57: The Talk

57: The Talk

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

The Talk

I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.

~Mother Teresa

I knew something was different about her the moment we first danced at Parents without Partners, a social club for single parents. I felt a disconcerting ridge along her ribcage. I recognized thoracic scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Fifteen years prior to that eventful evening, I had developed a new type of brace specifically made to treat that condition.

I asked her out for the following Saturday and, just seven days later, I proposed marriage. In a mere six weeks, we were on our honeymoon. By that point, my wife’s spinal curvature, to my loving eyes, has so completely disappeared that even now I have to stop and think which side it is on. I loved her just the way she was.

During the past twenty-five years, we’ve been blessed in so many ways. My wife’s three boys, who have matured into wonderful husbands and fathers, are a joy to us both. Their love for their mother and acceptance of me as a stepfather, however strained at first, has given us incredible peace.

We’ve endured some bumps along the way. An airplane crash, which could have been tragic, left me partially disabled — my arm and hand were paralyzed for half a year. I was broken and depressed until, getting ready for church one Sunday, I was able to move my finger just a quarter of an inch. That day became a turning point in our lives, and with my wife’s loving support and my never-give-up attitude, I woke up to the realization that everything was going to be okay.

My last little invention turned into a business that spanned half the globe and allowed a lifestyle that gave us the means to help others in so many ways.

Sometimes, just when you think you’ve got everything under control, make plans for the future, and are set for new adventure, something intrudes, bringing it all to a screeching halt.

After years of minor memory lapses that gradually became noticeable to family and friends, my wife began having major memory issues. Forgetting how to start a car. Not getting the mail for three days. Asking the same question many times in a row, forgetting appointments and social invitations, paying some bills twice and others not at all, thinking I’d put new tires and wheels on her golf cart . . . the list goes on.

I needed to communicate my feelings in the kindest, most sensitive manner possible. I started by giving her a beautiful greeting card about love. I’d added words of my own, telling her that, no matter the circumstances, I’d be her man and would love her, care for her, and be by her side forever.

She thanked me through tears, and I led her to the sofa and started The Talk, something I’d been dreading and could no longer put off.

I began by asking her to reminisce about those times I would come into the house, put down a tool I was working with, get a drink and return to the hangar . . . leaving my tool behind on the counter. We laughed about how I was the absentminded genius, notorious for being scatterbrained. I asked her if I had been a good husband to her for the past twenty-six years and she quipped, “The best one I’ve had so far.” That’s my girl.

I held her tightly and, as gently as I could, asked her if she ever had done any research of her own, avoiding saying Alzheimer’s. She hadn’t and admitted that she was afraid to for fear of what she might learn. Cuddled together, we looked at a few websites, many of which suggested Alzheimer’s as the reason for her symptoms. As I scanned the text, hoping she wouldn’t notice the “tough parts,” she nestled under my arm. That evening, I found her at the computer, pouring over page after page for two hours. I could see stages, no cure, and, of course, the final act. Later that night in bed, I felt her shaking. Reaching to touch her beautiful face, I felt tears.

Turning to me, she posed an even tougher question. “Honey, you’re so smart. Will you invent a cure for me?”

“I sure will baby doll, I’ll really try,” I replied.

Sleepless, the promise I made burning in my brain, I silently made my way down to the workshop. Walking past welders, milling machine, drill press, saws, and testing equipment, I sat at my old workbench, scarred with the tinkerings of past inventions that changed so many lives for the better.

I brushed aside the workings of the “next big thing,” and contemplated the pile of cams, gears, springs, and bearings. I picked up one of the gears, examine it for a bit, then spun it on its axle. Like a toy gyroscope, it remained stable for a little while, faltered, then careened off the bench, reminding me of the fragility of her future.

At that moment I realized the awful truth. I’m an inventor, not much more than a glorified mechanic. I can’t cure her, I can’t help her, and I can’t keep my promise.

In the cool dark of the shop, I put my head down, and sobbed myself to sleep.

~Bruce Michael Williams

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