Two balloons float near the ceiling of my bedroom. The one with pink roses says, “Happy anniversary.” The other one, showing a bear holding a bunch of balloons against a blue sky, says,”Hang in there.” On the dresser nearby sit an African violet plant loaded with purple blooms and two cards filled with handwritten messages from the people who sing in our choirs at Newport’s Sacred Heart Church, where I’m one of the music ministers.
I am so grateful for their love and support, even though tears stream out as I read their words. On May 18, my husband Fred and I had been married 25 years, but Fred, who has Alzheimer’s Disease and lives in a nursing home, didn’t know who I was. I had come with our wedding photo album, hoping to share our memories, but he didn’t understand that he was married to me. He looked at me with the eyes of a stranger. I can’t begin to describe how much that hurt. I held my tears until I left. Driving toward home on Highway 20, I cried so hard I thought I would break.
Eventually I found some peace, and Fred did know me on Sunday. This disease is crazy, cruelly giving and taking away. Sometimes I get my love back for a little while. It will never be the way it was, but we have to treasure the moments we get. It is so precious just to sit holding hands or hugging and saying, “I love you.”
I had mentioned the anniversary to my church friends, noting that my family had let the day slip by unnoted. Last night at choir practice, they surprised me with their gifts. If I seemed to not react at the time, it’s because I was stunned and trying not to cry. But I went to sleep surrounded by their love, and when I woke up, it was still there. It means so much to me.
I guess sometimes the most loving family is the one you find for yourself.