Note: This story will appear in the forthcoming book by Marie Marley, PhD, and Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN, entitled Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers.
Sometimes people who have Alzheimer’s can remember past love and experience love in the present. The following story, about Ed – my dearly beloved Romanian soul mate – shows that very clearly.
I wandered into Ed’s room at the Alois Center one day and found he was in his bathroom, so I sat in the rocker and waited.
That day I’d decided to show Ed the cards and photos I’d found in his storage unit while I was cleaning it out. It was my friend Rosa’s idea. I never would have thought of doing that myself.
“Ma-r-r-rie!” he exclaimed, coming out of the bathroom. “I’m r-r-really happy to see you. You are so beautiful!”
He told me that at every visit.
Then he sat down, careful not to disturb the little stuffed animals on the sofa.
“Ed, I found some old photos and cards that I sent you many years ago and I’m going to show them to you today.”
“Marvelous! Superb!” he answered, using the words he always used when he was happy about something.
I decided to start with the cards. Although he was no longer able to read books or the newspaper, I hoped he’d still be capable of reading the cards. He was, and he even seemed to understand what he read. He laughed at the funny ones and responded more seriously to the others.
After he’d seen them all he looked up at me and said in a reverent tone of voice, “Ma-r-r-rie, I am so touched that you kept these cards all these years.”
I didn’t even try explaining that he was the one who had kept them.
Next we looked at the photographs. Some were from his childhood. There was one of him around age six wearing a sailor suit and posing with his father, and another with him and his grandparents sitting on a bench in a beautiful park.
Then there were several pictures of Ed with me from the 80s and 90s. There were also photos of him with a whole variety of people I didn’t know. I guessed they were different Romanian friends and relatives.
He was drawn to the photos just as much as he was to the cards, studying each with interest.
The last one was a picture of him from 1985 with a woman standing behind him. She had her hands on his shoulders and her head was peeking around his, facing the camera.
“Ah . . . She loved me,” he murmured, an affectionate expression on his face. He appeared mesmerized and kept looking at the photo in silence.
I was stunned. He didn’t realize that I was the woman in the photo, but he remembered vividly that the woman in the picture had loved him. He remembered and experienced the affect.
“What are you thinking?” I asked when he didn’t say anything more.
“I’m thinking of love,” he said softly.
“I’m that woman, and I still love you.”
He looked up and gazed into my eyes exactly the way he did when we were intimately involved all those many years earlier.
I couldn’t tell if he was in the past or the present.
I decided it didn’t matter.