A Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty? Reflecting on Our Present Relationship

In a few days, it will have been six weeks since I watched Kate taken by ambulance to the hospital. The last words I heard her utter were, “Help! Someone, help!” That was a dark moment for me. I thought to myself, “I hope this is not the last image I have of her.”

Much (most?) of the time before getting the virus she didn’t remember my name or that I am her husband. With few exceptions, however, she has always recognized me as someone familiar and a person she likes and trusts. I couldn’t help wondering if she would recognize me at all when she came home. I feared she wouldn’t.

That fear ceased quickly when she immediately broke out in a big smile when she saw me. She was much better than I expected, and I was relieved. This shift in my emotions reminded me of the countless times I have responded positively or negatively to how Kate feels. As I have said before, when Kate is happy, I am happy.

It’s been over four weeks since she returned home, and she is still in bed, but she is making progress. Not everything is the way I would like it to be, but I tend to be a “glass is half-full” kind of person. As Kate has declined the past few years, I have tended to focus on our “Happy Moments.” That has been especially true since her return from the hospital.

One aspect of her recovery that I have enjoyed involves her feelings for me. She has been more psychologically dependent on me than ever before. She doesn’t express her feelings a lot in what she says, but she likes to hold my hand and squeeze it or rub it when we are in bed at night. She also depends on me for security each time the caregiver changes her.

She still retains some of her rational ability that I had thought was virtually gone. When I tell her the caregiver needs to change her, I immediately see the apprehension on her face. It is clear that she has an idea, though perhaps vague, of what is in store even though the caregivers and I attempt to make the process as non-threatening as possible. I get in bed beside her and very softly and slowly explain that the caregiver will be very gentle and that I will be “right here with you.” I also tell her that we will need to help the caregiver and tell her to hold my hands and that she can squeeze them as hard as she wants, and she does.

Gradually, she is becoming more relaxed. A few times, she has been totally passive except for the moments we have to turn her. She resists, but we turn her quickly. Then she is fine. If I put my arms around her and ask her to hug me, she seems to feel more secure and holds me tightly. I take this as another sign of the security she feels with me.

Kate isn’t the only one who dislikes this experience. The caregivers and I feel the same way. If she can learn to accept this more easily, we will have eliminated the only serious negatives that occur in a day. Of course, the best thing would be for her to agree to get up from the bed. Then we might be able to take her to the toilet. That would really simplify our lives, and we are working on that. One of her caregivers and I got her to sit up on the side of the bed once last week, something the physical therapist was also able to do that week. Slowly, but surely, we may succeed in getting her on her feet.

The worst part of her COVID experience occurred because she is in the last stage of her Alzheimer’s. She has never been able to grasp what has been going on since being taken by ambulance to the hospital. Even her return home has been quite different that it was when she left. Between the two agencies providing caregivers and the Home Health staff, I suspect it is impossible for her to recognize any of them. The result is reflected in her feelings toward me. I am her primary source of comfort and security.

Increasingly, the caregivers are getting to see her kind nature. I find it touching that she often thanks the caregiver after changing her even though she protests vigorously both physically and verbally. On a couple of occasions when we were embraced while the caregiver completed her work, she spoke tearfully in my ear and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I find that heartbreaking.

On Saturday, the caregiver was ready to turn her from her side to her back. She stopped when she saw that Kate had nestled her head on my shoulder and stroked my arm. That same night after the caregiver had left, she did the same thing as we were watching The Wizard of Oz.

These are not only signs of her recovery, but they are also an indication of her affection for me. She has always been appreciative of my care, but the events of the past few weeks have elevated that feeling significantly. That strengthens my determination to do the best I can to make her secure and happy.

I am optimistic that she will continue to make progress. In the meantime, I am sustained by the strength of our relationship and more than grateful to have a glass that is half-full. I fully recognize that at this stage of her Alzheimer’s, my glass will never be completely full.

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