“The only upside of Alzheimer’s I’ve found so far: introducing my dad to “new” things. This evening I took him to Starbucks, and he was like a kid on Christmas. It was endearing and heartbreaking at the same time.” Elizabeth, Chuck’s middle daughter, November, 2015.
If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this story, please do so before reading this last installment, so you will better understand the struggles our friend and his family are going through.
Although Chuck now has no concept of time or holidays, his daughters were all able to get together with him at Christmas, just a few months ago. It took him a little while to remember his oldest daughter Katy’s husband Chase, but eventually he did. He kept looking at him, and then looking away, like something was trying to register. Then suddenly Chuck walked up to him and said, “Chase! How are you? How is school?” That moment of recognition brought Katy to tears, and everyone else as well.
At one point that day Patty (his ex-wife) asked him if he remembered her. He said, “yes,” but couldn’t remember her name. He did later on, and gave her a ‘bigger-than-he-should-have’ hug, which made the girls very uncomfortable. Patty quickly hugged him back and then pulled away, and the girls stepped in. Chuck can’t help it. Alzheimer’s patients live in the past; it’s their clearest memories. Patty has gone from being his wife, to his ex-wife, his sister, his daughter, and now back to his wife. Every day is different. There have already been days when he doesn’t know who one of the girls is. That is the hardest of all. Because one day he will stop remembering them, and the memories won’t return.
Unfortunately the last nursing home he was placed in didn’t work out. The facility was not what they had thought it would be, and although he wasn’t able to escape, no one was happy with his being there. So the search began again. Just four days ago we found out a new place has been secured for him, and he has already been relocated there. This facility looks like an ideal home for someone with Chuck’s symptoms. There is a library, a computer center, and a full recreational schedule of games and puzzles, trivia contests, music, and movies. He will be able to interact more with people, and will be encouraged to participate in activities with other residents. I pray this will be the place he will finally be able to call home.
Just a few hours after finding out this news, my husband and I were surprised with a FaceTime call from Patty. We were thrilled to see/talk to her, but what we weren’t expecting was to actually be able to see and talk with Chuck, who we hadn’t actually seen except in photos in probably twenty-five years! To say we were happy as well as excited is one of the biggest understatements I could write!
While I will not elaborate on the details of our conversation, what I will say is that we were delighted to see and talk with him! He remembered both Ben and me, and he remembered our daughter, his goddaughter Ashley. He remembered where he and Ben met, and who they were both working for at the time. He remembered when he proposed to Patty, although none of us can remember the name of the restaurant. But he thought he had talked to his parents just a few days ago, and they’ve been dead for longer than we’ve known him. He talked about things we’d all done together, and when he told us he was having fried chicken for dinner, and I reminded him how much he’d enjoyed my mother’s fried chicken, he remembered that as well.
We have no way of knowing how Chuck is processing his thoughts anymore. Some of our conversation was like it used to be twenty-five years ago, and some of it made sense only to him. But the important part is, we were able to re-establish a relationship with him, and as often as we can, we hope to continue that relationship. Good friends are too important to lose, and even if the memories may not all be totally clear anymore, one day when we are all together with the Lord, they will be. Until that day hopefully many decades in the future, we will continue to enjoy as many conversations with him as possible, and if they don’t exactly make sense to us, as long as they do to him, we will continue to have them. That’s what reunited friends do.
As Patty has said many times, “This breaks my heart. Every day I wish my girls could know the Chuck that I married. Fortunately they have their own special memories of their daddy, and they all love him dearly. That’s all I can hope for.”
We still have our own memories of Chuck before this happened. That same man is definitely still there, although locked inside a mind whose memories no longer work exactly the way they used to. We have pictures to go along with some of those memories, and so do his children. They call him, and visit when they can, and show him pictures to remind him of family. They bring his grandson to visit, and the two of them play cars and trucks on the floor together, just two children having fun. Like the trip to Starbucks his daughter talked about, every day is a new adventure, because he usually doesn’t remember from day to day, or week to week. The things he used to enjoy he sometimes doesn’t remember ever doing. Each day there are just a few less memories.
But we remember Chuck.
Even if Chuck doesn’t always remember himself anymore.
Note: If you have a loved one suffering from this disease, please seek out a support group. Read all that you can about it. Ask questions. And above all, continue to love that person. Respect them. Don’t belittle them when they don’t make sense with what they say. They cannot help it. Their world is not quite the same as it was any more.