We found out this year that my uncle--who is pretty young, he hasn't even retired yet--has fairly significant dementia, which seems to have developed quite rapidly. The logistics of this are incredibly stressful--at the same time that his family is coming to terms with his symptoms, a lot needs to be done. And some of that my uncle was thought to be doing, but because of the illness, of course, he wasn't. But more than all of this, it is just plain old hard news to hear about a loved one, especially when I was far away.
When I heard it, I assumed that he wouldn't be the same person, that he would somehow be erased by this illness.
When I was visiting my parents in my hometown several months ago, however, I was able to visit him. Not that it makes the situation any easier for him or for his family, but for me it was very consoling and helped me come to terms with it.
He was still the same person; he showed me pictures of his daughter's artwork--which he is very proud of--and pictures of his daughters and son and other relatives, to whom he is very devoted. He sang "Swing Low" for my son, which is one of my son's favorite songs. My uncle has always been a good singer and has always liked to sing.
He was different, too: He didn't talk about Fox News politics, which has consumed him for the last 5 or 10 years (except to mention that Mike Pence got the VP slot). He couldn't talk about his work, since he isn't able to work anymore. My uncle's work has defined him for as long as I've been alive; he is a hardworking and devoted employee who has always found a lot of fulfillment in his job. He didn't incessantly look at facebook as he has on past visits.
But he did tell me that his wife doesn't like her new job and why.
None of me being there and talking to him makes the situation better for his family (two of his daughters are still in high school), but it did remind me that although dementia is very difficult to experience and difficult to watch, he is still my uncle, whom I love, and I'm glad for any chance to spend time with him.