Ray Wiseman ( www.ray.wiseman.ca) is an
author and columnist in Fergus, Ont.
When Alzheimer’s creeps into a house- hold and slowly builds a barrier of forgetfulness and confusion, it exports its
influence. It infects the wider family,
friends, church and community.
Soon after the symptoms of dementia appeared in my wife Anna, I
noticed a change in our social life
that paralleled her memory loss. Our
friends began to forget us. They
ceased to drop in or invite us over. It
hurt. Then a 30-year-old memory
surfaced. We had gone to visit Mary,
the widow of an elderly friend. We
found her confused, not knowing us.
She had little memory of her past.
But Mary invited us in, made tea,
pretended to know us and showed
pleasure that we had stopped by.
We left, relieved to escape our
discomfort. We did not know how to
act or what to say. We never returned.
That shame clung to me for a year or
two, only returning now that Anna
has joined the multitude of those
whose past was slipping away. So
that explains it. Our friends ceased
to call because they don’t know how
to act in Anna’s presence. Now my
wife repeats a sorrowful refrain.
“Why don’t people come to see us?”
Alzheimer’s isn’t all bad. If I look
carefully, I can see rays of beauty
that shine through Anna’s dreadful
Beauty appears in dependency,
for I have become her everything.
Once Anna fulfilled many roles –
wife, lover, mother, bookkeeper,
manager, proofreader. Now virtu-
ally alone, I stumble through many
tasks for which I’m ill equipped. I
help to dress and bathe her. I re-
member standing at the front of
Oxford Church so long ago and
making the commitment, “In sick-
ness or in health.” Anna became
mine then and remains mine today.
When I tell her I love her, the fog
lifts. She remembers her key role
and responds in kind.
Beauty appears in moments of
clarity. Suddenly Anna’s eyes sparkle
as they flash over her long-neglected
keyboard. For me, that action trig-
gers memories of my talented
spouse of decades past. I see her at
the piano keyboard with our oldest
son, aged about two. He is singing.
Now 55 years later he still sings. I
rush, get the family pictures, and we
talk about him. Photos and my
memory help Anna to push back and
momentarily regain good times
seemingly forgotten forever.
Beauty appears in a disarming
smile, Anna’s lifelong trademark. Her
smile hasn’t changed, but now only
occasionally overcomes her anger
and frustration. I first saw that smile
across a church basement. It con-
tinued to appear and maintained its
appeal through four boys from cradle
to college, through success and sor-
row, through poverty and plenty.
Anna doesn’t always know me today,
but I know her. The smile carries me
back to the Anna I once knew.
Beauty appears in bursts of
laughter. Anna laughs sparingly
these days, but when she does, it
carries me back to better times.
One morning I heard her call my
name from the bedroom. I rushed
naked from the tub to her side. As
I shivered and dripped beside her,
from somewhere inside a mental
fog she spoke. “I want Ray. He is my
husband. Are you Ray?”
A channel opened through the fog.
Anna’s smile appeared. She clearly
grasped the absurdity of the situa-
tion. We both dissolved in laughter.
Yes, beauty is there even when
Anna can no longer remember my
name. When we first met, she had
no interest in even learning it. Be-
cause I entered youth group for the
first time with another young lady
at my side, she wrote me off. Anna
wouldn’t think of stealing anything
or anybody under any circum-
stances. When she discovered the
young lady was my sister, we
learned each other’s names.
We never looked back. If you come
for a visit, you might not see all those
shafts of beauty bursting through
dark clouds. Or, you may. But over-
come your fear. Visit. Do visit. /FT
(ALzHEIMER SOCIETY OF
The beauty of alzheimer’s
Anna doesn’t always know me today, but I know her