Stop the presses!


Ink used to run in J’s veins.  Her parents owned two local newspapers, and she was a journalist when we met.  I have never known her not to read a daily paper.  So it was with much sadness that I recently canceled her subscription.  Her Alzheimer’s is advanced enough that just she can’t read it.  Worse yet, she doesn’t miss it.

On a more positive note, I have been able to arrange with a local nonprofit organization for a dog to visit J once a week.  I was lucky enough to be with her when the worker came in with the dog, Sparky.  J was so, so happy.  I wish I hadn’t been the only one to see her sheer joy.


I can’t remember the first time someone suggested I lie to J, but I recall being taken aback.  I was raised that deception is wrong, and I have always been a bad liar.  So here I am with a wife with Alzheimer’s disease and I have been keeping some news from her and sometimes simply not telling her the truth.  This has become the kindest path.

I have withheld from her the recent death of her beloved dog.  The dog went to live with our son’s girlfriend in early March because J could no longer care for him and I couldn’t take him on.  Early reports were that he was adjusting well and getting plenty of exercise.  He was a very active dog — a pit bull rescue — and a household with two 20-something women who love animals seemed a better match than what we were providing.  Then, in early April, he developed what the vet initially thought was a muscle strain in his tail.  He was in some discomfort and was given pain meds.  We weren’t concerned.  I even teased his new mom that she should stop being so darn fun and making him excessively wag his tail.  The pain spread and he got to the point where he wasn’t eating and couldn’t get up.  After multiple vet visits, the prognosis was not good.  It was suspected he had a neurological disorder and he was in intense pain.  Our son and his girlfriend, in consultation with me, decided to put him down a little over a week ago.  We all agreed there was no point in telling J.  While she occasionally makes a wistful remark about her dog, she generally doesn’t ask about him.  Knowing he is dead would serve no purpose.  She likely wouldn’t even retain the information.  So the kids and I must mourn without her participation.

The outright lie is in connection with her imminent move to a continuing care community.  We have visited the community together and some staff members have come to meet with us to assess J.  (I’m still waiting to hear whether they recommend personal care or the memory unit.  More on that later.)  All I have told J is that she is going to go there for a respite stay while I am traveling.  She says she’ll go, although she’d rather stay home.  I have told her it is only for a couple of weeks.  The truth is that she is going to go in 10 days before I go away and be there another 10 days until I return.  My great hope is that she adjusts well and will stay.  (For more on that topic, see my last post:  Again, telling her the truth would serve no purpose.  It would just make her anxious and sad.

For 31 years, I always told J the truth, and part of me feels uncomfortable with the lies and omissions.  I suppose it is another reality to which I must adjust — a way to do the least harm.


The dog left on Saturday. J simply couldn’t care for him any longer and I couldn’t take him on permanently given the progression of J’s Alzheimer’s disease, my full time job and trying to preserve  some balance in my life. 

I was very concerned that the loss of the dog would precipitate a meltdown. Not at all. A friend took J out to lunch on Saturday while another friend and I gathered all of the dog’s things. Our son’s girlfriend, A (another of our angels), agreed to take the dog, and so she came over to ride in the car while we transported him from our house to hers. 

I cried when we left him. It was not for him, who will have a much better deal living with A, who has time and energy to feed and walk and play with him. It was not for me, who feels relief at being responsible for one fewer being.  It was for J, who has lost her job, the ability to drive, financial independence and now her beloved dog. 

After the dog left, J and I spent a quiet Saturday night catching up on House of Cards. When I came out of the bathroom, she was on the steps looking into the foyer, where the dog’s crate used to be. “Crate?” she said. I said, “The dog is with A.”  J’s face transformed from anxious to calm. I have gotten no further questions. I have not mentioned the dog and neither has she. Even though I know the disease relentlessly progresses and her decline has been accelerating, I am stunned. 

The student who had been living with us for several years also moved out this weekend. I need his bedroom to house caregivers during my upcoming trip. Fortunately, I was able to find him a spot just a block from us. (Another angel – in the form of a neighbor.) 

The house seems very quiet. I’m sure I will adjust as I have to so much else. 

J Guest Column: Beauty, All the Way Down


J has been meeting with a freelance writer for some months, telling her stories so they can be memorialized. Sadly, J is no longer able to remember enough to continue this activity. Here is one of her remembrances:

I have Alzheimer’s.

A saw something that I didn’t. Other people noticed I was doing things differently. And we went to a doctor. It was clear that it was not good.

But at this point, it’s level. I haven’t gotten worse. I wish I didn’t have this. But there’s a lot of good, too. Being with people. Walking the dog.

My world is smaller than it was. I can’t do things that I could do before. I can’t drive. But look around me: there’s still a lot.

 The kids are grown. T is a sound engineer. L wants to do neuro-something.

 I can go across L Drive, down to the stream.

 Beauty, all the way down.