Friday, June 20, 2014

A Normal Life

Originally published in Chrissie's Confessional on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Life Was Normal Once

So, I was cleaning up some files at work today. At the back of a drawer, I found a folder that contained some personal stuff, some business stuff, and some combination stuff. Including an appointment calendar from 2005. I know, right? Throw that thing out, for crying out loud!

But, wait:  2005. That was the year we went to New Orleans at Mardi Gras, and then we went to Aruba for the first time, and then we went to Houston and embarked on our first Caribbean cruise. There were also personal milestones of others which are their stories to share but helped make up the rich tapestry of that year. So, why did I hang onto this relic of memories past? I think it must have been so I wouldn't forget how tenuous "normal" can be.

You see, in 2005, my life was just about perfect. In fact, I remember thinking to myself that life was beautiful, and I couldn't imagine it getting better. You know that advice older people give you about doing things while you can and not putting everything off until retirement? Well, that's what we were starting to do.

And then, maybe a year later, things just didn't seem right with my husband. We attributed it to exhaustion, overwork, and so on. I'm sure most people do that. It was hard for his work to get done on time and with excellence. He was working ridiculous hours, leaving home at 6 a.m. and sometimes not returning until after midnight. I started helping him with his spreadsheets and reports, because he was so busy and working such long hours. In retrospect, I was helping to cover for him, to help him get by. He only had a few years to go before retirement.

And then he lost his job. It became obvious to others that his memory wasn't what it used to be. That he was having trouble picking up conversations where they'd left off. That he was repeating himself and asking questions over and over. And we began the testing process. The rest, as they say, is history.

All of that to say, your life as you know it could go on and on swimmingly until you someday ride off into the sunset with your love by your side, having lived, shall we call it, a "charmed" existence. Or, the fairy tale could be over tomorrow. Pack as much gusto as you can into today. You know that advice I was talking about a couple of paragraphs ago? Just do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Concert

Six years ago, my husband was released from his job. Five years ago, testing began. And four years ago, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. These are my thoughts and feelings about our experiences, good and not so good. I hope, on the whole, my chronicles will be an encouragement to you. Thank you for reading them. Hang on to your hope! 

I took this photo. Please don't use it without
 my permission. Thank you.
For my husband's birthday, I surprised us both with last-minute tickets to see singer, songwriter, and musician James Taylor. We'd never seen him "live" before, and both of us have enjoyed his music since we were young. You could say it's the "soundtrack of our lives."

The weather was lovely, our seats were surprisingly good (especially considering the reasonable price), and Mr. Taylor's performance was incredible. Wow. What stage presence, voice command, and rapport with the audience. He's a consummate pro, making a large venue feel like a small club. Intimate. Comfortable. We were transported years back in time to when we were just starting out together. Music is amazing that way. It has memories attached to it. Mostly good ones, in this case.

My husband, along with the rest of the audience, was happily singing along to the songs. I was pleased and surprised that he was remembering the lyrics, but I wasn't prepared for the emotions I was feeling. A deep sense of sorrow and melancholy enveloped me. Yes, I was enjoying the concert. Very much so. Yes, I was singing along, too. Yes, I was listening for my favorite song, too. But tears were running down my cheeks. I may have been sobbing, overcome with feelings of loss and longing for that elusive something that might never actually have been there. That thing you can't quite put your finger on but wish you could embrace.

I was happy. And I was sad. Happy because my husband was having a wonderful time. Happy because I'd been able to give him something really special for "his" day. Sad because tomorrow, or even on the way home tonight, he might not really remember having been there without prompting. Sad because we were young once, and we didn't realize we wouldn't always be. We were healthy once, and we took it for granted. Just like all of you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

You're Beautiful!

Overnight travel and a strange bed can make sleep come at a premium, especially if confusion sets in before drowziness happens. Wakefulness means conversation:

He asks, "Where are we?"
I answer, "My mom's bed. We're at her place for a few days."
"Oh," he says, touching my arm. "Your skin is so soft."
"Thank you."
"No, really. It's really, really soft."
"Thank you. I use a lot of lotion to keep it that way."
He chuckles.
I say, "What's funny?"
"I can't believe I'm here with you."
"You're so beautiful!"
"Thank you," I say, with tears in my eyes. This has never happened before in all our years of marriage.
"No, really, you're the most beautiful girl I ever dated."
This has never happened, either.
"Thank you," I whisper, "You're kinda cute, yourself."
Now it's his turn to say, "Thank you. I love you." And he chuckles again.
"I love you, too. What's funny?"
"Nothing's funny. I'm just so happy. You're so beautiful! I can't believe I'm with you. I love you. I really do!"
"Are we married?"
"Yes, we've been married 44 years."
"44 YEARS? Wow. You're so beautiful. Really. You look great. Your body looks great, so curvy and soft. I'm so happy!"

This more or less exact conversation was repeated over and over all night long, until he finally fell asleep just before dawn. And so did I, curled up in his arms, amazed at this wonderful discovery of deep love and continued attraction. Why didn't he romance me like this from the very beginning? I don't know. But he's doing so now, and that's what matters.

One of my friends told me years ago, upon learning of the diagnosis, that she felt sorry because the relationship I'd always dreamed of having with my husband would now never happen. I was taken aback at the time and tried to dismiss her comment, discounting it as baseless words that should not have been spoken. Because you know what? She was wrong.