After 46 years of marriage, I know my husband well. Through thick and thin, we have supported each other, and our family, to succeed in all aspects of life. As I saw my husband start to forget simple routines and memories, I knew something was wrong. The successful, well-educated business executive I relied on as a partner to make sound decisions for our family and future can no longer handle our simple finances or even choose a restaurant where we can dine.
This Valentine's Day, I no longer think about the candy, flowers or jewelry I know I won't receive. But that's not what love is about. Alzheimer's disease tests your strength for a loved one, especially a spouse. However, this disease, which is robbing my incredible husband's mind, has put me more in touch with the feeling of love than ever before.
My greatest satisfaction this Valentine's Day will be just being with him. We will go to a special Valentine's dance at the Senior Center and I will treasure our time, being together and singing the words of love songs we both remember. But he may not see me. His mind may be elsewhere.
As a caregiver and spouse of a patient living with Alzheimer's, we try hard to live in the here and now. If you worry about the future or dwell on the past, you may miss the special moments that occur in between. We are lucky, because most of our past remains firmly in his mind. But we know this might change. We read the wonderful book made by our grandchildren, which contains their pictures and thoughts about their Papa. We go through scrapbooks of family pictures, reminiscing about all of our memories while we still can.
My biggest fear is knowing that one day, he will no longer remember my name or who I am. I do all I can to prepare for this moment, but I know, when that time comes, it will be the worst day of my life.
Every day, he tells me how much he loves me and that I am the love of his life. He usually adds, "And don't you ever forget it." I think this is his way of verbalizing his love for me, before his mind completely robs him of our special memories together.
There are days when I become frustrated or upset, but I know I need to be strong for him. When he was first diagnosed, I would lie in bed at night, look over at him and silently sob because I was so afraid of what the future held. I cried because my dreams of the future were not going to happen. I silently cry sometimes because my husband of 46 years, my soul mate, is slowly slipping away before my eyes. But then I snap out of it. He is still the same man I married, he is still in that body, and every once in a while, I see the old Frans.
My Valentine's Day gift to Frans is joining the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry. This is for every husband or wife that has ever coped with Alzheimer's disease as a patient or caregiver. As Alzheimer's is the only condition among the top 10 causes of death that has no cure or treatment, the disease poses significant economic, social and medical challenges to our country and to the families who bear the brunt of seeing a loved one battle this horrible fight. By joining the Registry, you can join the fight against a disease that steals life before it ends. Help prevent Alzheimer's from claiming another generation by visiting http://endalznow.org.