Paul and Mary were soul mates. They were best friends, lovers, and enjoyed each other’s company above all else. Even after fifty years of marriage, Paul always greeted his wife with a kiss when he returned home from the office. These days, however, his eyes watered a bit as they lingered on her mismatched outfit and the cracker crumbs clinging to her shirtfront. He watched her float from room to room in the house now vacated by their grown children as if seeking sanctuary from the enemies that were slowly stealing her memory.
Over the next seven years she declined rapidly. She kept lists of the years of her life and the key events that occurred. She kept lists of the names of her grandchildren and children. Eventually she could not remember where she had placed her lists. She railed that no one listened to her or understood the word salad she spoke. She sat for hours in an arm chair, eyes unfocused, her nails scratching the fabric as if trying to claw her way out of a locked room.
As time went on, the daily care tasks became more difficult. Paul helped her bathe, get dressed, eat, and even use the toilet. As she started to wander the streets in her bathrobe, he began to bring her with him to his office. She sat in a chair, sedately watching him with empty eyes while he worked. His children were worried about the strain on his health.
One evening, Paul did not answer the phone when his daughter called. Alarmed, she went to the house and found both of her parents on the floor outside the upstairs bathroom lying with their heads touching. His face was contorted into a grimace, and his skin was pale and cold. Paul had died of a sudden heart attack. The daughter noticed a ring of white capsules surrounding his torso. She understood that Mary had poured a bottle of pills over Paul and then curled herself around his body, protecting him as best as she could. She was still alive.
Was Paul wise, or blinded by love and tradition? Was he noble or naive? We are tempted to impose our values onto this situation. Some of us may think Paul was heroic and hope that's how we would behave. Others may think Paul was foolish to take on such a high degree of caretaking responsibility - at the expense of his own health, thereby leaving Mary alone.
What do you think?
Here are a couple of good Alzheimer's sites for resources, medical updates, support for patient and caregiver: