A Rocky Start, But a Grand Finish

When I went in to wake Kate yesterday, I wasn’t sure what kind of day it would be. She opened her eyes as I approached the bed and gave me a very warm smile. It looked like a time when she knew me. I said good morning and told her I loved her. Then I said, “I hate to get you up. You look so comfortable.” Her face turned to sadness, and she said, “This isn’t easy.” I didn’t know what she meant and asked what was wrong. She hesitated and said, “It’s hard to put in words.” I encouraged her to help me understand. Then I said, “I want to help you.” She said, “What can you do?” I said, “I can be your friend and comfort you.” She said, “I like that,” but she didn’t say anything more. I let it go. I suggested she get up and take a shower. She accepted the suggestion and seemed all right for the balance of the day.

She periodically has these moments of worry or anxiety. When she says things like “This isn’t easy,” I can only wonder if she is talking about her Alzheimer’s. It always sounds like it, but I can’t be sure. I am confident that she no longer knows she has the disease; however, I know she recognizes her memory is gone. She sometimes expresses concern about it. More frequently, she says, “Don’t tell me more. I won’t remember it.” Sometimes she stops working her puzzles when she knows she is not thinking clearly. She says she is tired. Yesterday she had a similar experience with her “Big Sister” album. She can only process so much information. These moments are the hardest ones for me.

I am often amazed at how quickly she can forget. At lunch, she said, “What is your full name?” I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” She said it and then tried to say it again and couldn’t. She asked me to say it again slowly. After I did, she said, “Now let me say it.” She said it twice, took a slight pause and said, “What is it again?” She had forgotten again in a split second. It’s like turning a light switch on and off.

I don’t know if she knew me as her husband earlier that morning, but I know she did when we returned home after getting haircuts. She wanted something to drink. I told her we had apple juice and water. She eagerly said, “Can I have apple juice?” I told her she could and added, “I only let my best girl friends have apple juice.” She quickly said, “I better be your only girlfriend. We’re married you know.” A quick response like this is not uncommon. I was playing a CD of A Chorus Line. I know that she enjoys the music, but I was surprised at her laughter at the lyrics of one of the songs. Apart from that I had no sense of her listening to the lyrics. I thought it was just the music she paid attention to. There are also moments when she does something that I don’t like. She will say, “I know that bothers you.” Then I say something like, “No, that’s just fine.” She follows that with “I know you’re just trying to be nice.” She is still insightful.

The highlight of the day for both of us was our weekly dinner at Bonefish Grill. As the host was showing us to our table, we passed someone I hadn’t seen in several years. He and my dad were good friends who met in a seniors’ writing class. Dad was 26 years his senior and he (like many others) took an interest in the fact that Dad seemed so much younger than his years. He introduced us to his lady friend and told us that she was moving from New York City to live with him. We chatted a few minutes. Then they invited us to join them. We accepted their invitation and had an interesting time catching up and learning about his new friend. They had been college sweethearts at the University of Illinois in the late 50s and early 60s. They had lost touch since college, and each had married other people. Their spouses had died, and he looked her up and found her. That was several months ago. Kate and I have traveled to New York quite a few times. That and the warmth of the couple enabled her to feel comfortable in participating in the conversation. We had a great evening together and talked about our getting together again when she makes her move in March. At one point while the two women were talking, I had an opportunity to ask my friend if I had told him about Kate’s Alzheimer’s. He said I had and told me that his friend is facing the same thing. It’s just one more reminder of how common this disease is. I plan to stay in touch with him.

It was a week ago yesterday that Kate had her cataract surgery. It is clearer to me that she is able to see more easily now. Her vision is far from perfect, but now I am reasonably sure it is the Alzheimer’s and not her actual vision that is the problem. Yesterday she picked up her “Big Sister” album. The cover photo had caught her as eye as she walked by it in the family room. She thought the picture of her brother was our son, but that is definitely related to her Alzheimer’s. As she leafed through the pages, she tried to read the text. In the past, she has just looked at the pictures. I feel good about our going ahead with her surgery. I am sure it will continue to have a payoff even as she declines further. Our son and his family are coming for a visit during their spring break. Her improved vision should enhance her experience with them. It is difficult enough to have lost memory, but to lose her ability to see could have made a major difference in her quality of life.

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