50: Enjoy This Day

50: Enjoy This Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Enjoy This Day

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

~John Muir

“Is the dishwasher clean or dirty?” my husband asked.

“Clean. I told you already.” I bit my lip. I had promised myself I wouldn’t say, “I told you already.” Yet those pesky words had escaped my lips for the hundredth time. It wasn’t Ray’s fault that he’d had to ask the same question a third time within the hour. He was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

My grandmother, who had this dreaded brain disease, lived with us for a year when I was seven. I’d also watched Ray’s mother progress from forgetting where she put things to forgetting the names of grandchildren to forgetting Ray’s name. We were with her when she died of Alzheimer’s. Facing it again, I was currently reading every book I could find on the disease.

I had an inkling of what I would need to do as a caretaker, and I was terrified. I’d need to remain his confidant and best friend, which I was now. I’d also need to be a nurse dispensing medications, a handyman fixing the closet door when it came off its tracks, and the sole cook, chauffeur, and laundress—roles we had shared since his retirement. How could I do it all?

“Are you all right?” Ray’s doctor had asked me as I sobbed into my handkerchief while he explained the various kinds of dementia.

“No.” Of course, I wasn’t all right. When we met 14 years earlier, Ray and I had planned a life together filled with the things we loved to do—hiking, biking, ballroom dancing. We could share these activities for a while longer, but Alzheimer’s disease imposed an end date I’d never imagined.

“You knew, didn’t you?” The doctor probably didn’t mean his second question to sound so unsympathetic.

I nodded and wiped my eyes. I had suspected Alzheimer’s for some time. More and more often, I found myself reminding Ray to take his medications, helping him make lists of the things he wanted to do, and responding to the e-mails that confused him. But a diagnosis based on a battery of tests was so final.

I loved Ray and would do anything I could for him. At our wedding, tears of joy ran down my face through the entire ceremony because I was marrying the man of my dreams. He offered me the kind of love and support I had never received before. Whether it was doing a grocery store run for things we needed, or attending a reading of one of my stories, he was beside me every day in every way.

Now it was my turn to offer him unmitigated, unconditional love and support. I quaked before the task. I knew what a good caretaker looked like. When my mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s, she received wonderful care from the staff at her continuous-care retirement home. Every aide was gentle, loving, and patient. Then there was Richard, the man who took care of a friend after she had a stroke. We referred to him as Richard the Angel because he did everything with grace and good humor, from wiping drool from the corner of my friend’s mouth to carefully rearranging her feet on the footrests of her wheelchair.

Did it make a difference that they had applied for the job and I was thrust into it? That the patient they cared for was not also the love of their life?

Ray deserved the best caretaker around. But was I up to it?

One sunny morning, when Ray was settled at his computer playing brain challenges, I followed one of the walking paths that meander through our neighborhood. “Dear God, guide me,” I prayed. “I’m in desperate need of your help.”

“You and Ray can enjoy this day together,” God whispered through the beauty around me. Birds twittered in cedars and vine maples. Fat clematis blooms climbed a trellis in one yard. In another, day lilies in a profusion of reds, oranges and yellows opened their faces to the sun. If Ray were with me, he might bend to smell the fragrant roses that bordered a lush, newly mown lawn.

God’s message was clear. Railing against Ray’s diagnosis wouldn’t change anything. My focus needed to shift to the things Ray and I could still do together. Later, when he needed more help than I could offer, I would trust God to give me other answers.

I knew I would come to need walks like this often, along with an open pipeline to God. But for now I saw the world differently, and felt more positive and hopeful.

When I arrived home, Ray met me at the door. “I changed the ink in the printer, but it won’t start. I did what I always do.” He sounded frantic.

I kissed his cheek. “I’ll look at it, and then will you walk with me?” I asked. “I saw some beautiful yards I want to show you.”

“Everything’s more confusing today. Yesterday my mind was clear as a bell.”

My heart twisted with sympathy. He must be far more terrified than I was about what lay ahead of us. “Tomorrow maybe you’ll have a good day again,” I soothed as I went to his office. I pushed an ink cartridge into position, prodding it until it clicked, and closed the door of the ink bay. The machine whirred into action.

Ray frowned. “I did all that.”

“I know. Let’s go for a walk.” I took his arm.

He smiled his fabulous, crooked smile. “Just let me get on my shoes.”

With tears in my eyes, but a growing peace in my heart, I opened the front door, and we stepped out into the sunshine, comforted by each other’s company. Maybe they would find a medication soon that would stop the advance of Alzheimer’s, not just slow it down. Meanwhile, we had today. We were out to enjoy it.

~Samantha Ducloux Waltz

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