56: Living in the Moment

56: Living in the Moment

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Living in the Moment

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.

~Danny Kaye

“Well this doesn’t make sense!” For the second month in a row, my husband could not balance our checkbook. Lew had worked in the finance industry for more than fifty years, and numbers were his thing. So for him to have trouble balancing the checkbook was unthinkable. But there it was.

There had been other signs, but how does one know whether they are part of the aging process, or something more serious? Lew was in his early seventies when he started having occasional episodes of transient global amnesia, a temporary loss of memory that passes in a few hours. After the first episode, Lew was tested for a stroke. Included in the tests was an MRI of the brain, and although no stroke was diagnosed, it served as a baseline for later Alzheimer’s diagnostic tests.

In retrospect, we realize there were a number of signs related to Alzheimer’s. Loss of interest in activities he once enjoyed was one of the more obvious ones. He gradually stopped playing golf with the guys, three times a week slowly dropping to once a week. Participation in an online football pool with good friends and our son had netted Lew some nice winnings, and he liked studying the teams and making his picks. So no one could understand why he decided not to participate anymore and no amount of coaxing by friends and loved ones could change his mind.

After the issue with the checkbook, our family physician referred him to a neurologist, who confirmed the diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Lew found the diagnosis to be a relief. Now he knew why these odd things had been happening to him. I, on the other hand, went into mourning. I believed his life and ours together was over. I am an organizer and planner by nature. I quickly learned that Alzheimer’s disease is not something you can organize or plan. I felt helpless.

The one thing we could do was to learn as much about the disease as possible. During the next six months we spent hours reading everything we could find. We attended workshops offered by the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association: Help and Hope, The Savvy Caregiver, and The Confident Caregiver Series. Attendance at a local caregiver’s support group has been a lifesaver for me. We also participated in a writing workshop so we could tell “Our Love Story.”

And we learned to share the diagnosis with family members and friends. The more open we were, the more understanding and support we received. We had been making plans to drop out of our couple’s golf traveling group and a number of other social activities. Fortunately, our friends wouldn’t hear of it. As they explained, we are all getting older and will have different challenges along the way — and we plan to face them together.

Lew is a pragmatic man with a wonderful sense of humor. He has never denied having the disease and is the first to acknowledge that losing track of strokes on the golf course or not knowing which hole he is playing is because of Alzheimer’s.

We have been married for more than forty years and love to travel. When we first received the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we thought our travel days were over and we were fortunate to be able to look back at all the joys experienced in all the countries we had visited and the friends we had made. A couple of months prior to the diagnosis, we took a cruise to Canada and Alaska. Within a short time, Lew didn’t remember anything about it. I thought, why spend money on trips he won’t remember?

Then we had an “ah-ha” moment. We realized life was not over. That first year following the diagnosis was spent learning, the second we started living our lives again. One day I looked at Lew and realized that it isn’t about what he does or doesn’t remember — life is really about living in the moment.

During the second year we took some short golf trips, a nineteen-day cruise through the Panama Canal, and two road trips — one to Oregon and another to Sedona, Arizona — all with good friends.

When we were dating we had discovered we both loved to play cribbage, and we like party bridge. Two years post-diagnosis, we still play cribbage every day and bridge often. Lew might not remember the day of the week or the month of the year, but he can still bid and play a great game of cards. And we still play golf, but I have a better chance of beating him now. He prefers playing with me alone or with other couples, instead of with the guys, as that is his comfort level.

Our son recently spent an afternoon videotaping a conversation with his dad about his past, and life in general, as a visual and audio recording for his children. I’m still working on our “Love Story,” have finished “Lew’s Story,” and started “Our Story.” We have had such a great life together; we want to share it with our grandsons.

Two years post-diagnosis, Lew’s disease has progressed to the point that he can’t drive anymore. His response to losing his driver’s license was to send out an e-mail to friends and family announcing he is taking applications for chauffeurs. Life is good when you roll with the punches.

One late afternoon we were sitting on the bank of the Rogue River with our friends, watching the fishing and rafting, when Lew turned to me and said, “We are having the best time. I’m sorry I won’t be able to remember it.” I raised my glass of wine, Lew raised his can of beer, and we toasted to “Living in the Moment.”

~Sue Watkins

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