My husband quit smoking because he doesn't want to have emphysema. Some people in our family think he forgot he was a lifelong smoker, but they didn't hear his version, nor did they witness the nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Other people in our family think it's an answer to prayer, which made him laugh when I told him. Then he said, "It's not that easy keeping track of things in my head, you know. Don't talk about smoking or I'll think about it." That was almost one month ago.

Last week, he started attending an Adult Day Care Center twice a week, five hours each day. It is in the same building where I attend the Caregiver Support Groups. He thinks I go there "to get in shape." The intake evaluation on my part required a mind-numbing amount of paperwork, while he had lunch and went to a lecture on butterflies, made friends, and hugged the small woman in charge as we left.

This month, he has stopped cleaning up the kitchen obsessively. He wants his breakfast to be "different sometimes, like other people." I realized watching him one morning, that finding the frying pan, the right knife, the right spatula, plus all of the ingredients was too much for him. So, that day we made waffles and sausages..."with real maple syrup, like the boys get." We talked about how I could make it easier for him, since the microwave breakfasts required touching different numbers. He can no longer make breakfast without supervision, something I had felt strongly about when we went for the comprehensive evaluation. And nothing changed except the future, this past few weeks.

Socks and shoes are another obsession. He insists the socks and slip-on L.L. Bean shoes are not his. We make it through breakfast and then he starts swearing, "I don't even know whose fucking socks and shoes these are on my feet!" There isn't strong enough coffee in the entire world to answer this, other than to say, "Those are your socks and shoes." We have the same conversation several times, until I persuade him they are his, to which he suddenly agreeably says, "These are very nice shoes, but I still don't know about the socks."

His daughter, still recovering from major surgery, wanted him to visit over the past weekend. Talking over the phone brought his agitation level over the top when he told her he needed to know the exact times, needed to be home before dark and home to see the therapy dogs on Monday "at his new job." She was getting a manicure while we talked, accused me of "faking his condition, being too controlling, not letting him be with her instead of some dogs.," ad nauseum. Later, I got a call from his sister in California, who questioned the medications, said he "sounded fine" on the phone, and I had no right to keep him from visiting his daughter. Finished with, "If I lived closer, I could help you." I got off the phone and did pushups. Punched some pillows, slept poorly.

I tried to be compassionate in both cases; got nowhere except the usual button-pushing and digs at me, my son-in-law, my mother, my daughter, our grandkids. I cannot fix his family and if they refuse to accept his diagnosis, I must choose to protect him. HE NO LONGER KNOWS WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS, despite my calendars. I learned this by asking him today, after he woke me up at 5am, fully dressed and "ready to go to his job and see the dogs." On Sunday.

My helpful sister was in town; my washing machine is still not replaced, so he and I went over to my mother's for a visit. The two of them talk about living through the Depression, their fathers who both died young; they sit in the shade and my mother reassures him that podiatrists are helpful. (Every month, the Adult Day Center has a female podiatrist, covered by Medicare, who tends to those who need it. My husband needs it. My ever-cheerful mother made it sound like a pleasant necessity, "Even Eddie (my grouchy Dad) liked the podiatrist. It's one less thing you have to worry about." I silently thanked her.

Our life is changing rather rapidly. What I'm learning is that I must listen not only to what he says, but what the actual words may mean to him. It's both frustrating and fascinating. Some days the weight of decision making is overwhelming; other times, we eat dinner outside and listen to birds or talk about the wind and clouds, or we just hold hands until he falls asleep. One night he apologized for "being older and all the trouble" and I said, "I will always fight for you." And nothing has changed except the future.

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