Dementia is a nether world, but there are patches of beauty, strewn like little islands, around what remains
Sometimes just a smile is enough to transform a day into pure sunshine. This is about one of those smiles.
My wife, Marty, has been under attack by Alzheimer’s disease for a little over three years. Marty, like all Alzheimer’s patients, has taken a journey into a nether world, with a vanishing landscape of what once was. As her caregiver, I do my best to guide her through the world she has moved into, with its ever increasing realm of unknown. If that sounds bizarre, that’s because it is. We caregivers do our best to navigate this strange world where every day is unpredictable.
The nether world does, however, have patches of beauty — little islands strewn randomly about the expanding nothingness.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Marty and I found one of these islands.
The day before Thanksgiving, Marty began complaining of pain in her surgically repaired right ankle. By the next day, the ankle was discolored and quite swollen. She could not stand up and even touching it resulted in severe pain. On Friday, I brought her to the doctor and he immediately knew it was seriously infected. He prescribed antibiotics but they did not help and by Tuesday she was in the hospital. Thursday she had surgery and the infection was cleaned from the site. However, it had spread deep into her bone. Onward to a rehab facility.
Walking past the lobby, I noticed that to my right was the chapel and to my left a big room they use for events. In the rear corner of this room sat a grand piano. Marty, who has played all her life, had always wanted to play on one.
We have a piano at home and she plays it every day. Her disease seems, so far, not to affect her ability to read and play music. But she will not play in front of people. She even shuts the door when she plays at home so “no one will hear” her. That drives me a bit crazy. Anyway, I was determined to get her to sit at that grand piano, and have her dream.
She had been admitted on Saturday evening. On Sunday afternoon I got her into the wheelchair and took her for a tour of her temporary home. We took the elevator down to the first floor and somehow “managed” to find our way into the event room. No one was there. “Hey, check it out, Marty. That’s a grand piano in the corner. Let’s take a look.”
My goal was to get her to just sit on the stool. She refused. Timing is everything and this was not the time. She would not remember that we were there so I would have to choose a better time and a better way of introducing her to the piano.
Tuesday, I tried again. I managed to get her to slide out of the wheelchair and onto the piano stool. She felt the keys and grinned. Then she got back into the wheelchair.
Thursday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and I knew in my gut this was going to be the day. I brought sheet music from home and stuck it in the pouch in the back of the wheelchair.
I took her down to the chapel for the 11 a.m. Mass. When Mass ended, I nonchalantly began pushing the wheelchair toward the side entrance of the event room. She had no idea where we were going and soon found herself again next to that grand piano. This time she pushed herself up and immediately sat on the stool. Her fingers instinctively reached for the keyboard in front of her. At first they remained still.
But slowly she began to feel her way around the keys. I knew the moment had come. I reached into the pouch behind her and pulled out some sheet music. I placed it in front of her. “Here ya go.”
Her fingers began to move and the next thing I knew, the event room was filled with the music of the “Skater’s Waltz.” They say a “picture is worth a thousand words” so I quickly grabbed my phone and took her picture.
We had landed on one of those little islands of beauty and the “Piano Smile” captured in the photo is the precious memorabilia we took from there. That “Piano Smile” is one of the greatest Christmas gifts I could have received.
Shortly after we left the event room, she did not remember being there. That’s okay. I will bring her back again tomorrow.
Read more: As Alzheimer’s steals my wife from me…