Years ago, a member of my support group remarked: “There’s only one direction this disease goes.”
It was a little jarring to hear, but he was right. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s live with a terminal disease that has no cure.
While the direction of the disease is predictable, its movements along the way are something else entirely. Like shifting fog, there is a rising and descending, places of clearing followed by a return of thick haze. We have no warning of its movements, no way of knowing when a cloud will cover what was once easily seen.
It was October 2017 and we had returned home after an appointment with the eye doctor. Dale walked into the living room and said, “There’s something wrong with me.” I said, “I know. You have two diseases: Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma.” I briefly explained each one. I realized by his emotional tone that it was the Alzheimer’s disease that was suddenly “news” to him. He said somberly, “I never thought it would do it.” I said, “I know. None of us did.”
For seven years, Dale had been in full awareness of his condition. At some imperceptible point, a cloud had descended on that knowledge and he was experiencing the news as if for the first time.
We sat together for a long time, mostly in silence, my arm around Dale, and our dog Lucky Day on our laps. I reminded him how brave he was to participate in the clinical trial. I told him how he helps people in our community every day with his warmth, humor, and compassion. He said several times, “Well, it is what it is.” I affirmed this with statements about living each day well, doing the best we can. Finally, he said, “Well, I’ve had a good life.” I agreed. Then he said, “I’ve helped people.” I affirmed that, too, and told him he was still helping people.
As my heart was breaking for him, it also felt like the chasm created by the disease was bridged. It was as if Dale had suddenly stepped out of the fog into a clearing and I could see him. We stayed in this place together for more than four hours.
Then as silently as it appeared, the clearing was gone.
I could see it in Dale’s face as we walked around the pond in our community later that afternoon. The weight of sadness brought by the news had been lifted. And a new clearing appeared, the kind that arises from the heart, disease or no disease. Dale began talking about the close calls we have had but that God has saved us. “Thank God,” he said, and then, “God is best!”
Amen, Dale. Amen.