Kathleen is no stranger to memory loss. In her 30 years working as a nursing supervisor in nursing homes, Kathleen helped open a dementia care unit for the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation. It was a “wonderful experience,” she says, and cites helping others as her passion. “I love nursing, nursing is who I am.”
Despite her love for her job, Kathleen was forced to retire several years ago due to memory problems that interfered with her ability to carry out her work. MCI, for Kathleen, can therefore feel like an insurmountable obstacle keeping her from pursuing her passion.
These challenges have also changed the way Kathleen carries out her daily activities. For example, she often feels embarrassed when shopping for groceries. Though Kathleen plans carefully and makes up a list of groceries before she goes out, these still don’t prepare her for the cashier line, where she struggles to find the right cards to pay. Similarly, with banking, she usually spends more time than before looking for her bank card and worries about holding up the line for the people behind her.
Kathleen has also felt the effects of her MCI socially. Once the “gregarious” one in her friend group, Kathleen is “not quite as outgoing” as she was before and fears making “a fool” of herself when she’s out. She says, “the words that come out of my mouth [sometimes] have no relationship whatsoever to the topic we’re speaking on.” If this happens in public, she cringes a little inside.
“Sometimes it feels isolating,” Kathleen says of her MCI. She points to a picture of Assateague ponies and explains she identifies with the one lagging behind the rest. “That’s how I feel when I’m with a group of people.”
For Kathleen, getting out of the house is the first step towards fighting these feelings of isolation, but it’s “an uphill climb all the way.” To scale this climb, she has learned to rely on close friends who take her out regardless and don’t take no for an answer. She appreciates how they haven’t treated her differently since her diagnosis. “Friends are blessings,” she says.
Kathleen’s husband of almost 50 years, Bob, also provides an endless supply of support and good humor. “The craziest things come out of my mouth and I can laugh with him and not cringe or feel upset,” she says. With him, she can joke about her MCI-related antics, including the one time she asked him to drive her to a store that had been closed for over 10 years. Laughter, she feels, is the best and only way she can respond to her memory problems.
As Kathleen navigates a new normal with her MCI, she looks to flowers for hope and courage. Over the past few months, Kathleen has started taking care of some plants, including a particularly resilient hibiscus tree. She says, “No matter how much I abuse this thing with water or without water, it still eventually gives me a beautiful bloom. Not all the buds fall off, the very pretty ones stay there. I think it’s courageous, they’re courageous. They keep fighting no matter what.”