The movement of Alzheimer’s disease is uneven. Sometimes abilities are lost and then return, only to be lost again. It can be difficult to know when something is finally gone. Until it finally is.
This is my reality now.
As parents mark precious “firsts” in their children—first smile, first words, first steps—I have now marked “lasts” for my beloved Dale: last steps (October 25), last smile (November 3), last breath (November 9, 11:36pm). He was at home when he made his final transition. He was peaceful.
There was a shift to some other space and time during those last days of Dale’s life. I functioned as if in a bubble that cushioned me from the shock of what was to come…following instructions from the hospice nurse…facilitating calls and visits from loved ones. I talked to Dale, telling him how much I loved him and what a brave man he was. I recited the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer. I sat beside his bed and sang hymns.
And he sang to me. One last time.
When the disease removed Dale’s vocabulary, he replaced it with his own words. They were almost always happy and upbeat, often rhymed, and were strung together in sing-song-y ways.
One last time I heard them. It was also the last time he looked at me and smiled. His voice was a whisper, but that night he sang to me: those sweet rhyming words. Happy and peaceful.
Dale’s last transition on his journey with Alzheimer’s disease mirrored his first. He had faced the enormity of his diagnosis with acceptance, writing soon afterward of his “trust in God’s Grace and God’s guidance.” He walked the journey this way, too: with acceptance and trust.
His way is a model as I make my own transition and adjust to life without his physical presence.
Like his disease, the movement of grief is uneven. Sometimes I inch forward, creating a new pattern for myself, only to be triggered—by a memory, a song, an item of his clothing—into the intense pain of loss. During those times, I miss him, every version of him—Dale before his disease and Dale during the journey. I miss his broad smile, his warm hugs, his loud voice, his big, hearty laugh.
Sometimes in the silence, I remember his reality checks and hear again what he said about his condition:
“Okay, this is it. I don’t like it. I didn’t want it. But I’ve got it. And I’m going to do the best I can with it.”
And again, I say, “Me, too, Dale. Me, too.”