Alzheimer’s proceeds so slowly, parceling its progression out over years, that acceptance can catch up to grief and leave you in a happy place, which is where I seem to be now.
I know it’s temporary, and it may have as much to do with the sunlight and flower-blooming and bird-singing of June as with anything else.
I know it won’t last, because I’ve talked with other caregivers, whose spouses are further along than Bella is, and I’ve seen how the challenge of dealing with the constant little changes for the worse wears on them.
It is a gift to have the time Alzheimer’s allows to enjoy each other’s company. It’s better than having your spouse hit with a harsh cancer and gone in a few months or by a car and killed instantly.
But it’s also a weight to carry, as the symptoms worsen, and the person you knew almost vanishes while you tend the little spark of life that is left. Bella and I aren’t to that point, we are probably years away, but I’ve seen it. I try not to dwell on it.
Bella has been worrying about my health and my happiness and has become obsessed with having us move into a smaller, one-story house that will be easier for me to take care of and where I won't have to climb stairs with my sore hip. She has also suggested that, at some point, I acquire a girlfriend who will help me care for her.
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I love our house and I love her, so I’ve been laughing off these suggestions. But more than one caregiver has told me they vowed always to keep their loved one at home, and the task became too overwhelming and they put him or her in a nursing home. I won’t reject any strategy to avoid that.
She has been busy in our yard this spring, hanging buckets filled with dirt from the railing on our front steps and flower boxes on our picket fence; tending the floppy yellow and purple irises and the smaller violet- and fuchsia-colored flowers whose names I don’t know, and the bank of little white flowers that, when their petals are closed, look like a scattering of buttermints.
The experience of Alzheimer’s feels like lessons I wasn’t clever enough to learn without intervention from a terminal illness: the meaninglessness of “being right;” the foolishness of wanting things that, sometime in the future, will satisfy and fulfill; the understanding that this moment now is your chance at joy.
Time is short — that is the lesson imparted during every day that is made different by Alzheimer's disease. Time is short for being kind and having a laugh. Time is short for showing love, with words, with touch, with actions.
In the bad times, it feels like Bella is fading. Someday, I fear, my hands will pass right through her.
She has lost the armor she put on over the years against life’s sharp edges. I want to wrap her in my arms, but I can't do that all day long. One way or another, we lose those we love. Alzheimer’s is the way it is happening for us.