By Ray Wiseman
I just can’t stop counting. Sixty-two days since we celebrated our fifty-ninth wedding anniversary. Four sons, one ‘adopted’ daughter, eight grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, thirteen local churches, and two intertwined career paths connecting with twenty-nine countries.
Ten years have passed since Anna’s memory loss became apparent. Seven years since receiving the diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s, thirty-some days since Anna entered the long-term care facility.
Now the trail of numbers has broken like a strand of pearls and scattered into a black hole of faded memories. Not just for Anna.
Now I too must find ways to crawl out of the abyss of forgetfulness.
My eyes tear up when I sit across from her empty place at the table, when I wish to tell her the latest news, and she isn’t here. When I visit her at the long-term care home, sharing still remains impossible because she really isn’t there either—she no longer remembers or cares and often doesn’t recognize me.
But then I’m not doing much better. My own memory has begun to flag. I return again and again to forgotten and unfinished tasks. I lose my keys or cell phone, often in the same places, but can’t remember to look there first. I call a doctor friend to tell him that Alzheimer’s is catching.
“Who said that?” he bellows.
Trying to add a touch of humour to a serious moment, I snap back, “I did. Weren’t you listening?”
The doctor insists that living under personal stress during recent years has caused my brain dysfunction. He asserts that caregivers often take on the symptoms of those for whom they care. It even happens to doctors and nurses.
I wonder if stress or loneliness causes some of my other strange behaviors. Often at bedtime or in the early morning, I sit on Anna’s empty empty bed at home and tell her about my day or my plans for the next day. Of course, I don’t expect her to hear me; I hope the Lord will break through the fog, spanning the space between us, and comfort her with the memories of days gone by—to simply communicate a feeling of my love and nearness to her. And then I pray that He will do just that.
Is she similarly praying for me?
Each time I wake from a nap in my chair, I cast around for her. A toilet flushes in another apartment, and I turn to our bathroom expecting Anna to emerge. A coat looses its tenuous grip on a hanger and falls; I turn to ask, Anna, did you drop something? But I suppress the words. When I head toward the kitchen table, I wonder why I am carrying two cereal bowls. A burst of frustration tempts me to smash the bowl against the wall, but I resist.
When I visit her in person, she flashes her trademark smile, and says, “Hello, I’m glad you came, but I was expecting Ray, my husband.”
My eyes moisten and I choke out the words, “I am Ray. I am your husband.”
As I write this, tears begin again. I have written enough. It’s time to sit on an empty bed and quietly talk to my missing wife.