Thursday, November 9, 2006

There's bald man sitting on my couch -- jcarolek

I read a very sad and touching post today by a fellow blogger who is suffering with the loss of her beloved grandmother. She has lost her not to death, but to Alzheimer’s. We all know, theoretically, how devastating this disease can be, but the true impact is only felt when it is someone you love.

My father-in-law, Bud was from a large family – all girls except Bud. Two sisters died early, one from cancer, one in early childhood. When I met the family, nine years ago, the remaining siblings included Bud and four sisters. All were sharp of mind and sharp of appearance.

Every one was a hard worker and they were trim. Yes, they were all old, but they ran circles around most of the younger generation.

About a year and half ago, the second eldest of the siblings started showing signs of Alzheimer’s. It progressed very quickly. When one of the sisters died that year, this sister simply did not realize, or remember. At first the tales we heard seemed a little comical.

Ruby would call her older sister Louise, and say,

“You have to help me! There’s a strange bald man sitting at the end of my couch!”

Louise would reply,

"Ruby, that’s FD!" (her husband)

“No, FD has a full head of hair…this man is BALD!!!”

Not only did she not recognize her husband of 60+years, but she did remember her young husband. Very confusing.

When Bud, at 81, passed away in August, Ruby came to the funeral. She had no idea where she was, in fact, she thought they were just out for a nice drive. Her elder sister and her husband helped her “enjoy” herself, as she wandered around greeting people and telling them, “You have to come up and visit us soon. We never see you.”

Five weeks later the youngest sister passed away of cancer. Ruby has no idea that her brother or sister is gone. In fact, when she comes to visit my mother-in-law, she asks her, “how’s your husband.” She has forgotten Bud’s name.

The confusion Ruby feels is something I cannot imagine. The pain the rest of the family feels, not being able to communicate with their much beloved sister is harder to watch. We need our loved ones to know that we love them. In the Alzheimer’s patient, this understanding is often gone. We are left, loving a memory of who they used to be, just as much as their memory is that of what used to be. It is scary and can be very dangerous. And it is provides a perfect challenge of selfless love. I have no relatives who have suffered this disease, but I have seen first hand the heartache it brings. I continue to be impressed with Ruby’s husband, who Ruby no longer recognizes, and yet who continues, at 87 years old, to care for his “bride.” She will never again see her husband. She is always looking for her groom, but she has, at least, decided the bald guy sitting on the couch will not hurt her. She allows him to drive her around and help her prepare food in the kitchen. And anyone who comes to visit is escorted at least ten times during their visit, to the guest room, where she shows them the quilt Bud made for her 15 years ago. FD, smiles and complements the quilt with the visitor. All are seeing it for the first time (again) and Ruby is happy.

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