“Caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s 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.” Linda Buytendorp
Linda Buytendorp and her husband Frans were married in 1966. Frans was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, although he had begun to exhibit symptoms since about 2006.
In February 2016, Linda shared the story below in an online caregiver group. She did so, she wrote “in hopes of educating some of the new people, and maybe bring a smile to the faces of everyone.”
I was touched by her piece of daily reality, and asked if I might share it.
“Sure go ahead. We have no secrets. We’ve been in the Huffington Post,” she agreed without reservation.
Here’s one morning in the 2016 life of Linda and Frans:
My day started with cleaning urine from the bathroom floor from the one time I had slept through Frans getting up to use the bathroom last night. Without my help, he hadn’t quite hit the commode.
(FYI: Lysol bathroom spray cleaner with hydrogen peroxide sprayed on grout and left for awhile will clean it up without leaving a stain.)
After I shaved, showered and dressed him, Frans looked in the mirror and said, “That man is always looking at me.”
“What man?” I asked.
He pointed at his reflection.
“Do you know who he is?
“No,” he replied, stammering a bit. “Is he a bad guy?”
“Oh no! He is a wonderful man. One of the nicest good guys you could ever meet. We’re lucky to have him as a friend.”
I spoke the truth. He is the love of my life.
A bit later we went to Walmart, not because we needed anything but because I felt we could both benefit from some exercise.
Normally we would have walked around the neighbourhood, but the wind was much too strong to attempt our usual thirty-minute stroll. I decided we should drive to the store, and walk inside where we would be sheltered.
Frans had a terrible time trying to figure out how to get into the car. Finally, I had to lift his left leg and place it inside the vehicle before gently guiding his body the rest of the way in.
Just as I was finishing getting him settled, a friend of ours, Eiko, who is Japanese, saw us and came over to say hello.
Eiko sits next to us in church every week; Frans hasn’t recognized her or even spoken to her in at least two years. She and I chatted for a few minutes. As she was about to leave, I turned to Frans and suggested he might like to say hello to Eiko.
My husband, who had hardly uttered a word all morning, turned to our friend and said as naturally as he might have long ago, “Eiko, good morning.”
Even more surprising was that he responded in perfect Japanese!
Frans studied Japanese in college. In the past, he and Eiko would have limited conservations in her native tongue, but he hadn’t spoken Japanese in a decade, maybe more.
When he said her name it wasn’t soft and kind of dull in the way he has been speaking lately; it was with real feeling, connection and affection. It was if something inside him had suddenly woken up.
My heart swelled.
Eiko replied to him in Japanese, and he answered–again in flawless Japanese.
I was reminded, as I often am, that Frans is still in there and still here with me, and of how much I love it when these little surprises happen.
Yes, dementia care is fraught with pain and sorrow. But care partners such as Linda and I know that joy and healing are also possible.
Remember to keep your eyes and ears open for the miracles that may be found in your Alzheimer’s story.
“This disease, which is robbing my incredible husband’s mind, has put me more in touch with the feeling of love than ever before.” Linda Buytendorp