By Madeleine Fraley
Larry and I met and fell in love in 1962. Looking back I try to picture the highlights of our life together—the pinnacle of our partnership. I realize there is not just one, but many awesome events that have knit us together for more than five decades. Larry’s love for me, our family and his friends are a treasure.
In 2011, our lives began to change— in subtle ways initially. But over the past few years we have traveled a difficult journey as Larry has developed progressive dementia. Our mountain top experiences have diminished and there are many more valleys and low places in our lives. Sadly, the thief comes at night to steal the uniqueness that has made him so special. I can’t see, catch, or stop that thief. Each day there is loss—we have been robbed—something is missing.
For me the days are more challenging. There is the heart-ache of loss as I watch the deterioration in my husband’s health. Thankfully, he does not realize, understand or comprehend it–he is oblivious. In many ways that brings me comfort. However, I feel grief and sadness. As I see him struggle to do simple tasks, or to find a word, I try to reassure and console him, but my heart aches.
There are times in our daily lives when things just seem to be off kilter and disruptive. Finding the cat food in the dishwasher, a bowl of cherries in the cat dish, his soiled underwear in the frying pan, or my library book in the waste basket can be irritating. But, when looking back, I have to smile. When I convey these episodes to my family or friends I have to laugh. At the moment it may not have been so amusing, but after time goes by and I think about it, I will smile and see the humor.
There is awesomeness in each day. A special incident may be just a moment rather than an event; a spark instead of a warm fire; a puddle instead of a picturesque lake. I find that noticing and focusing on these amazing moments lightens the emotional burdens of being a caregiver. Looking back over the day and finding that tidbit of joy can fill my heart with thankfulness.
Daily I try to provide Larry with an experience that will bring a sly smile to his lips or a twinkle in his eye, or a gentle loving kiss, hoping to provide him a fleeting moment of peace. It’s those little pleasures that can remind me of the person I married 52 years ago. As Larry’s personality, physicality, passions and dreams fade away I continually reach out for those moments.
At one time I thought of our circumstance as a chasm, a crevasse, a dark abyss that wants to swallow him up. But no! It’s a tunnel. I know it’s a tunnel because I can see a tiny light at the far, distant end. That light is hope. Larry may not see the benefits of the ongoing research, but surely much can be done for those not yet suffering from the disease. I am living today for today—because today matters. But I also look to the future when there are treatments, prevention and a cure.
How fortunate I am to have loved someone so special! We have walked together in sunshine and in rain; on smooth and on rough terrain; in the light and in the dark. Hand in hand we now Walk to End Alzheimer’s.