Two weekends ago, my sister and I had a sleep-over at my parents' home. It was quite an adventure. Several years ago they moved from the house we grew up in into a retirement community. My mother has Alzheimer's and taking care of her, a large house, lawn, and vegetable garden was just too much for my father.
I don't know how my father does it. So far he has shunned all outside help and is doing this all by himself. Taking care of someone with no short-term memory is a challenge. Even when I know it is not her fault, is it hard not to get snappy when she asks, "Where is my purse?" 5 times in the past 5 minutes (no exaggeration). I must seem callous, but until you have been there, you have no idea. As I have mentioned in countless other posts, I struggle with patience. This was quite the learning opportunity for me to gain some. (Once again, I don't know how he does it. I was there less than 48 hours, he is there 24/7.)
People with Alzheimers' disease gradually lose their memory. This includes remembering how to dress, bathe, and other activities of daily living. My tough and manly Dad has had to learn how to pick out Mom's clothes and put on her undergarments. (She's old school. Think girdle.) It's like taking care of a child, but painful. The child is learning to become independent. My mom is becoming more dependent with each passing day. Plus, my parents used to be equals and provide support for each other. Sometimes now she doesn't know who he is.
There were moments of frustration, laughter, and sadness that weekend. But there were two moments that I hope to hold forever in my memory. One was when he was facing her and combing her hair, getting her ready for church. The other was when my sister and I were leaving and they were walking hand-in-hand away from us. Both were endearing beyond words and held me momentarily spellbound.
My weekend at the old folk's home convinced me this disease is the utmost challenge of love. After almost 55 years of marriage, they are putting their vows to the test. In health and in sickness. I am in awe.