s like walking down an empty street, listening to your own footsteps. But all you have to do is to knock on any door and say, “If you let me in, I’ll live the way you want me to live and I’ll think the way you want me to think,” and all the blinds will go up and all the doors will open and you’ll never be lonely, ever again.


Dr. Kenner:      That is phenomenal. That is from Inherit the Wind, an unbelievably wonderful movie. Very principled movie, and that was Spencer Tracy you were listening to. Do you have that struggle in your life? Almost all of us have that struggle and we’ve not resolved it, meaning you want to please other people – you want to please your parents and live the way they want you to live and you want to pleas your kids and you want to please your husband or wife and live the way they want you to live, and only thing wrong is that all of their different desires for you conflict with one another and they conflict with someone else. Your desires for yourself. And, I’ve had the very sad experience of asking clients, “What do you want for yourself? What do you want out of life? What hobbies? What activities? What career?” And they say, “I don’t allow myself to even think of that question,” because they’re so busy pleasing everyone else. Well, the doors and the windows will open up for you if you can be your own person. And be confident in that. It’s not that the doors will all slam, it’s that you can become a beacon for other people to also be true to themselves.