I suppose everyone has experienced and been delighted by the innocence of children. As a youth and during most of my adult life, I didn’t give much attention to children except for our own and those of family and friends. As I aged, I developed a greater appreciation of the gifts they bring us. They haven’t developed the sensitivity adults have about “proper” behavior. They behave and speak as if it only matters to them and no one else. They express what they feel so naturally.
Kate has always been interested in children. The nineteen years she served as our church’s volunteer librarian were especially fulfilling for her. Much of her work involved children either directly or indirectly. She would have kept her responsibilities as librarian had it not been for her Alzheimer’s. She realized before her diagnosis that she was no longer able to fulfill her position the way she thought she should and resigned.
During the past nine years, her interest in children has become a fascination for her. She enjoys watching them wherever we go and often speaks to them and compliments the parents for having such beautiful children. That has further increased my own appreciation of them.
That leads me to think about Kate. For the past three or four years, she has been somewhat more childlike herself. Increasingly, she behaves with me much like a child with her parent. That is expressed in several different ways.
The most typical example is her wanting to show me little things she has done. She seems proud of herself for what she is doing and wants my recognition. She likes me to watch as she pulls strands of her hair and runs her fingers between each of her toes to get “them” out. She asks me to look at her as she picks her teeth with her fingernails thinking there is something is stuck between them. She is sensitive about her skin and daily runs her fingers across the skin of her arms and legs and shows me her hand and says, “See them.” I try to pay attention and reinforce her belief that she is doing something good.
Above all, her most childlike qualities involve her expressions of enthusiasm for things she enjoys. Her pleasure over the beauty of flowers, trees, shrubs and house plants is the best example. The arrival of spring has brought daily moments of pleasure. She loves to share her enthusiasm with me and sometimes says, “Look at the pink (green, yellow.) “Do you see it?” I translate her question as “Won’t you share this beautifuI moment with me.” I never tire of seeing how excited she is almost every time she walks in our family room. That is particularly true when she sees the two small pots of African Violets. She also takes time to admire the four Poinsettias that have survived the winter. Occasionally, she sees the hydrangeas at the far end of the room and walks over to get a closer look. If she turns around after admiring them, she sometimes is surprised to see the Poinsettias again. I don’t ever recall seeing any sign that she is aware of having previously seen them or any of the other plants prior to that moment.
The newest source of pleasure involves her food. This has only occurred since being homebound. It seems surprising because the meals I prepare are very simple and most of our takeout meals aren’t the same caliber of those we have eaten at the restaurants. She rarely leaves anything on her plate. The exception would be the skin of apples and tomatoes as well as the crust of her bread.
She always wants to share her pleasure with me. It never dawns on her that her entrée and mine are almost always the same. Even when I tell her, she often says, “Try it. You’ll like it.” and passes her fork with a sample for me to taste.
It’s not just that she likes the food. She is animated and talks about it during a large portion of our meal. She liked her meals when we were eating out, but it was usually a special dessert that she talked about most. I never thought she was at all inhibited in a restaurant, but, perhaps, she feels even freer to talk when it is just the two of us at home.
Another possibility is that it is simply a side effect of her Alzheimer’s. She has forgotten most of the foods we eat. For a while, that was limited to a few things like pizza and pepperoni. Dr. Pepper has always been her favorite drink, and she wouldn’t drink the diet version. Now I only buy diet. It doesn’t make any difference even when she is looking at the bottle from which it was poured. She has also almost forgotten the name Dr. Pepper except to recognize it when I offer it to her. She raves about how good it is with almost every sip and then asks, “What is this?” We go through this multiple times during a meal. I suspect that is happening with all the other items on the table. As far as she knows, what she eats and drinks is always new and always good.
Some of you may be thinking, “How sad that she no longer recognizes the names of her favorite things.” You would be right. It is sad. It can be especially painful for me as her husband. How I wish I could spare her from these things as well as those that are to follow. My only way of adapting is to recognize that it is totally out of my control. All I can do is try to keep her safe and happy. I pour all of my energy into that. I’ve learned to live in her world and to be joyful that she can still enjoy life. I am also aided by the fact that she is so dependent on me. She is like a young child, she can do very little on her own. She needs help with everything, and I am willing and able to give it.