Vanishing in plain sight. An Alzheimer’s story.
I was recently gifted with a glorious nugget of advice. In my 20 years in senior home health care, I have been given several gifts of healing, insights and grace.
I am going to share the gift of these words with you. First let me provide a framework for this gift.
I made fast friends with a gentlemen named Greg who recently hired us to help care for his wife Karen. Karen has early onset Alzheimer’s. In my humble opinion every diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is early Alzheimer’s. Any age is too early for Alzheimer’s. Back to my nugget.
By the age of 50, Karen was forgetting the most basic of things. Friends names. Appointments, recipes, directions, traditions, proper attire, the current affairs of the day. Just as her Mother had, Karen was at the beginning of the fight of her life and she would never know it.
Karen’s husband Greg and I had a few lunches together. In fact, we met several times over the course of a few months before it was the right time for me to meet Karen. I have taken so much away from the times I have spent with Greg. I was so grateful for Greg’s honesty. Alzheimer’s never affects only the person diagnosed.
Greg and I shared our experiences with the disease I was glad to be the recipient of Greg’s open heart and candor. I believe Greg was glad for our discussions. We never shied away from the most challenging and emotional elements of Alzheimer’s.
The gut wrenching ‘loss’ of a spouse afflicted with this terrible disease. The ‘end’ of a sex life. The fall of a treasured friend. The shared memories of two now only shared by one.
There was a precious sanctity to the anonymity of Greg and I’s friendship. Since I was not Greg’s son, he could share with me his innermost heartfelt feelings. I know now what a spouse goes thru when their loved one vanishes without leaving. Greg could share with me the pain and remorse surrounding a death to his intimacy with Karen.
We both cried as we shared our feelings. From my years in Hospice, I always welcome tears as a cleansing way to process our feelings. For my friend Greg, I believe I gave him the permission he needed to laugh about the peculiarities of Alzheimer’s. I shared with Greg another client’s story. A gentlemen who proclaimed Alzheimer’s had one silver lining for him. His wife never remembered that they had just taken a tumble in the sheets. Oh, to serve the families of Alzheimer patients. Greg and I laughed wildly about this story.
Back to Greg’s nugget. Greg shared with me this thought:
“Once you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s? You’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s.”
Yes, it’s a simple thought. But it really hits the nail on the head. Our caregivers arm themselves with all the courage in the world they can muster each and every time they walk into your loved one’s home.
Have we had dishes thrown at us? Yes. Hair pulled? Yes. F-Bomb’s dropped from life-long-church-going 85-year-old ladies? DAILY.
But have our staff received inspiration from helping a struggling spouse who simply couldn’t take it anymore? Yes. Have we completed laundry that would have otherwise piled up endlessly? Yes. Have we filled homes with pleasant home cooking aromas that had all but vanished? Daily.
How are we rewarded as caregivers? How about the hugs we get? The tears of gratitude? How about the personal elation we enjoy as caregivers when we can turn even the bleakest broken home situation into a harmonious place of love and affection? It really is priceless.
How has it worked for Greg? In Greg’s case, daily care is a marvelous distraction. Daily care breaks up the day. Daily care makes life fun, tolerable, noisy, busy, and enjoyable. It breathes new air into what would otherwise be stale and painful realities.
How has care worked for Karen? Well, Karen now has a gal-pal who knows her each and every whim. Doris knows how to redirect Karen safely and carefully. Karen has a raincoat on in rainstorms now. She’s no longer lost in her own home. Karen’s caregiver Doris has 25 years of experience with this disease. What’s more? Doris is funny. There are big laughs again in the house. And there’s a break in the tension. Unlike Greg, Doris can give 100 reminders without reluctance to provide the 101st with the same grace and temperament.
How has care worked for the marriage? For starters, there is one. Greg had placed Karen in a home before we started care. Now Karen is back home and doing better than she’s done in years. Karen is not suffering. She is not lonesome. She is with her husband. This is when Karen is not talking all day long with Doris. And furthermore, Karen is in the place of greatest comfort and familiarity. Karen has one case of Alzheimer’s that is being treated as uniquely as she is.
Ben Smith is Founder & Director of Always There Home Care. He started Always There in order to bring hands on, one-on-one care to Columbus, Ohio. Since 2004, Always There Home Care has served Central Ohio Seniors and their spouses and family members with one vision. “Your Home. Your Rules. Our Care.” Call us today and let us know your loved one’s story. We would love to help.