I had to back out of this year's World Science Fiction Convention, WorldCon, at quite literally the last minute.
That caused a number of people who were depending on my presence some problems. I apologize for that.
I was really been looking forward to WorldCon this year.
I'm not a fan of crowds, even if there wasn't a pandemic going around, but I'm part of several new books, and I was excited about those stories (still am). The latest one, I think that might be good enough to win an award or two. I mean, I usually write about politics, so getting to talk about the stuff I actually enjoy writing? Well, like I said, I was looking forward to it.
And I was really looking forward to reconnecting and spending time with old friends. Some of which I only see at scifi conventions and comic cons.
If there was any way I could have made the Convention, I would have.
And as you've probably noticed, I haven't posted much here this last week.
As such, I suppose I owe you an explanation.
My Mother-In-Law passed away.
I was literally -- literally -- in the car, pulling out of the driveway on my way to Washington, when my son (my son and his wife are living with us at the moment, while they look for their own place) ran out of the house and stopped me.
Mom's on the phone with the nursing home and it doesn't sound good, he said. You'd better wait a minute.
He was right, it wasn't good.
My wife and I left our home in Alaska five years ago and moved here to the fetid swamps of the Florida Panhandle to care for her mom, who had then been recently diagnosed with Alzheimers.
My wife gave up her career and became a full time caregiver -- which, if you're not familiar with Alzheimers, is a damn tough job that gets tougher and tougher with every day that passes.
Alzheimers only goes in one direction.
And that direction is down.
It's pretty horrifying watching someone you love slowly disintegrate, losing their memories and their self piece by piece as the days go by.
There are a number of ideologies when it comes to Alzheimers treatment. People can get pretty ... passionate about it. But, whichever course you choose, keeping an Alzheimers patient's mind active can sometimes help to slow the progression of the disease.
So, my wife was there every minute of every day, working to keep her mom stimulated and engaged. The oldest memories are the ones that linger the longest. So, we daily took her to thrift stores and antique shops and wandered with her among the old things from her childhood -- hoping to reinforce those happy memories. My wife took her mom to visit friends and family. They went fishing, something both women loved to do (I clean the catch and cook it, but fishing bores me to tears). It worked, for a while.
At home, we kept the big TV in the living room tuned the Grit Channel and the Western shows from her childhood, Gunsmoke, Death Valley Days, and Laramie. She increasingly had trouble following the plot, but those shows were all pretty much the same story every episode and if you lost the thread of it, well, the next one picked up in the same place. She had trouble remembering new people, but she knew the faces of actors who've been dead for decades, even if she couldn't remember their names, and again those shows helped keep her memories intact. For a while.
I cooked healthy meals. We took her for long walks. Because proper nutrition and exercise can also help slow the disease.
But the operative word here is "slow."
Alzheimers only goes one way.
Eventually she developed something called Lewy body dementia -- which means she started seeing things. Bad things. For some reason those with this affliction never see happy illusions, only terrible ones. Medication can, sometimes, lessen the severity of the delusions, but they never really go away. People with Alzheimers often become paranoid, convinced that those around them must be playing tricks on them. It's very hard, often impossible, for them to believe it's their own mind that's betraying them. They begin to lose track of time. They become combative. Agitated. The disease causes other health problems as the parts of their brain that regulate their bodies fail. They forget how to eat. They forget how to use the bathroom. They stop sleeping. They refuse to take their medication -- and eventually the medication stops working anyway.
Being a caregiver for Alzheimers is more than a full time job.
At first, in the early stages, you can maybe get a break every few days. They can be left alone in their rooms or in front of the TV for a short while. A friend, a family member, can take the watch for a few hours. But sooner or later, it becomes every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year. You have to be vigilant every moment. You look away, even for second, and an Alzheimer's patient can hurt themselves, can wander away into the woods or the road, can do something that endangers others and themselves. You don't get any sleep, because you have to be there, all the time. You can't even go use the bathroom, because somebody has to be there. You never get any time to yourself. None.
There's a financial aspect too. It can cost you, a lot.
Caring for an Alzheimer's patient can destroy marriages and families, and very often does. It can consume you, and it does.
It takes a pretty solid relationship to keep going because it never gets better, it only gets worse.
Then came the pandemic. And things got much harder.
The places we'd take her, closed up. We couldn't visit friends or family. I don't know if the disease advanced more rapidly then, or if it was just coincidence, but you reach point where the disintegration begins to accelerate and you can't do it anymore.
That's when you need professional help.
For us that was about a year ago.
We moved my mother-in-law into managed treatment, a facility that specializes in round the clock care for this sort of thing. They're professionals. There's a team. They're there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in three shifts. We know she was happy there. There were people to talk to and things to do and my wife visited often (only one of us could go, due to COVID). She was well cared for, far beyond our capability at that point -- and I'm sharing this with you, because if you find yourself in this situation, caring for a loved one with this terrible disease, there comes a point where you have to make this decision and you should do it without guilt. Because it's the right thing for you both.
But Alzheimers only goes one way.
And there's only one end.
And for us, for her, that was last week.
It wasn't unexpected, but that doesn't make it any easier.
She went without pain, without suffering, with her family around her.
My wife and I have been together for 30 years and there's no way I'd let her face this alone -- though I'm not sure how much help I really was. We did what families do in times like this, we transported family to and from the airport, we fed people, and comforted each other, and made the arrangements, and did the things you do in times like this.
And so that's where I was.
That's why I couldn't make it.
I'm sure you understand.
Hopefully, I'll see you all in Chicago for the next Worldcon.