Sometimes the opposite of hope is fear.
I hope my husband will not fall victim to Alzheimer’s Disease like his father, his uncle and his grandmother did. I watched close-hand the slow yet relentless devastation the disease wrought on my father-in-law and the heroic love it demanded of his wife.
They were in their late sixties when they moved to our home town in Ohio to be nearer to us. Initially my father-in-law was eager to help us with maintenance on our rental properties. He was good at painting and minor plumbing and carpentry projects. We were grateful for his help, but gradually it became clear that he was more hindrance than assistance. After a time, he began to take his wife along when he was working on a project. This seemed odd until he explained that she helped him find his tools. Not long after that, my husband stopped asking for his father’s help, saying it drove him crazy to try to get anything done with his father “helping.”
For a time I was the only one with enough emotional distance from the situation to see what was happening to my father-in-law. Bob and his mother, Helen, were both in denial. And the inevitable march of dementia continued.
Taking care of him at home became more and more demanding on Bob’s mother. His father became incontinent. Sometimes when he wet himself, he would hide the soaking underwear in the bathroom, too ashamed to admit what was happening to him. One day when I stopped by to see how they were doing, my mother-in-law met me at the door and asked me to wait outside. She was diapering her husband on the living room floor.
Every Monday evening that summer, Bob and I would stay with his father while his Helen went to the Catholic Church to play Bingo. It was her only bit of freedom each week. One night I was sitting inside watching tv with my father-in-law while Bob was mowing his parents’ lawn. “What is Bob doing tonight?” my father-in-law asked. Bob had just been in the room five minutes ago. One after another, the instances of memory loss accrued. There was the time when we all drove to Columbus to visit my mother-in-law when she was hospitalized for a cardiac procedure. When we got back home where I was preparing dinner for the family, my father-in-law asked me if I had talked to Mom. We had all just been there talking to her! His short-term memory seemed to be non-existent.
Then there was the time when he got lost after dropping my mother-in-law off at the beauty shop. I began lobbying my husband to take the car keys away from his father. What if he caused a car wreck? What if he hurt someone? As more problems presented themselves, finally the family agreed to hide the car keys from him. He was, by that time, beyond reasoning. Periodically the desire to drive his ar would overwhelm him. He would spend long spells of time in the garage searching for them, looking in every can of screws and nails. The worst moment occurred when in frustration, he grabbed my mother-in-law by the neck nearly throttling her. He wanted her to give him the car keys.
I had been working slowly toward finding them assistance. There was an adult day-care facility we could take him to, to give my other-in-law some respite. The problem was that the attendees were mostly women. The social worker told us he would not likely find any male companionship there. Simultaneously I was looking into Medicaid for financial assistance when the time came for us to find a long-term care facility for him.
Those gradual, “someday” plans became more immediate after the strangling incident. My husband arranged to have his father admitted to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. We couldn’t let him stay with his wife after the streak of violence had emerged. The next morning Bob’s father phoned his Helen to come and pick him up at the hospital. He was being released. The psychiatrist had spoken with him that morning and had determined he was not a danger to himself or anyone else. We were infuriated. How could the doctor make such a determination without ever speaking to the family members? He had no idea that my mother-in-law had been strangled the day before. As it turned out, however, perhaps we were lucky he was released so quickly. We soon learned that no nursing home would admit a patient if he had a medical record of violence.
Once we had him situated in a long-term care facility, he seemed to spend more time in a dream world than in the real one the rest of us shared. He told us once that he had spent the day coaching a girls’ soccer team. He thought the social room at the nursing home was the union hall. We took in photos of family members for his room, hoping he would remember us for a little longer but he wasn’t interested in looking at them.
My mother-in-law continued to be heroic in her care for him. She visited twice a day to make sure he was eating well. The dietician wanted to put in a feeding tube, but Helen refused permission, knowing that her husband would never have agreed to such artificial measures. One day she asked him if he knew who she was. He didn’t know her name, but he did know that she was his lover. When influenza struck the nursing home, my father-in-law contracted pneumonia. Our family physician called asking if Helen wanted them to administer antibiotics. “The outcome will be the same in any case,” he told her. After a brief family conference, she told the doctor, “No antibiotics.” Then we waited for the phone call that would tell us the rest of him had died. He was 75.
My husband is a very intelligent man showing no signs of memory loss. He still manages complex business and financial arrangements and enjoys a rich social life including frequent golf matches with lots of side bets. I think he is okay. His mother was alert and lively until the day she died at age 88. Bob has half her DNA. I think he is okay. I hope.
Sometimes the opposite of hope is fear.