A Dementia Love Story
May 07, 2019
By Lin Sue Cooney, Hospice of the Valley
Gerald calls it her “million-dollar smile” because of the beautiful way it lights up her face and the tingly way it makes him feel. He fell in love with the smile and the girl — and married both.
That was 54 years, 3 sons, and 9 grandchildren ago. Gerald and Linda shared their lives and built their dreams, believing they had all the time in the world. Then, nine years ago, Alzheimer’s came along.
These days, Gerald visits Linda in a memory care facility where she is well-cared-for and seems content. He may find her sitting at a table having what he calls “word salad” conversations — social interaction with the cadence of speech but nonsensical sentences. Or, she might be walking arm in arm with other male residents — something that doesn’t even give him pause anymore. He knows she’s just enjoying a stroll.
Most of the time, Linda doesn’t know who he is — this nice man who rubs her shoulders, brushes her hair, or sits by her bed whispering sweet nothings. But, he can’t help wanting to be close to her, to feel her warmth, see her nod, or hear a tiny coo of approval. If he’s lucky, he might bask in the light of that enchanting smile.
He knows he’s experiencing what counselors call “anticipatory grief” — sadness over the ambiguous loss he witnesses daily. He sees the woman he loves, only in fleeting glimpses. He copes by writing essays that remind him what their marriage used to be like.
His touching collection, called Musings of a Purposeful Mind, are charming, one-page stories that crystallize a memory, a revelation, or passage from their old life to this new one. These moments, penned with such heartrending honesty and courage, paint their life story in vivid color. The final chapters are being written as Linda retreats from the life she once knew and Gerald battles his emotions to walk beside her.
It’s not an easy journey.
On their 54th anniversary, he brought a card, flowers, and balloons — faithfully celebrating the special occasion, even though Linda has long forgotten she has a husband. When friends ask why, he says, “she may not know me, but I know her.”
There was no recognition that day.
Yesterday — as Gerald sidled up to pat her shoulder, Linda had a moment of clarity. She beamed that same million-dollar smile, like the girl he’d always known. It squeezed his heart and swept away so many empty weeks before. It reminded him that she is still present.
He couldn’t help himself. He fell in love all over again.
The Woods are being cared for by Hospice of the Valley, which has a Palliative Care For Dementia program that is available free of charge to everyone for the first 30 days. This program sends dementia educators into the home to help caregivers learn new ways to connect as speech and memory fade. It teaches ways to minimize stress and improve quality of life — not an easy task when a loved one with dementia may ask when lunch is being served 15 times in 5 minutes. It’s a challenging journey, but no one needs to face it alone. For more information on this innovative and compassionate program, call us at 602-636-6363.
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