the first time we walked together
we got lost
the perfect path
to knowing each other
she never complained
marveled at flowers and bird
held my hand
we’ve walked on
through mountain meadows
singing with bees and butterflies
dancing barefoot on foggy beaches
gleefully splashing in the waves
hiding under an umbrella in Spring rain
sampling strawberries at the Farmers’ Market
gossiping with passing neighbors
skipping to the grocery store
plopping onto our favorite bench
hand in hand
we walk on
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In 1946, W. Eugene Smith, a photo journalist who had been severely wounded in the latter days of World War II, was recovering at home, depressed and wondering if he’d ever pick up a camera again. On a quiet Spring day, he noticed his two young children, Pat and Juanita, walking outside in the garden. He followed them and the photo he took has comforted and inspired millions, including me.
I can no longer see this picture, but it is vividly etched in my memory, an image I often recall as my wife and I walk, hand in hand, discovering the delights of our small town world.
“The Walk to Paradise Garden,” copyright W. Eugene Smith, Time/Life, Getty Images
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Because my wife’s dementia is deteriorating slowly, there are times when I forget it is happening at all. then, she says something-
“Do you have a wife?”
We were making breakfast when this question came up. My heart froze.
“Do you have a wife” she asked again.
I hugged her close and whispered, “you are my wife. You will always be my wife.”
“Of course,” she answered, kissing my cheek.
I am drowning in sadness.
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in the beginning
we knew not where we were going
that we were going together
husband and wife
how can you know what that means
when dreams are blinding
when youth is fearless
when life is forever
we skipped down the yellow brick road
not a cloud in the sky
worries past by
in our bubble of love
came curves and surprises
failures and broken words
a gathering of differences
the same choice
again and again
husband and wife?
the same answer
again and again
husband and wife
two words now one
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She wants to walk over and visit mom. The problem is that my wife’s mind no longer realizes that mom is 2000 miles away in another town, another country.
No need to try and explain this, her mind does not comprehend rational logic. Once more, I’m challenged to adapt to the current reality.
“Would you like to talk with her?” I ask my wife.
If the answer is affirmative, I dial up mom on the phone and the ensuing conversation seems to resolve the need to connect. However, if we’ve already called mom three times in the last few hours, saving money and mom’s sanity requires another option.
“Sure, let’s walk over to Mom’s,” I’ll suggest.
So we bundle up and go outside and by the time we get to the street, my wife’s mind has moved on and we’re talking about birds, or neighbor kids, or new blossoms on the peach tree.
I find that I enjoy our life together much more when I’m open to it being a continuing adventure of challenges and surprises.
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It’s a good day when my wife is whistling. Whistling means she’s happy, focused on coloring, and I have time to write.
I’ve learned to play music with words and melodies that spark her mind into activity. One fascinating aspect of her dementia, often reported by others, is that she remembers tunes from years back, but not a word of what I said five minutes ago. Besides her marvelous musical memory, she also demonstrates a talent for mimicry.
When birds sing out on our daily walks, she sings back, chirping and whistling whatever she hears. Although there has yet to be an answer to her calls, she doesn’t stop trying.
I’m fortunate that my wife’s mind still allows her to find delight in life. I’ve been around others with dementia whose confusion and anger made it difficult to care for them. I’ve learned there are buttons I don’t push with her because they will lead to a death spiral of emotions that is difficult to recover from. When such situations happen, as they inevitably do, I tell myself to remember that I’m dealing with a beautiful child who only wants to love and be loved.
And I play music that gets her whistling.
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Noting my wife’s continuing mental deterioration from rational adult to simple minded child, I was reminded of a piece I saw George Carlin do some years ago. Bless his brilliant and irreverent mind, George has moved on to the great comedy stage in the sky, but he leaves many laughs behind him. I think his piece on “Life in Reverse” is all-time hilarious. Wouldn’t it be great if life actually worked this way-
Life in Reverse By George Carlin
In my next life I want to live my life backwards.
You start out dead and get that out of the way.
Then you wake up in an old people’s home
feeling better every day.
You get kicked out for being too healthy,
go collect your pension,
and then when you start work,
you get a gold watch and a party on your first day.
You work 40 years
until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.
You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous,
then you are ready for high school.
You then go to primary school,
you become a kid,
You have no responsibilities,
you become a baby until you are born.
And then you spend your last 9 months
floating in luxurious spa-like conditions
with central heating and room service on tap,
larger quarters every day and then Voila!
You finish off as an orgasm.
I rest my case.
by George Carlin, 1937-2008
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