Sunday, November 2, 2008

For Better or Worse

I recently finished reading a book, written by ST Underdhal, entitled “Remember This”.
"Remember This" is the story of Lucy Kellogg, an elderly lady - once independent and dynamic - whose grip on reality slowly slips away as she surrenders to the unforgiving talons of Alzheimer disease. Lucy Kellogg loses things, confuses reality and fantasy, gets lost herself, but ultimately remembers those who hold a special place in her heart. The pain Lucy's son feels as he watches his mother slowly losing her connection to reality - and reversing back to being a child - is almost tangible. I thought about this book yesterday, as I ran into an older couple, while visiting my husband at work. At first sight, the couple looked suave and very ordinary, until I noticed the lady was slightly on edge, and followed her husband’s every move with apprehension. I sat with them and struck a conversation, and quickly learned that her husband has Alzheimer disease.
She told me a bit of the struggle they go through on a daily basis, and of the paralyzing fear which takes hold of her anytime she loses him out of her sight for even brief periods. She told me about the patience that’s required in taking care of someone afflicted with the disease, especially in the final stages, and sadly stated that her two sons – both grown and living out of state –refuse to help in any way. Furthermore, she said, they have no visible patience whenever they visit, and quickly lose their temper with him.
As the lady spoke I could feel my heart breaking for her husband, and for her. They raised two sons, sacrificed years of their lives to make sure their boys were well taken care of, and once they needed a small return of love and comprehension, it was simply not there. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
I thought about all the situations when I lose my own patience. It is easy to become irritated when people are on a different page, but how could it ever get this far? How could I fault someone for not being mentally sound? I thought about my parents, and all they have sacrificed to raise me into the woman I am now, and knew that although patience is not my greatest virtue, I could never do that to them.
Before leaving, I looked at the gentleman sitting beside her; He was like a small child living in his own world, comfortable in the knowledge that his wife was there to take care of him. I stood up and hugged the lady, wishing her good luck. The gentleman looked up at me, a confused look curtained his soft, gentle eyes; it was as if he noticed me then for the first time. I leaned over and hugged him too. He smiled and hugged me back.
When I left, I turned around twice to look at the couple through the glass windows. They looked so sweet sitting there together. I silently said a small prayer for the lady to continue being strong, and for the gentleman to go through these last stages of his ordeal with the smallest amount of discomfort. I also said a small prayer of gratitude, for being allowed to witness, on an ordinary day, such an extraordinary display of genuine love.

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