Relationships and Remembering

Erik and Margaret (not their real names) met and fell in love quite young. They married in the early 1950s under controversial circumstances, as Margaret was a few years older than Erik, but their love endured.

Erik worked as a furniture upholsterer. It was hard work, but he enjoyed working with his hands, and the people he met and got to know over the years was very satisfying for him.

Margaret was a consummate homemaker and her specialty was baking pies. She would make a fresh pie every day for Erik, and he would happily enjoy these pies as they were made with love from the woman he fell in love with so many years ago. How Erik managed to stay trim and fit, I have no idea.

Erik also loved to fish—fly fishing on the Bow River in Calgary, apparently one of the best places in the world to catch fish. He would regularly bring me fresh fish, often smoked in his smokehouse at home, when they came to our office for their regular hygiene treatment and recall examinations.

Erik and Margaret have been a part of my dental practice for more than 50 years, first seeing Dr. Roy Rasmussen, whose practice I purchased more than 20 years ago. They have been regular patients all of these years. Whenever we see their names on the schedule, we look forward to seeing and welcoming them, as their love for each other and positive attitude make for a pleasant and enjoyable visit.

Margaret and Erik recently celebrated 60 years of marriage. Margaret is now in her early 80s and Erik is in his late 70s. Margaret has started to display signs of dementia. She is happy, she is physically well, but her memory is waning rapidly. Erik, now retired, spends more time at home and less time fishing so he can be with the woman he loves. She has shown him how she bakes—all from memory—and he now helps her bake the beloved pies daily, though he has had to do more and more of the work over time. But his love for her has never wavered, even in these difficult times, even with the knowledge that it will not get better, and very likely it will get much worse in the near future.

I have practiced dentistry for more than 27 years, and I have been so fortunate to have known and developed amazing relationships with our patients over time. We see them regularly, watch them grow up, have children, become grandparents, change jobs, deal with life challenges, lose loved ones, and more. And it never stops being difficult to watch someone with dementia decline to become a shell of the person we once knew so well.

I watched my mother succumb to senile dementia. I lost the mother I knew about 10 years before her physical body succumbed to pneumonia. I have watched many of her siblings and other family members also succumb to dementia. It is my hope that we will be able to find a way to slow this decline, to manage it, or even to cure it within our lifetime.

Nevertheless, it is such a privilege to get to know such wonderful people like my patients Erik and Margaret. It makes it easy to get up and go to work each day, knowing the joy I will have seeing these people I have cared for, for so many years. And it’s still hard to see them decline.

That is the gift of what we get to do every day, even when it is sometimes also called a daily grind.

Thanks for reading.

Warm regards,

Larry Stanleigh, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD

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