My wife is leaving me — one precious brain cell at a time. She is suffering from moderate-stage dementia.

In many respects, Gianna has already left. She is no longer the dynamic, intelligent and social person she once was. She will continue to decline — there’s no cure, no stopping it. Dementia has been referred to as “the long goodbye.”

We were living together until Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. That day, due to full body tremors and weakness, she had go to Rush Oak Park Emergency. Yet another 911 call. It was her fifth visit of the year. Once again, she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.

In the evening she was transferred for inpatient rehab to a facility in Brookfield. On Nov. 15, our sons, Tony and Marco, and I had made the difficult decision that, after her rehabilitation, she would transfer to a local senior living facility as a permanent memory-care patient. Gianna was not part of the discussion. She would not have understood.

After visiting her on the 15th, I sat in my car somewhat dazed. Endless days of relentless stress and pressure had suddenly given way to a great void. I could do whatever I damn well pleased. As her caregiver, I had been in perpetual catch-up mode for about five years.

The job just sort of sneaks up; there is no official start date. Now nothing.

I ran a few unnecessary errands and returned home. The day was snowy and gray. The house felt hollow, cavernous. Noah, her dog more than mine, greeted me and sniffed around for her as always. He gazed up with his WTF look.

Lonesomeness lurked in the growing dark, probably because my new lifestyle now had the official stamp on it. I knew this day would come, but it was always out there somewhere. Now the “out there” was here. We’ve been married and in the same house for almost 50 years. She would not be returning, ever. One fellow caregiver said when the loneliness is so strong, you can almost touch it.

I will eventually prevail along the difficult road to coping. But, damn it, sometimes I just don’t want to tackle it. Despite her condition, there are times when I would rather have her back. Those first few weeks of November, we had been at risk of injury due to her lack of mobility and weakness. Her incontinence was overwhelming. She was incapable of cleaning herself. I would. It was awful. I was burnt out.

But as I write this, I’d almost accept that again.

Gianna has adjusted well and moved on to her new lifestyle. Recently, my therapist suggested I do the same. Easier said than done. I attend support group meetings, read self-help material, and think a lot. Family and friends are very supportive. Yet I still struggle.

Pardon me while I take a few deep Zen breaths and meditate.

Jim Chmura is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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