Doing Your Duty with Love

Irene - West Lafayette, Indiana
Entered on April 6, 2006
Age Group: 65+
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Although I had noticed major changes in my husband’s behavior, I was stunned to hear the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s! I had been with my husband through the innumerable tests to eliminate other ailments. Only an autopsy could confirm this disease.

A foreboding of despair enveloped my psyche. Our plans—of retirement relaxation, travel, social events and cultural experiences—all of these and more would be impossible together. Later a “friend’s” comment—”What did you and your husband do that God permitted you to endure this punishment?” That harsh remark triggered questions. Why us? Were we being punished? How would I ever cope with managing our lives alone from now on? I wanted out of this predicament.

As I began to absorb more and more of the primary care of my husband, flashes of the promises I had made at our marriage ceremony reverberated in my head. “In sickness and in health—’til death do you part.” What would others think of me if I deserted him at this time of crisis? What would I think of myself?

His driving became erratic as he went past the corner to our house. After attending an evening meeting downtown, he failed to return home until 2 a.m. saying he was lost. Another time, he dropped me off at the Library and went to meet a friend. Five hours later, he returned for me, seeming unaware of the missing time. On a cruise ship, he had difficulty finding our stateroom and making choices on dinner menus with others at the table waiting to order. Studying the evening menu in the morning, made no difference at dinner time; it was as though he had never seen a menu before.

There was an opportunity to participate in an Alzheimer’s Research Program. That support marked a change for me towards the frustrating and unrewarding duty I had been forced into. I mustered more patience in dealing with the agonizing, tedious routines of the everyday chores of bathing, dressing and eating.

Along the descending course of his illness, I was warmed by signs of recognition when I entered his room and spoke softly to him. His eyes penetrated my face in pathetic efforts to relate. While at home, when he said he wanted to “go home,” I followed the advice of doctors to “put your conscience on hold and do whatever it takes to keep the patient comfortable.” I would then say—”O.K., we’ll get ready”—to distract him. Distraction, together with a loving manner, resulted in his shoulders relaxing and his fists unclenching. My heart had softened towards our dilemma. A deeper love had developed from successfully meeting the needs of the man I had chosen and married.

I was fortunate to be at his bedside holding his hand when he looked into my eyes at the end with what appeared to be loving recognition. Clearly, just doing your duty is not enough. Doing your duty with love brings the ultimate reward.