One night I went into her room and sat in the shadows for a few minutes to see if she was asleep. After I knocked on the bedside stand she awoke and asked who I was. It was quite dark, so I turned up the light. She still did not know and asked again. I told her I was her husband and that we had been married for 58 years. “Really,” she said, “no wonder you look familiar!”
Usually at bedtime I think of Joyce as a little girl – which I guess she really is. I sometimes remind her that she is tired, as am I, and that she should close her eyes and go to sleep. She often accepts this, but more often than not, it is a time of statements and questions. “I really trust you.” “Fine,” I say, “but close your eyes and sleep.” “I’m still confused.” I try to encourage that it will be better tomorrow. One night I followed with, “I love you.” Then, an ultimate feeling as she opened her eyes yet again, ”Then could I love you?”
One night, she refused all attempts by the nurse to take any medicine. Spitting the pills out, we finally added them as a white icing on her brownie. Then a series of loud, “What are you looking at?” to several around her. Some ugly comments for me, grabbing my arm and pushing me away, but then, as if a switch was thrown, I was a nice person, a wonderful husband, and we loved each other again.
A very astute question of herself: “When I can’t remember something I don’t know if I have forgotten it or I just never had it there to begin with!”
The soup is sometimes “too soupy.” The ice cream and salad ” too cold.” A few nights ago the food was “not as bad as it could be.” But within nanoseconds, “No, it is as bad as it could be.” “Who is that girl that is looking at you?” It was a male neighbor. I suggested the waitresses not talk and smile at me or touch my shoulder. They could be one of my girlfriends.
We traded “I love yous” at the cable. One of the caregivers heard us and smiled at us, “She loves you too.”
One night it was, “Go to hell.” I had never thought that or been told that before. I kept talking. I kept talking. ”Just shut up!” And then, “You should stay where they put you!” I told her I was going to leave now and she did not budge. An hour later she was in bed and we were friends again.
Often an entire evening will pass when I cannot understand one word. I show her that I followed her with standard comments like, “I will think about that and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.” Most nights, she can sing every word of the old songs. l often sing to her or with her. One of our favorites is, ” I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like l Do.” One night after we had said goodnight I told her that I’d be seeing her in my dreams. She then sang that song, never missing a word. We pray and she wants me to go first. When she prays it is sweet and I can usually understand every word.
I can’t imagine our family traveling this journey without the loving care and touch of God every day and at every turn of the road. Sometimes it seems as if everything is in good working order. He gives me blessings along the way – a touch of her arm on mine, sharing a song or prayer – or maybe just a smile. Caring for her can be overwhelming and lonely. But a sermon at church touched me deeply and I have adopted a song heard in worship as my light song/plea/prayer to Him: The African-American spiritual, Guide My Feet.
Guide my feet; Hold my hand while I run this race. Stand by me, for I don’t want to run this race in vain. I’m Your child, Search my heart. I am not now (and really never have been) alone.
Where is she – the wife I once knew – in all this? I have no idea. There was a time when l was busy with necessary tasks, but to her I was trying to get away. “I don’t know why you can’t be with me all the time – I never talk about Alzheimer’s.” To go to a support group I disguised it as a how to be a better husband meeting. This is not the case now. l could be gone for hours or an entire day and she will not wonder or remember. Where will she be tonight? What will I find? I’m going now.