I’ve always been an indifferent handyman, at best.
But since we’ve never been able to afford all the home improvements we desired, I have tackled various low-skill projects, like sanding floors and painting walls, over the 30 years Bella and I have spent together in five different houses.
Early on, I would show her my work, expecting praise, and get instead a hesitant question: “You’re not going to leave it like that, are you?”
My response would be outrage, but I would return to the task, fuming, until it passed inspection.
Eventually, I was able to skip the inspections by imagining them — seeing the work I had done through her eyes and hearing her voice in my head.
I know I will continue to hear her suggesting something better, even if a time comes when she is silenced by Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been a little more than a year since she got the diagnosis of younger onset Alzheimer’s, and we are well past denial now and working on acceptance.
Her denial was more insistent than mine, and her acceptance now is more complete.
You could say she embraces the disease, the way she has always embraced her life circumstances, however hard.
She is ecstatic now that, because of a recent course of physical therapy, she has been able to get back in the pool and swim.
She is taking long walks with our dog and making plans for creating metal weather vanes featuring some of her favorite animals.
I do not have to work hard to keep her spirits up, but I do to keep my own up.
I notice what she doesn’t as the disease progresses. I notice the way the interval of forgetfulness gets shorter, so we will exchange the exact same sentences twice or three times within the same number of minutes.
I notice how confused she can be if she wakes up in the night and how she sees things that aren’t there.
I notice the way her concerns are gradually narrowing down to a few familiar things — her family, her pets, her house.
But those are the important things, after all, and if she can’t observe what is happening to her, then that is a blessing that dwells inside the curse of this disease.
Because I do notice, I carry a feeling of loss around, although sometimes it is light as a shadow and hard to spot as it trails behind me. Sometimes it is all around me like a coat.
It isn’t just a helpful forgetfulness that keeps Bella positive, though. It’s her character.
I know she won’t be upset by reading in this column that her symptoms are worsening. She’ll be upset by reading that this weighs on me — that I worry.
Meanwhile, our lives go on. We still do home projects when we have the time. I still hear her voice.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.