With a Little Bit of Help from Our Friends

Yesterday I received a private message from one of my Twitter friends who asked how I was getting along. He is a well-recognized speaker and advocate for caregivers. His primary message is the need for caregivers to get help. His book tells about his own experience of trying to do it all and the toll it had taken on him. I replied that I am still doing well and let him know a little about my support system. His question was timely since my experiences the past two days illustrate the kind of support that keeps both Kate and me going.

The first person to express concern about Kate was our pastor who, at that time, did not know about her diagnosis. He called to ask if he could take me to lunch. That was five or six months after we received the news of her Alzheimer’s. Toward the end of our meal, he took a more serious tone as he asked me how Kate was getting along. He caught me off guard. She had resigned her volunteer position as church librarian two years before, but I didn’t think anyone had suspected a problem. After all, Kate was still getting along quite well.

We have gotten together periodically since then. On two or three occasions, I met with him briefly at church. In recent years, Kate and I have joined him for lunch. One of those was Tuesday. These lunches have always gone well. Kate has been an active participant in our conversations. This week was no exception.

That same day I received a phone call from Dorothy Hinely, a longtime friend who lived in Knoxville many years prior to moving to Virginia. (We first met her in church about forty-five years ago. Our lives have been intertwined in a variety of ways since then. Our daughters are best friends.) She was in town and wanted to arrange a time for us get together. We settled on dinner Tuesday evening. We had much to talk about, and Kate handled herself well even though she couldn’t remember our history with Dorothy.

I serve on two different United Way committees, and one of those met yesterday at noon. Ordinarily, that would work fine because I have a sitter for Kate; however, the sitter doesn’t come until 1:00. On a previous occasion, I asked a church friend to take Kate to lunch at 11:30 and take her back home for the sitter. This time I asked my colleagues at the office if they could stop by Panera and join Kate for lunch. They were happy to do so. I was eager to know how things had gone, so I dropped by the office later that afternoon. I was pleased to hear them say that Kate had gotten along well. That makes me happy. It’s something I would not have expected when she was diagnosed.

Apart from special social occasions like these, many other people have played a role in supporting us. On Tuesday, we received a beautiful hydrangea from the young woman who usually serves us at the Sunset Café where we have lunch on Thursday. It’s the kind of thing one doesn’t expect at all.

Last week I got a call from a man who was a stranger until we met him at Panera three or four years ago. Several months ago, he and his wife moved into an assisted living facility on the far side of Knoxville. He invited us to be his guests for lunch.

Last night at dinner, we saw Kate’s doctor who stopped at our table to say hello. We have seen her at this restaurant and one other several times before. On the way out, we saw a man and his son whom we have seen many times. These were brief social encounters but ones that make both of us feel good.

We also keep up with several long term friends in Nashville. There is nothing like being with close friends with whom you have shared many experiences and changes in our lives since college days and shortly thereafter.

These are just a few examples of the kind of support we get. I find that it occurs everywhere we go.  We are not socially isolated. I suspect few, if any, of the people who play a role in supporting us realize how important they have been to us. Many of them don’t even know about Kate’s Alzheimer’s, but I consider all of them to be a part of our team.

I don’t mean to deny the difficult aspects of “Living with Alzheimer’s,” but we find acts of kindness all around us. That keeps us focused on how fortunate we are. Yes, Kate and I are getting along “remarkably well.” It’s clear, however, that we are not doing this alone. We get a lot of help from our friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. I am grateful.

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