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My husband and I are celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary. At least half of our years together have included Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of the illness, it’s been a good marriage. Marshall encouraged me to come out of my shell, and I’ve encouraged him to come home. Our dance has been gentle, creative, loving, and supportive. It is rich in fun, family, and friends.

The two things that attracted me to Marshall was his kindness towards my children and his sense of humor. Those characteristics have continued and have carried us through some of the tougher times that naturally occur in life.

When Marshall was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my heart sank. I knew the road ahead would be challenging. But surprisingly, in many ways our marriage is better because of it. Although Marshall knows he has the disease, he is unaware of the extent of his disability. I however, fully appreciate every moment together.

Alzheimer’s has been a ticket to a free ride for him. During the limbo years prior to a diagnosis but when Alzheimer’s was popping up as the first signs of forgetfulness, confusion, repetition, and odd, unusual, and sometimes dangerous behavior, he appeared as uncaring and uninterested in me. Once I learned that he wasn’t deliberately treating me insensitively, I began to let all of that go. I quickly forgive and forget.

I also appreciate every little hug, smile, and “I love you” so much more. I’m acutely aware that there will be a point when those gifts will cease and he will not know who I am.

It’s difficult for anyone not with Marshall on a daily basis to understand how he is really doing. The disease’s progression has been exceptionally slow considering how long he has had it. This is due to good medicine, good doctors, and good home care. I’ve made a conscious effort to keep him engaged and living with a purpose, get him up and out every day, and remind him how important he is to me.

Marshall looks strong and healthy and still dazzles anyone he encounters with a little story about “the good old days” or a bit of magic. His charm and charisma overshadows the fact that he cannot follow a conversation and understands little about basic daily activities.

People often remark that they are surprised when Marshall does remembers something, as if once diagnosed a switch completely turned off his brain. Rather, Alzheimer’s is more like a light fixture with frayed wiring. Sometimes the lights are on. Sometimes they flicker. Periodically bulbs burn out and cannot be replaced.

I’m fine most of the time, until I stop and think about what is happening. As the lights continue to dim, they perpetuate a state of mourning in me. I’m deeply saddened as little by little I say good-bye to another part of our marriage. It’s painful to reflect and remember when, or worse, to project and fear what is to come.

So instead, I just keep going, just keep doing the next right thing as my brother John reminds me to do. I’m enjoying the moment. And this moment is a celebration of the blessing of our eighteen loving years together.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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