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How My Wife's Alzheimer's Tested My Virtue

Photographee.ue/Shutterstock

Larry Peterson - published on 04/19/16

With the terrible disease comes a relentless assault on not only patience but kindness, goodness, faith and joy

The other day my wife informed me that she needed to pick up a few new outfits for work. Then she reminded me that we needed to get coffee filters and apples. Before having dinner she asked me if we had lunch yet and wanted to know what we had eaten. It was all finished off with, “Are you going to stay here tonight or go to the ‘other place’?”

These unconnected, spontaneous moments have gone from sporadic to daily to frequent. Marty has not worked in more than seven years. She has not driven a car in three. We have an abundant supply of coffee filters and a bag of apples. She never remembers what we had for lunch or if we have even had lunch. In addition, she has (at times) forgotten where our bedroom is, where the towels are and needs to know where the forks and spoons go. We do not have another “place” and we have lived together in the same house for almost 10 years.

Her mind, or rather, her very being has been invaded by an interloper, and its name is Alzheimer’s (she was diagnosed several years ago). As this alien invader goes about its relentless, unyielding task of devouring the real person inside my wife’s mind, it is also proving to be the most challenging and confrontational enemy I have ever encountered.

One of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit is patience. For me, this virtue has always been a strong point. That old cliche, “he has the patience of a saint,” has even been used in reference to me.

But let me tell you something: I know I never had any kind of halo, but if I sported even a weird glow, it has flickered out.

Satan nailed me good, and he did it with the insidious redundancy that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease. The day that I described, I blew my top at an innocent victim of a disease that has invaded her and contorted her personality. My patience evaporated into anger. I failed as a caregiver.

I was immediately ashamed of myself, walked back to the bathroom, shut the door, and began wiping tears from my face.

I left the bathroom and walked back to the computer and opened up my e-mail. As has happened so many times in my spiritual journey, I received a message from him in the form of an e-mail bulletin from the Alzheimer’s Association. It featured a “checklist for caregivers.”

I quickly scanned through the eight items listed. Number seven proved to be a good old smack upside my head. It read, “Do you get frustrated and angry when the person with dementia continually repeats things over and over and does not seem to listen?” My immediate thought was, YES! YES! I DO! A deep breath was in order, followed by an apology and a thank you to my Lord. I finished off my recovery by going out to Marty and giving her a big hug and kiss. I told her I was sorry. She did not know what I was sorry for but she smiled anyway.

Something extremely important I have learned as a caregiver is not spoken about very much. Each and every one of us needs prayers, lots of prayers. Besides the relentless assault on a person’s patience, there are other virtues or fruits under attack. Kindness can be continually eroded. Goodness can be glossed over. Faith can be challenged. Joy can evaporate.

Living in an Alzheimer’s world is a convoluted existence. Oftentimes nothing makes sense. Oftentimes the redundancy is akin to having someone continually poking you in the arm, over and over and over. You want to scream, STOP IT! But you don’t … most times.

I go to caregiver meetings once a month. Most of these folks (not all) are people of faith (Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Protestant, etc.) Invariably, they lean on their faith heavily as they navigate the strange and unpredictable waters of Alzheimer’s. Belief in God and having faith in him is a mighty shield, a barrier if you will, against the insidiousness of this progressive and evil illness.

As for me, I may have lost a battle or two but I have great allies: God, my Catholic faith, prayers, family and friends. These allies fortify me and give me strength. They are the sentinels of my patience. And prayer is my body armor.

Please remember in your prayers all the millions of Alzheimer’s victims. And if you get a chance, include all of us caregivers too. We need all the help we can get.

Larry Peterson is a Christian author, writer and blogger who has written hundreds of columns on various topics. His books include the novel The Priest and the Peaches and the children’s book Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes. His latest book, The Demons of Abadon, will become available during the spring of 2016.  He has three kids and six grandchildren, and they all live within three miles of each other in Florida.

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