The Ups and Downs of our Present Life

Looking back at the almost nine and a half years since Kate’s diagnosis, I see how gradual Kate’s changes were during the earlier years. We lived as though she were stable and adapted in various ways to make life easier or safer. For the most part, that meant giving up activities that had been an important part of our lives. I’ve mentioned all of them as they happened. The big ones for Kate involved her giving up her computer, working in the yard, and, finally, the iPad. Both of us gradually became less active in church and community work. We gave up all evening activities except for eating out for dinner, and we do that earlier than before. In 2015, we took our last international trip. In 2017, we made our last trip to Chautauqua, and we made our last trips to see our children in 2018.

Although all of these were significant changes in our lifestyle, they occurred slowly over time. Our world was getting smaller, but our daily routine was comparatively normal. That is no longer the case. The pace of change picked up within the past year, especially the past six months and even more during the pandemic. As a result, it is much harder for me to remember many of the details that I would like to report. That means I report on fewer issues that arise on a daily basis. I suspect that I may do less reporting on what a day is like and focus more on specific incidents I am able to recall. With that in mind, here are several things that have happened in the last few days.

After finishing my shower three nights ago, I walked into the bedroom and noticed that Kate was lying almost perpendicular to the headboard. I spoke to her, and she pointed to a section of the sheet beside the outline of her body. She motioned to me to come closer and said, “I need your help.” She pointed again and said, “Read this.” As you might have guessed, there was nothing there but the bed sheet. I hesitated a moment trying to decide what to say. Before I could ask any questions, she again asked me to read it. I took a moment to look at the sheet and pretended I was reading something.

When I finished, she asked me what it said. For a moment, I was puzzled. That must have been obvious to her since she mentioned something about ways that someone could help. I still wasn’t sure what she wanted. After a little probing I learned that she wanted me to help her with a young man and woman who were apparently new to our area. She wanted me to introduce them to other people and give them information that would be helpful about our area. She wanted us to meet with them and asked for my advice about the time and place of our meeting as well as taking charge of arrangements.

As I gave her my recommendations, I began to wonder how long this conversation would go on. It turned out to be very short. When I mentioned that I was available for lunch the next day, she said that was too soon. I told her I would call him and set up a lunch meeting several days after that. She was agreeable to that and thanked me for helping her. She went on to say it was time for her to get to bed. She said this in a way that made it clear that she did not recognize me as her husband.

For much of the time yesterday, she wasn’t sure who I was. That was true at lunch when I said, “I’m not much of a talker.” She broke into laughter. Obviously, I was not a stranger to her.

After lunch, she rested. Two hours later, she started to get up from the sofa. I asked if she would like for me to read something to her. She was receptive, and I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit. Before reading, I showed her the drawing of the rabbit on the book’s cover. She had some difficulty comprehending what a stuffed rabbit is and wasn’t particularly interested. As I proceeded to read, her interest rose quickly. As on other occasions, she responded audibly to quite a few passages. Each time her emotions were appropriate for what I had read.

When I reached the part where the boy refers to the rabbit as real, she asked if I were real. I told her I was. Without hesitation, she asked how I knew. I told her that was a good philosophical question. I went on to say that I felt I was real because I was able to interact with other people, and they responded as though I am real. She didn’t want to pursue it any further, but I thought it was interesting that she asked both questions.

It also made me think about her interactions with her stuffed bear. She cuddles him and talks with him as though he is real. She does the same thing with other inanimate objects like a pillow in our kitchen. On the other hand, she doesn’t always seem to see her bear as real. Yesterday, she was carrying him in her arms as she started to walk down the steps into our garage. I asked if I could hold him. She said, “No, I don’t think that would look right.” I said, “You don’t think that would look manly.” She responded with an emphatic “No.”

The best part of the day came after we finished the book. I reminded her that she had been a librarian and that she must have enjoyed introducing so many children to books. That led to a conversation that lasted almost an hour, during which she did most of the talking. She told stories about her relationship with her students. At one point, I mentioned that teachers have a big impact on their students. That prompted her to tell me about students who had thanked her for what she had done for them. While there is no way for me to be sure, I don’t believe anything she said actually happened. I am sure she was adlibbing, but she enjoyed talking, and I enjoyed listening. The conversation was especially interesting because it showed such insight regarding students, teachers, and their relationships while the facts seemed to be fictional. To be sure, there is some sadness associated with moments like these. At the same time, the nature of the conversation also seemed quite natural, like those we had before Alzheimer’s. At this point in the disease, conversations like that are a pleasure. I count them as treasures.

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