While attempting a Spring cleaning of my home office central, I found a sheet of paper folded into one of the cubby holes, opened it and recognized my husband’s handwriting. It read “Worked all night removing roof tiles on May 3 — need to bill for the job.”
I kept that piece of paper in case I needed to provide evidence that my husband was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. That was the night he wakened me around midnight, his face covered with blood. Luckily, there was no ladder available for him to reach the roof, but he tripped on the porch step and landed headfirst in the gravel driveway.
It’s been a year now since my husband was taken to the Alzheimer’s ward at a local nursing home. It’s been an increasingly difficult experience to visit him there, and I’m grateful for my support team. A relative has helped me through the labyrinth of paperwork and a friend has accompanied me for visits, offering lighthearted banter and dancing with my husband to Elvis Presley songs in the main dining room.
I sneaked in treats that resonate with his memory. He knew the difference between regular marzipan easily obtainable in the U.S. and the genuine brand from Germany known as Lübecker Marzipan, that originated in a medieval town in northern Germany, not far from his town of birth.
He doesn’t usually remember names, but recognizes familiar faces. On a recent visit, I brought several vintage photos: one of him with 20 classmates back in Germany, and he knew every face, laughing about personality traits. He teared up when I handed him a picture of me and his mother on one of her Florida visits. When I asked him to name the two people, he didn’t answer, so I offered “Mutter?” He shook his head; then I remembered he called her Mutti (Mommy). When I asked the name of the other woman, he smiled and pointed at me. “You,” he said.
I got him a subscription to the German newspaper Staats-Zeitung, and he increasingly preferred that to the American newspapers. He was confused by the coverage of COVID-19 and I brushed that off — until the Governor decreed that there would be no more nursing home visitations.
I realize there’s a point where Alzheimer’s patients totally lose their equilibrium in the here and now, and revert back to their earliest years. For my husband’s sake, I’m hoping those memories are before age six, because that’s when he was running for his life as his hometown of Hamburg was being bombed in World War II. Children still went to school during the war, but those who lived closer to the schoolhouse had to run home for safety because the bunker was too small to accommodate all the students when the siren wailed. On one frantic run home, he went past the apartment building where his aunt and uncle lived and was shocked to see it decimated and in flames.