The following article is being published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Navigating Eldercare & Dementia (June 2021):
My wife Mary was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease over ten years ago at the age of fifty-nine. Due to her rapidly deteriorating condition, and because I was working fulltime, there was no way I could care for Mary at home. A couple of years after her diagnosis, she moved into an assisted-living, memory-care facility. I always felt guilty about moving her there so soon, and for a long time I wondered if there was any way I could bring her back home to live.
But she was safe and happy where she was, and she loved the caregivers. Ensuring Mary’s happiness has always been my number-one goal. There was no way she would have been as happy with just one caregiver all day or only me, even if it could have worked out.
She hasn’t been able to communicate verbally for the last four years, except for a few words now and then. We’ve developed an alternative, a nonverbal connection that works— touching, hugging, smiling, eye-gazing, hand-holding, humming, dancing.
In the past, it was always a joyful surprise when she said a few words or even phrases that seemed appropriate for the circumstances, especially if they resembled “I like you” or “I love you.” But then even those semi-coherent verbal moments disappeared.
Then, a couple of years ago, when we were walking the hallways of her residence during my nightly visit, I noticed she was more energetic than usual. She was humming loudly, always a sure sign she was feeling happy. I mentioned I needed to leave soon and would come back the next day. She said the word “home,” followed by, “I stay here.” It was an unexpected statement, both for the clarity and the context.
I was shocked and didn’t know what to say at first, but then I responded, “This is a nice place, isn’t it?”
She broke into a big smile and then gave me a little laugh. “Yes, I like it. I love it,” she replied clearly, followed by, “Thank you so much.” I was flabbergasted with the articulation and apparent understanding she expressed. This type of clarity hadn’t happened for a few years and hasn’t happened since. It was phenomenal… and exactly what I needed to hear to know she was happy and to assuage any lingering guilt I felt for not being able to bring her home.
A few days after that, she stated out of the blue, “I’m home.”
I replied with pleasant surprise, “This is a nice home.”
“Yes, it is,” she said. “Thank you.”
The above quotes may seem simple to some, just snippets of thoughts with few words, but they are very meaningful to me, and I cherish them. While my wife may seem oblivious to her circumstances at times, I believe she accepts her surroundings and is happy, which is all that matters at this point. Little instances like these have a big impact… and they keep me going.