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I knew something was different about her the moment we first danced at Parents without Partners, a social club for single parents. There had been a disconcerting ridge along her side. I recognized thoracic scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Fifteen years prior to that eventful evening, I was working in my lab, developing a new type of brace specifically made to treat just that condition. It proved very successful in the treatment of scoliosis.
I invited her out for the following Saturday and, just seven days later, I asked her to become my wife. In a mere six weeks, we were on our honeymoon. Her scoliosis, to my loving eyes, so completely disappeared that even now, I have to stop and think just what side it is on. She is my angel and her protruding rib cage, to me, is just one of her wings starting to grow. I loved her just the way she was.
Read more: Happy Times with Alzheimer’s
Our life has been blessed in so many ways, including her three boys who’ve matured into wonderful husbands, fathers and a joy to us both. Their love for their mother and acceptance, however, strained at first, of me as a step-father who loves them and their families as if they were my own, has given us such incredible peace that we truly consider ourselves the luckiest people on Earth.
We’ve endured some bumps along the way.
An airplane crash, which could have been tragic, left me partially disabled with an arm and hand paralyzed for half a year. I was broken and depressed until, getting ready for church one Sunday, I was able to move my finger just a quarter of an inch. That day became a turning point in our lives and, with her loving support and my never give up attitude, I woke up to the realization that everything was going to be alright and that my last little invention had turned into a business that spanned half the globe and allowed a lifestyle that gave us the opportunity to help others in so many ways.
Sometimes, just when you think you’ve got everything under control, are making plans for the future and have autopilot set for a new adventure, something intrudes upon your well-laid course and brings everything to a screeching halt.
Several years ago, my sweetheart began to have minor memory lapses. We laughed it off and dismissed it as “senior moments”, something that just comes with maturity.
Soon, they became worse and had gotten to the point of being noticeable to family and friends. The doctors, even after noting her condition had worsened over the last four months, did not offer a conclusive diagnosis. While it would answer questions and allow her to start medications known to help, they were hesitant to call it Alzheimer’s which could potentially limit her ability to drive, not to mention provide fuel for a lawsuit if she were to be involved in even a minor accident.
Read more: Alzheimer’s: You Are Too Young to Forget
Small memory lapses become major events. Forgetting how to start the car. Not getting mail for three days. Asking the same question many times in a row, forgetting appointments and social invitations, paying some bills twice and others not at all, thinking I’d put new tires and wheels on her golf cart… the list goes on.
I’d reached the point of needing to communicate my feelings in the kindest, most sensitive manner possible. I started by giving her a beautiful greeting card about true love. Adding words of my own, I wrote that, no matter the circumstances, I’m her man and would love her, care for her and be by her side forever. Thanking me through misty eyes, I led her to the sofa and started, “The Talk”, something I’d been dreading and could no longer put off.
Read more: I lost my Mom to Alzheimer’s
I began by asking her to reminisce about those times I would come into the house, put down a tool I was working with, get a drink and return to the hangar… leaving my tool behind on the counter. We laughed about my ADHD and being an absent-minded genius, notorious for being scatterbrained. I asked if I had been a good husband to her and she quipped, “The best one I’ve had so far”. That’s my girl.
I held her tightly and, as gently as I could, asked if she ever had done any research of her own, carefully avoiding the dreaded “A” word. She hadn’t and admitted that she was fearful of what she might learn. Cuddled together, we looked at a few websites, one of which stated that Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. As I scanned the text, hoping she wouldn’t notice the “tough parts” she, nestled under my arm, looked up at me with welling eyes and asked the most heart-wrenching question I’ve ever heard: “Would you ever put me away in a rest home”?
Barely able to speak around the knot in my throat, I choked, “Never, my darling, so long as I live.”
Read more: Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Story
That evening, I found her at the computer, pouring over web page after web page for over two hours. Looking over her shoulder, I could see Alzheimer’s stages, treatment but no cures, progressive debilitation and, sadly, the final chapter. Later that night in bed, I reached to touch her beautiful face and felt the wetness of her tears. Turning to me, she asked an even tougher question: “Honey, you’re so smart. Will you invent a cure for me”?
“I sure will baby doll, I’ll really try”, I replied.
Sleepless, the promise I made still burning in my brain, I silently made my way down to the workshop. Walking past welders, the milling machine, drill press, saws and testing equipment, I sat at my old workbench, scarred with the tinkerings of inventions past, that changed so many lives for the better. I brushed aside the workings of the “next big thing” and contemplated the pile of gears, springs, and bearings. I picked up one of the gears, examined it for a bit, then spun it on its axle. Like a toy gyroscope, it remained stable for a little while, faltered then careened off the bench, once again reminding me of the fragility of her future.
Knowledge can be a wonderful thing but it often reveals a darker side. At that moment I realized an awful truth. I’m an Engineer, not much more than a glorified mechanic. I could not cure her, I could not make her better and could not keep my promise.
In the cool dark of the shop, I resignedly put my head down and sobbed myself to sleep.
Bruce Michael Williams