J and I had lunch on Saturday with an old friend who is caring for her friend, F, with Alzheimer’s disease. F has been in residential care for four years. She has “graduated” from assisted living, also known as personal care, to a dedicated Alzheimer’s floor. She can no longer dress herself.
Then, on Saturday night, I had dinner with old friends of one of my friends. P, the husband, has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He hung out with us while his wife was off officiating at a wedding. He has some word retrieval problems and said his children are much younger than they actually are, but he speaks in complete sentences and know about important future events, including one of his children’s weddings and an upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand.
These visits made me feel like the inside of a sandwich, surrounded by where J and I have been and, sadly, where we are going. J can still dress herself, but she has no concept of the past or the future. I recently mentioned that her birthday is coming up. Her response was, “Really?” Alzheimer’s moves in only one inexorable direction. There is no getting better.
That realization, which I have again and again, brought childbirth to mind. Twenty three years ago, I delivering our daughter without drugs. At each moment I considered whether I could stand the pain I was feeling then. If the answer was yes, I went on without the epidural. (Fear of a needle in my back was also a big motivation.)
In my current role as an Alzheimer’s caregiver, I am taking the same approach. The pain is always there, whether it is on the surface or hidden in deep recesses.
And then I look up and see the shimmering sliver of the moon. Or the pink sky behind the sycamore trees I pass every morning. And I know that J still appreciates the beauty all around us. So I stand the pain. What choice do I have?