Alzheimer’s Disease is a thief…I’ll give you that, but as I’ve tried to convey to several people, it is not, in my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to a person. I know that sounds so odd, especially to those who feel that Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease that steals the mind/memory of their loved ones. It does do that, eventually, but if you take a moment to view it differently, you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it is not as bad as you thought it was. Most people are stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease later in life…at a time when many of them feel that their life is over. They aren’t as active as they were. They have more aches and pains. They begin to lose loved ones, and eventually that brings grief to most of us. They might even feel depressed. I don’t say that Alzheimer’s Disease alleviates these things in all people, but it did for my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg. I know that in her later stages, much of her memory will be gone, but maybe it won’t either, because she has had Alzheimer’s Disease since 2004 that we are sure of. That’s twelve years, and those old memories are still there. It’s just the new memories that she doesn’t keep, and still, I don’t think that is a bad thing.
With all the negative aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease, there are a few aspects that stand out to me, as very good things. My mother-in-law was always busy doing things. She had a routine. She wasn’t super active, but she knitted, sewed, crocheted, canned, cooked, and baked. These were the things that gave her a feeling of self worth, and oddly they aren’t gone now. If you ask the nurses and aides at the nursing home where she lives, you will find that when it is time for dinner, she tells them that she will be cooking it. She will pick up the blanket on her lap and begin “working” on her crocheting…often using her oxygen tubing as her crochet hook. She tells me about her grocery shopping trips to town, and the things she buys there. She feels no grief for loved ones now in Heaven, because to her they are still right here. She informs me that she will wait to eat dinner until Walt (my father-in-law, who passed away May 5, 2013) gets home. Dinner can’t wait that long obviously, so I just tell her he is at Walmart, in the garage, or at the neighbors, and said for her to eat without him. He might even be at work, although he retired many, many years ago. She talks of her parents, her daughter, Marlyce, and family members who live too far away for visits, as if they are still here, and yet when her daughter, Brenda visits in the morning, she doesn’t remember it later that day. Still, Brenda knows she was there, and that is what is important. She made her mom happy.
I know too, that when Bob and I, or my daughter, Corrie Petersen and I leave her side, she doesn’t remember that we were there either, but we know that we were there, and while we are there, she knows that we are there. And that is really what matters anyway. I guess it’s all in how you look at Alzheimer’s Disease. You can grieve the changes, or be thankful for her, that she is missing nothing. All the memories she needs are still in there, and they peek out once in a while…and it’s good enough. Is it really necessary for her to remember all the sad things? I just don’t think so, and I will keep them from her for the rest of her life, by telling her what she really needs to hear that day. It makes her happy, and happiness is all that matters.