62: While He Still Remembers

62: While He Still Remembers

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

While He Still Remembers

What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment.

~Author Unknown

My husband and I are alone, for a change, riding home after dropping our kids with their aunt for the night. It’s dark and raining, one of those nights when all you can think about is getting home to your warm, cozy house and getting into something comfy.

I have been working on ways to have “quality time” with my husband and this has become more difficult as his Alzheimer’s disease progresses. In the dark car, as we drive home, I begin to ask questions about his life in the past. It has occurred to me recently that I know little about that time, as he has always been a person who tends to live “in the now” — not thinking much of the past. But as his life relentlessly slips from his memory, I have been trying to accumulate bits and pieces to share, later, with the family, sure there is so much we don’t know.

Tomorrow is Halloween and, thinking this might generate a great story for the grandkids, I ask, “What did you do as a child on Halloween?”

“I don’t remember,” he replies. “Nothing, I guess,” and then slips back into silence.

“Did you ever see a ghost?” I ask.

“No, did you?” he says and quiet sets in again.

“I have!” I shoot into the darkness, and enthusiastically, with great detail, tell him my story. No response.

Finally, he says, “Well, I don’t believe in ghosts.” It grows quiet again.

Not wanting to give up, I try subject after subject, trying to find something he will bite on; a memory that will spark a good story; a memory he will share. He was always so good at conversation, so interesting, so quick to join in, with enthusiasm, with his opinion on most any subject. But, his answers remain short and hold little to build on, and finally, too disappointed to try anymore, I let the quiet take over.

We ride that way for several miles. Then, out of the darkness he says, “I really like the warm jacket you bought for me today. It’s going to be nice and warm this winter.” He reaches over and touches my hand. “Thank you,” he says softly.

“I’m glad you like it,” I reply.

In the now, again, I think, and I wonder how it must be to give so little thought to the past and to live only “in the now.” His most consistent question is always to ask, “What day is it today?” As of late, he hardly mentions yesterday. I wonder if he still knows there was a yesterday.

It occurs to me that, as the disease progresses, I will be part of yesterday. I know there will come a time when he will look at me and see a stranger. It’s at those times when I wonder: Who will he remember? For now, he still remembers those he sees every day and those he loved most from his past. But the day-to-day stuff barely touches him enough to generate a comment or to commit to memory.

“Thank you for the warm jacket,” the touch of his hand in the dark, a connection. This is his world today. I feel an urgent desire to try to prod memories from him before it is too late. I want him to remember childhood laughter and friendships, Christmases past and summers gone by. I want him to remember the melodies of the gospel songs he once sang and loved and I want to hear him sing them again. I want him to remember the night we first kissed under the stars. But, he doesn’t. He smiles when I tell him about that night. But, it’s like a nice story he once heard and he’s happy I remember. I was hoping for more. I need so much more.

We pull into the driveway and turn off the car. We sit in the darkness for a moment. “It’s nice to be home,” he says, quietly. I get out of the car and the motion light goes on. He gets out and, without another word, shuffles into the house. I follow slowly, smiling to see he has worn his new jacket.

He is happy. He is happy right now at this moment. I guess that is what matters. And that, for right now, he still remembers.

~Susan Hanna Frook

More stories from our partners