Much of my recent posting has focused on the changes occurring in our lives. That is true, but I don’t want to mislead you. Some of the best things are still with us. I can sum it up by saying this. Kate continues to be the same kind, thoughtful person she always was. As a result, the strength of our relationship hasn’t diminished in any way. In fact, I would say it is stronger than ever.
Last week, I watched a video lecture by David Brooks recorded during his visit to Chautauqua in 2018. A section of his talk dealt with love and referenced the following quote from Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love is burned away. And this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches, we found that we were part of one tree and not two.
I think this applies to our relationship as well as most other successful marriages including those of Kate’s and my parents. We had a good marriage before Alzheimer’s, and our roots “grew toward each other.” Now I have discovered that we are “part of one tree and not two.”
There are a number of reasons “Living with Alzheimer’s” has been less stressful for us than for many others. The nature of our relationship has to be one of them, and it has not deteriorated. That could change at any time. Alzheimer’s has changed our lives significantly, but I remain optimistic.
There are many illustrations of the way we have handled the trials accompanied by this disease. Let me mention several that have occurred in the past week.
One night early last week, I had just gotten out of the shower and was about to take a seat in a chair on my side of the bed. This is a relaxing time of the day for me. Kate was sitting up in bed while watching a YouTube video of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. I assumed she was more engaged than usual because she was sitting up. Normally, she is lying down with her eyes closed and listening. Before I could sit down, she motioned to me to join her in bed. It was about 45 minutes before I would normally go to bed, but I got in bed.
It turned out that she was experiencing two conflicting emotions. She was enjoying the music, but it was also a moment when she was disturbed by not knowing “anything.” She wanted my hand and held it firmly as she leaned against me. I felt it was another time when talk was less important than simply being with her. Within 10-15 minutes, her anxiety was gone. We watched the entire concerto, and she wasn’t sleepy. We followed that by watching a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. We were much later getting to sleep than usual but it was another case in which music and the comfort of our relationship solved a problem.
One morning two days later, she woke me around 5:00. She had apparently had a dream in which she had some obligation that morning. She wanted to know what time she had to be there. I told her I didn’t know of anything that she needed to do that morning and that she could relax. For a very brief moment, that satisfied her, but then she asked again, and again, and again. Finally, I suggested that I put on some soft music. I have a variety of music for times like this and turned on the audio. Then I put my arm around her and held her for over thirty minutes. During that time, she relaxed and forgot all about her obligation. She wasn’t asleep but at ease, and I got up for the day.
As she grows increasingly dependent, her desire to be with me seems to increase as well. The past few days she has talked about liking to be with me. On at least one of those occasions, it followed an afternoon with the sitter even though I was in the house most of the time. Before the sitter arrived today, I mentioned that I was going to the grocery store. She told me she didn’t want me to leave. I told her I wouldn’t be gone long and wasn’t going to leave right away but would be in the kitchen taking care of a few things. She accepted that, but the look on her face suggested she didn’t want to.
Yesterday morning was one of those times when she didn’t recognize me as her husband or know my name, but she asked to hold my hand. She said she didn’t really need it, but it made her feel better. She wanted to go home, so we went for a ride in the car. It wasn’t long before she said, “I don’t know how he does it.” She said a few related things, and I asked who she meant. She looked at me and said, “You.” This was far from the first time she has referred to me or herself in the third person. When we returned home, she wanted to tell me something but couldn’t express it. I’ll never know exactly what it was, but I got the impression she wanted to tell me what it feels like not to know anything. I don’t know that I would be able to express it either. I do know that she hasn’t forgotten me as a person whose company she enjoys and on whom she is very dependent.
As an aside, I think she has remembered my name and that I am her husband more often as her dependence has increased. When I got home to relieve the sitter two days ago, the sitter told me Kate had asked about “Richard” off and on the whole time I had been gone. Interestingly, while we were eating lunch today, she asked, “Where is my husband?” several times. We had been talking, but there were moments of silence. She apparently looked at me but did not recognize who I was and felt uneasy. Yes, changes are occurring, but some very important things remain the same. Our relationship, music, her photo books (especially the “Big Sister” album), and The Velveteen Rabbit are among them.