It’s hard to believe that my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg has been in Heaven for four years now. Her passing took time. Alzheimer’s Disease is a slow killer, in comparison to other diseases. That doesn’t make Alzheimer’s Disease any less devastating, and in fact, it just might be more devastating, because before the end comes, the patient has already lost their memory. Still, if you look for the good in the situation, you might just find that while they may not remember many new things, including who you are, now that you are grown up, they have many old memories that can really enrich your life…if you are willing to listen to their stories.
My mother-in-law often wasn’t sure of our names when we came to visit her, but by the look on her face and the alertness of her posture, you knew that she knew that you belonged to her. Many people place a lot of emphasis on the patient knowing their family’s names, but that is just setting yourself up for sadness. And you miss the recognition that comes without the name. My mother-in-law did so much for so many people…from knitting, to crocheting, to sewing, to cooking, my mother-in-law did a lot for the people around her. She lived a good long life, much of it raising the vegetables and meat for the family. She saw eras of time that people today can’t understand. With depression and recession, boom and bust, mining and agriculture, she had a diverse viewpoint, and that made her, unlike the rest of the people around her knowledgeable in different ways of life.
As her disease progressed, my mother-in-law, lost her recent memories, but she retained the old memories, and she passed them along to her family…often in the funniest ways. One minute you might find yourself telling her what time to get on the school bus, the next you think you have her all figured out when she tells you that they are having dinner at your house…like you aren’t you. When you try to play along, and ask her what the “imaginary you” will be cooking, suddenly she was back and making you feel ridiculous, by saying, “I don’t know, what are you cooking?” I know people consider Alzheimer’s Disease to be a tragic, devastating disease, and I suppose it is, but when people think about how devastating Alzheimer’s is, they are thinking of themselves…what they are missing out on, not thinking about the patient…who won’t remember grief or loss, who gets to become younger in their mind, and who ends up without a care in the world. Attitude is a big part of dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, and I don’t mean the attitude of the patient, I mean the attitude of the family. It makes all the difference in the world. Four years ago, my mother-in-law left us for Heaven, where her mind is clear again. I am truly happy for her, even though we miss her very much.