Yesterday began pretty much like most days. Kate’s sleeping pattern has been somewhat erratic. I started to wake her up just before 11:00 so that we might have lunch before the sitter arrived at 1:00. It took her longer to get out of bed than usual, but I didn’t think much about that.
I decided to go to Panera for lunch since we were a little late getting away. I called the sitter to meet us there. As soon as we sat down, Kate said, “Does this place have a name?” That, too, is not unusual. Then she asked, “What’s the name of this town?” I told her Knoxville and that we had lived here 47 years. She was as surprised as she usually is. She asked the same question several more times.
When Mary arrived, Kate seemed perfectly normal. When I left, she didn’t show any reservations about my leaving. When I returned home, Kate was in the back of the house. Mary said Kate rested a little while I was away. Although she had plenty of sleep the previous night, I wasn’t too surprised about that.
After Mary left, Kate was ready to go as well. We went back to Panera for about 30 minutes before going to dinner. When we got out of the car, she asked, “Where are we?” During dinner, she must have asked another five or six times. As we left the restaurant, she asked again. I told her again, and she said, “So, we’re not in Fort Worth?” I said, No, we’re in Knoxville. We’ve lived here 47 years.”
The previous night we had watched half of the movie South Pacific. We had enjoyed it. All the music was so very familiar. We watched the second half last night. Kate started out working puzzles on her iPad but became engaged in the movie. She put the iPad down.
When it was over, I started to get ready for my shower. A moment later, she had a look of concern on her face. She called my name, and I went over to her. She said, “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who I am or where we are?” I’m unable to find the words to adequately express her emotion. It was a look of puzzlement or fear. This was different from simply asking her name which has happened a few times recently.
I said, “Let’s take some time to talk. I think I can help you. I could show you some pictures of your family. Would you like to stay here in the bedroom or go to the family room?” She wanted to go in the family room. We sat on the love seat. On the table was a photo book that her brother Ken had made with photos of their father’s family. I picked it up and showed her pictures of her grandparents. She didn’t remember them at all. She has gone through this album many times. I might have thought the photos themselves would have jarred her memory. They didn’t. A moment later, she said, “Why don’t you show me tomorrow when I am thinking more clearly.”
I put the book down. I looked at her and said, “Can you tell me how you are feeling?” She said something like, “I don’t know. I just don’t know where I am and what’s going on.” I said, “Are you afraid?” She said, “No.” I asked if she was confused. She said, “Yes. I just don’t know what’s happening to me?” At that moment, and right now as I write, tears welled up in my eyes.
We haven’t spoken about her Alzheimer’s in years. It isn’t something she has wanted to talk about. Recently, I have wondered if she even remembered that she has the disease. Over the years, I had decided there was little reason for me to bring it up. Faced with this particular situation, however, I said, “What you are experiencing is caused by Alzheimer’s. It’s a natural part of having this disease.” Very calmly, she said, “I knew I had it, but I haven’t thought about it in years. I had forgotten.”
I didn’t go on to say any more about Alzheimer’s. Instead, I said, “I want you to know that I will always be here for you.” She said, “I know that. I’ve never doubted that.” She went on to say how fortunate we are to have had such a good marriage. As she often does, she also said how fortunate we are that our children have turned out so well.
I reminded her that we have been married 55 years and said, “During that time we have had so many great experiences.” She asked me to tell her some of those experiences. For the next fifteen minutes or so, I talked about the places we have lived and the special things we have done. We both enjoyed having this moment of reflection. It wasn’t that we don’t reflect. We do that a lot. In that moment, however, it seemed more special than usual. When we finished, seemed seemed more relaxed though probably still confused. I think we both felt comforted by our conversation.
Over the course of the past six months or so, Kate has been on a gradual, but noticeable, decline that is a sign of what will be the hardest part of our journey. Her experience last night brought the harsh reality of Alzheimer’s to the forefront of our lives. We have lived as if this day might not come. I knew it would, but it’s painful to watch someone you love go through it.