Joe Darby’s Back: And Everything Has Changed for Him

By Joe Darby

Well, I’m back. After an absence of a few years of writing columns for the Natchitoches Parish Journal, I’m going to give another shot at expressing myself more or less regularly in these spaces.

You may remember that I had put aside my pen, so to speak, because it was becoming more and more difficult to come up with an interesting topic week after week. Heck, I also just felt myself getting older and perhaps was trying to rid myself of some of my obligations and duties, if that makes sense.

But my life has changed completely in the interim. And not in a good way at all. I consider myself as more or less a private person when it comes to the important issues, to the things that really matter. But in my first column back, I’m going to share what’s happened to me. And what has happened has been the most difficult, sad and heart-wrenching thing that I have ever experienced. I have more time on my hands now and, although I’m certainly older than I was when I previously ended my columns, I now need to find something constructive to do.

So, a few weeks back I had to place my beloved wife Mary, who is known to some of you, in a nursing home because of advanced dementia. I don’t really know where to begin in trying to describe what has happened. I have been filled with depression, loneliness, grief and guilt. Guilt, because although I know what was done had to be done, I still wonder — did I betray my love, by sending her away from her home? Should I have kept her here a while longer, even though taking care of her properly and safely had reached a point that I could no longer fulfill?

Her daughter by her first marriage, Shannon, was an absolute indispensable help to me. She would come up here four days a week, from her home in the Baton Rouge area, to help me take care of Mary, who could no longer take care of any of her own basic needs. There is no way at all that I could have gotten through this without my amazing step daughter.

But there came a time when, physically and mentally, we had reached our limits. We anticipated the day when Mary would leave our home with dread, doubt, fear and, as I said guilt. But Mary had begun to get up on her own in the middle of the night and fell several times. Short of staying awake 24 hours a day on alert, that was a danger that we could not live with. More than once Shannon and I would say to each other, as the day approached, something like, “Well, do you think it’s a little too soon? Should we keep her home for a couple of more weeks?” But always in the background loomed the inevitable — that for Mary’s own safety, she was going to have to have full time professional care.

In the last few weeks before the departure, more and more often she became unsure of who I really was. Sometimes she would tell me I wasn’t her husband and that I was not to be trusted. She wondered what kind of bad medicines I was giving her. At other times she knew I was Joe and she would look at me with the sweetest smile in the world and tell me how much she loved me. That, my friends, was absolutely heartbreaking. And the memory of that smile, my friends, has brought tears to my eyes as I write this.

I want to mention a wonderful lady, Erin Boyt, whom Mary and I had contacted through the Council on Aging many, many months ago, seeking support for our situation. Erin gave us both great counsel and advice and then as Mary’s cognizance lessened, gave continued moral assistance to me. She was always upbeat, caring and wise. How could I have gotten through this without Erin?

Also, toward the end, Shannon and I did have invaluable physical help from a sitter. A terrific lady, Ann Smith, came by three days a week. She was compassionate, knew how to make Mary laugh and was experienced in caring for dementia patients. Mary was also under hospice care and the hospice staff were a group of wonderful women who met Mary’s medical and bathing needs.

But, finally, the day came. Because Mary’s three children and her sister live in the Baton Rouge area, forming a pool of four potential frequent visitors as opposed to just me up here in Natchitoches, I agreed for my lady to be placed in a nursing home down there. From what I have seen, it has to be one of the best facilities for dementia care in the state.

However, I miss my Mary terribly and am prone to breaking out in tears at any moment. When she was first placed in the home she was quite unhappy and that added to Shannon’s and my grief. But in recent visits, she has seemed more content and has known me every time I have seen her. That helps a little. I’m seeing a professional counselor and I think she is going to help me a lot.

So, there, I have bared my soul and perhaps have written some things that my precious wife would not ever have wanted to be made public. But I expect that one day when she and I are reunited above, she will understand and forgive.

So, it’s just me and my great little poodle mix dog, Baby. I rattle around the empty house, doing basic housekeeping, reading my many books and working on my coin and stamp collections. I’m going to get through this (there was a time when I wasn’t sure that was the case). But I know I am not alone. I have the love and moral support of family, none of whom live in the Natchitoches area, and also of friends.

And, finally, I want to say that I never realized how widespread this insidious disease of dementia is. Almost invariably, when I mention my situation to someone, they will reply, that they had an aunt, a grandparent or even a parent who is afflicted by the same thing. There are so many good folks out there who are affected by this. And, over and over, I have heard that it is more difficult on the caregiver than on the patient, because the patient will tend more and more to just live in the moment. For those of you who have experienced what I have, God bless you. I know you understand.

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19 thoughts on “Joe Darby’s Back: And Everything Has Changed for Him

  1. Joe, what a beautiful and gut wrenching story to read. Beautiful because one can just FEEL the love that you have for Mary coming through the words that you write and gut wrenching because this fate which has fallen upon you, Mary and your family is almost too much to bear. What a wicked and cruel illness. It has been coined “the long goodbye.” And as you so humbly share, the guilt that comes with the painful decisions associated with the decline is a diificult load to carry. Of course you are doing the right thing, but the trauma of separation and questioning yourself is very real. Please know that we all hear you and we acknowledge this difficult journey that you find yourself on trudging one day at a time. Your decision to come back to us with your wonderful articles is a gift to us all. I still carry the love and gratitude that I have felt from the moment I read the beautiful memorial that you wrote about Mom. (Conna) She loved you and Mary so much. I am also remembering the last memory I have of you and Mary……we were all together on one of the very early Creole Queen boat rides on Cane River. It was a beautiful day and there were not too many folks riding along that day. We saw egrets and we laughed at a doggie that was barking at us from a back yard pier. Mary was simply beautiful that day – the late afternoon sun shining on her face – and I felt so blessed to see you both together riding along – peaceful, joyful, living in the moment. I will continue to pray for Mary’s comfort and I will pray for the peace and strengh that you and your family need. You are always making a difference in her life, even if she can’t express it. The gifts of love you give will be a blessing forever. God bless you, Joe.

  2. Joe I don’t know you personally, but I do know exactly what you have gone through and continue to go through. You see, I lost my husband of 50 years to Lewy Body dementia and Alzheimer’s this past September. These diseases I would not wish on my worst enemy. I made the decision to move us in with our daughter and her family so that I could get some help. At the time. I wasn’t sure it was the right decision but as his disease progressed, I knew it was the right thing to do. I actually took care of him 24-7 with the help of hospice and the support of my family I miss him so badly and at times can’t get out of my head the awful things I had to see him go through. But with the strength of God and the prayers of friends and family I continue to live my life. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. God bless you

  3. Awsome story !!! Dont know much about dimentia ,but I’m so sorry for your situation !!I pray that God continues to watch over you n your significant other,and to guide you and lead you on your daily journey!!!

  4. I am so sorry for what you’re going through Mr Darby. I can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you. It was a blessing meeting you and Mrs Mary when you adopted Baby. Im praying for you both of you. 🙏🏻❤️

  5. I was remiss in failing to mention some more people who eased my ordeal greatly. My incredible next door neighbors, Andy and Kellie Cedars, and their two great little ones, Grant and Brinley. The cooked for us, they bought groceries for us, they gave us all the moral support in the world. To show what kind of folks these are, little Grant, on his own initiative, cut my fairly big yard free just because it was Easter weekend. God bless this family. Natchitoches is the better for having them.

  6. Joe, our hearts break for you and Mary. I deeply appreciate what you shared in this column with people who might be facing your situation one day soon, and especially with people who are younger and years away from these times of life. Love requires so much, does it not? God bless you both.

  7. Joe, our prayers are with you. We are glad to see you back writing. Take it one day at a time. There are many supporters for you and your sweet lady.

  8. I want to sincerely thank everyone for your kind, compassionate and caring responses. You are adding to my moral support and I appreciate it. And may all of you and yours enjoy good health!

  9. Hugs and prayers for you, your wife and family. Thank you for sharing such a sad but timely situation.

  10. Joe, thank you for sharing your personal story with us so that we can be in prayer for you, your sweet Mary, and your family!🙏🏻 I pray that God will give you His peace which surpasses understanding so that you will no longer feel guilt over doing what had to be done. And I look forward to reading your upcoming articles!
    God Bless!

  11. So very sorry, Joe, to read all you have shared here, and yet, just like your beloved Mary, somehow you knew that to do so would be just like something she would do…doing something that would help others as well. I knew Mary through the Ladybugs lunch bunch, and recall the deep conversations we had when we both attended. To know Mary was to look into her eyes…she always allowed her soul to show through…and it was instant connection with her very being, of who she was. I will continue to remember her that way, as the most gentle soul I have ever known. Thank you, Joe, for sharing your feelings at this difficult time.

  12. Joe, welcome back. Have always enjoyed your writings in the Journal. Do you have any idea how many tears were shed over your article today? You made the right choice…may you find peace 🙏.

  13. This hit home for me. Thanks for sharing. It makes us realize we are not alone in tough decisions that will have to be made . I enjoyed your writings before and look forward to many more.

  14. Mr. Darby
    I remember you and Mary from a class I took at Holy Cross. I remember you showing each other so much love during the class and had some really great stories. You did the most loving kind thing for Mary and I’ll keep y’all in my prayers.

  15. I believe you did the best thing for your wife, knowing all the while that in your heart you did not want to be without her. You were so unselfish in allowing her to go to Baton Rouge where there is more family to visit her. I hope you realize that there is no reason for you to feel guilt, for you made a great sacrifice to give your wife the best life she can have at this time in her life. You will endure the loneliness and heartbreak of separation more than anyone else. So I say, consider yourself a strong, unselfish man who was willing to face the pain alone so his beloved wife could have what was best for her. I admire you, sir.

  16. Mr. Joe, wishing you, your wife, and your family peace with your decision. The right thing to do for someone we love is often very difficult to do, but no less right. Your very personal story has been lived by many good, caring and concerned families over time. I pray that all of you can find acceptance in your hearts that you have done the responsible thing by providing a safe situation for your wife at this time in her life.

  17. Thank you for sharing this trial you and your family are going thru. Although your article is absolutely heartbreaking to read (as I am a caretaker too), I thank you for making yourself vulnerable to share such intimate details. Everything you said resonates to my situation, yet you offer much comfort. Again, they you friend for sharing!

  18. My heart breaks for you. We just went through quite similar situations with my 95 year old mother. Tomorrow is her funeral. But welcome back to the Journal. Loved your column.

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