My wife Mary was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease over eleven years ago, and she has needed to be in an assisted living memory care facility for nearly nine years. There have been some great moments during this time, but there have also been some horrific episodes along with the gradual progression that is so heart-breaking.
I still love her very much, and I wish more than anything our situation was better. But I’m happy I’ve been able to be there for her and with her (until COVID prevented physical interaction) and make sure she’s being well taken care of.
Everyone knows I would be lying if I said there were not times I’ve felt despondent over our situation and the fact that Mary and I haven’t had a “normal” remainder of our lives growing old together. It was easy to allow myself to become depressed occasionally, especially when I would look at what lay ahead. But if I dwelled on my worries, doubts and self-pity, I’d likely be digging my own early grave—plus I wouldn’t be able to lift Mary’s spirits. Also, no one wants to be around a negative person and I still have to live life around other people. I’m grateful for what I’ve had and what I have, and for Mary’s current overall happy status, which I hope will continue.
When I have felt discouraged, it’s often been helpful to try to look at life from a different angle, kind of like looking in the rearview mirror as opposed to through the windshield. Instead of totally focusing on the future and its uncertainties, I like reflecting on the past, being grateful for the good life we have had together and how truly blessed our lives have been, and still are, in so many ways.
Earlier in our life together and even when Alzheimer’s problems started, Mary and I felt we were much luckier than many people. We knew or heard of some, often much younger than us, who experienced horrible events in their lives that affected them and their families significantly. Maybe being aware of such possibilities made us love and appreciate each other all the more, and thus we were able to treasure our transient lives together more than we would have otherwise. Even with this devastating disease, I feel fortunate. Since we discussed this early on, I know Mary feels blessed also.
To help me through the difficult times, I created a “Blessings List” writing down everything—both major and minor aspects of my life, tangible and intangible—for which I am thankful. Especially during periods when I’m feeling discouraged about our situation, I review the list, and sometimes revise it, to remind myself how much I have for which to be grateful.
Some of the blessings are from the past. Mary and I have been happy together for many years, shared many good times, seen a lot of places, gone on a lot of adventures, and experienced a good life together overall. We have two great sons of which we’re very proud. We were never in any real financial stress, and I’ve always worked hard and been fortunate to be employed so we weren’t.
Some of the blessings are in the present. Mary is happy, well taken care of, healthy overall, likes where she lives, and loves the staff. She still “knows” me to some extent and seems happy to be with me or hear my voice. Our sons have families of their own and are doing well, and we now have grandchildren. I’ve just retired from the normal workplace situation and have some money saved, although I still need to plan and be careful with the uncertainties ahead. I fully realize our situation could always be worse in a number of ways, but we’re doing quite well under the circumstances. At this point, I couldn’t expect anything more.
Some of the blessings I feel when I look to the future. We only get one chance at life, and we need to make the most of it and not dwell on what might have been. I’ve accepted it, but certainly don’t like all of it. I learned from Mary that preparation for such adversities pays off, and one can have a good and even happy life in the face of difficult times. We all need to make the years we have left count. Even though Mary’s years left, or even mine, may be but a few, I see a happy and bright future ahead.
I encourage everyone to make a Blessings List or Gratitude List and refer to and update it on a regular basis, especially when spirits are low. When times are bad—and everyone has such times—only the negatives seem to surface in someone’s mind. Having a prepared Blessings List can help buffer such times and put one’s life into perspective.