“I see Wayne occasionally glimpse through my soul and sometimes it breaks my heart” … Diane Woods Blansett
Her Southern accent came clearly across the airwaves to me, just as certain as my Rhode Island “drop the r’s” did to her, I am sure, for Diane Woods Blansett is from Cleveland, Mississippi, a farming and semi-industrial community of about 15,000 people. She and I met through the “Confidence for Caretakers” support group on Facebook.
But Diane and her husband, Wayne, have a long history.
They both worked at Delta State University in Mississippi, where Wayne was Vice President of Student Affairs, while Diane was a former math instructor.
They started out there, too. In 1973, Diane was a freshman and Wayne was a senior. Ten months and one day into their relationship, they married and have been together ever since– 47 and ½ years.
Today, Wayne suffers from vascular dementia, diagnosed at the age 66. In addition, he is an insulin dependent diabetic.
In 2013, he had a stroke at a university breakfast, honoring the new president. A friend nearby noted Wayne signing his name in a garbled fashion (not his normal.) When he stood up, to leave, Wayne felt as if the wind were knocked out of him but he returned to work, though he felt like a “wet dishrag.”
By Spring of 2014, he’d begun forgetting words (neurologists call this neurological problem “aphasia”). His lips quivered. He was prescribed Lexipro, an anti-anxiety medication.
But the real change that developed in the time following the stroke was in Wayne’s personality. Whereas in the past, he’d been outgoing and self-assured (a doctorate in education will allow such), he became withdrawn and insecure. His world became smaller and smaller.
In his 40th year at the university, he left his position where as student advocate, he’d been “master of the Show Up and Shout Out.” Now, he avoided engagement and seemed almost catatonic. Being a public self just took too much out of him.
Diane retired from her own position 4 years ago, when Wayne’s health required continual care.
She speaks of another bizarre change that has come about: Wayne’s tastes have changed: Whereas green beans used to be a favorite food, now he won’t touch them. He only wants hamburger and insists on it 4 x’s a week. In addition, he likes his burger with everything on it. He pouts, too, if he doesn’t like something.
The physical changes? Wayne has no strength in his right hand and he drags his foot, when walking.
Like so many caretakers, Diane took over tasks Wayne used to perform. In addition, she’s had to do many of them on her own, for the couple’s adult children are 6 hours away (daughter), while their son is an hour distant.
She references the fact that since December, she knows 3 women who have lost husbands, a reality many senior women face.
As for respite (a break) for Diane, Wayne goes to “Sunny Seniors,” an Alzheimer’s group where he has structured activity. But this group only meets twice a week, for 4 hours each time.
Diane recently had a sitter come to the house, allowing her a rare day to herself from 8-5. Caretakers need such time off from intense responsibility and Diane observes: “He (Wayne) is not an inconsiderate person but the disease is.” She stresses the need caretakers have for far more support but mentions, too, the fact those services are pay-as-you-go.
So, Wayne and Diane Blansett…2 more of the many affected by a disease whose numbers grow exponentially each year.
How does Diane do it? She credits their church– Covenant Presbyterian Church as being a lifeline: “If it weren’t for our faith, we couldn’t do it.” But she also adds “Faith is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it won’t grow.”
Wayne and Diane continue “to grow” through a difficult disease that challenges on so many levels…
And Diane Woods Blansett is just ONE more person in the Caretaker Army.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor.com), a caretaker, herself writes of those affected by neurological diseases and their caretakers. Know someone you’d like to recommend as subject? (maybe even yourself)? My interview is fun (I promise). Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (I know—too many l’s. What was I thinking?)