Truth is, in many ways, a simple thing. But there are times when it is not so simple.
As I’ve written before, my wife Marty has Alzheimer’s. Caring for her exercises my wit in ways I never expected. It also reminds me of that fundamental, liberating truth: that she is, even now — especially now — a beloved child of God.
Here’s what truth looks like at my house:
Last night after dinner (by the way, I am turning into a pretty good cook), Marty asked me, “What time is my show on?”
Though I know she has no favorite TV programs, reflexively I asked her, “What show?”
(Her question was a warning bell I’ve learned to detect, but didn’t detect fast enough. She had stepped into what I call “uh-oh time” — moments that can lead her to become quickly frustrated and agitated.)
She looked at me and I could see her tensing up. Raising her voice a decibel or two, she said, “You know what show. Just tell me what time it comes on.”
Quickly I scramble for the right answer. “Sorry, sweetie, your show is not on tonight. There is a special about sharks, and you don’t care about sharks, do you?”
“You know I don’t like sharks. But that’s okay. I can watch the news, right?’
She headed to the sofa, sat down and picked up her puzzle book. She always was good at doing the anachrostics (I find them incredibly difficult) but now she more or less looks at the page, and holds a pencil on it … but the pencil never moves.
“Do I have to go to work tomorrow?” she asked. “I’m so tired. I really could use a day off …”
Two years ago I might have tried to explain to her that she does not have a job and has not worked in nine years. Now, using my ever-improving skills, I answer, “You’re right. You do look tired. I think you need a day off too. Don’t worry, I can call in and let them know you’re sick.”
“You would do that for me? That’s so nice. I’m so glad I don’t have to get up and go in. Is today Sunday?”
Whew, a relief question. This time, the truth is easy. “No, it’s Wednesday.”
“Wednesday. Are you sure?”
“Yes, it’s Wednesday.”
More to read: “I can’t fix this…”: A male caregiver’s lament
Things were quiet for a while. It was about 9 p.m. when I walked back to the bathroom. Suddenly I heard smashing and banging coming from the utility room off the kitchen. I headed in there and saw that Marty had, in a matter of minutes, pulled out of the wall cabinet all of the plastic containers, glasses and cups and other assorted things that were inside, and stacked them on the washer and dryer below.
“Hey hon, what are you doing?”
She looked at me and I could again see she was agitated. “We have all this junk. We have to get rid of it. Why do we have all this junk? We have to throw it out.”
Immediately, I switched back to fielding. “Okay. When should we throw it all out?”
“I don’t know, maybe right now?”
“Well, it is kind of late. Maybe we can do it in the morning.”
“I don’t feel like putting it all back tonight.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m too tired.”
There was one final comment. She looked at me and asked, “We’re married, right?”
“Yes Marty, we are married.”
She got into bed about 9:30 and was asleep in two minutes. I was mentally worn out, as I regularly am these days, but as I looked at her I could see that the innocence of childhood had come back from an unknown place and once again embraced her. I also knew that when she awoke in the morning she would not remember anything of what had happened.
Since I do not punch a clock, I have the joy of being able to attend daily Mass at 8 a.m.. Marty will wake up at about 7 a.m. and ask me, “Are you going to church?”
I’ll answer, “Yup.”
She will ask, “Will you take me with you?”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
As a caregiver to a child of God, I have been blessed.