A split image showing a young woman on the left looking out of a window and drawing a question mark and the woman older on the right in a different setting drawing a question mark on the window

With Alzheimer's, Your Questions Change

It was a hot, muggy, buggy night, the kind you expect from New Orleans, and it was only spring. The calendar read 1991, and I was about to meet the parents of my soon-to-be fiancé.

I am sure that I was nervous. Having grown up in California, I didn't know much about southern culture. I knew that Kathy's dad had been a career army man, a hospital commander, and a full colonel. I knew her mom had been a nurse and organized officers' wives' outings on a post from Germany to Utah for decades.

I was just a kid with a Pontiac.

Meeting the parents - for the first time

With sweat glistening on our foreheads, we listened to smooth jazz at Preservation Hall and ate some spicy Cajun delicacy. The conversation was light and fun. I had a good time.

Going in, I wondered if her father would accept me. Would I be good enough for his daughter? Would I pass the inspection? What standard did I have to live up to? Did I make the grade? He was rather matter-of-fact, and that didn't bother me.

Kathy's mom was another story. Sitting across from her, I kept asking myself, "Is this what Kathy will be like in thirty years?"

She seemed to love conversation. She didn't seem to meet a stranger. She had something nice to say about everything and everyone. My insecurities centered more around my ability to keep up rather than measure up.

Pondering your future in-laws

When you meet your future in-laws, you ask yourself questions about what life might be like with them on holidays or occasional visits. You wonder if they will get along with your parents. Maybe you try and get a read on their political leanings or core beliefs and values.

Do they have oddities BECAUSE you know that you have yours? There is something inside, though, which you understand in a vague sort of way. You get the idea that you are not only marrying your spouse, but you are marrying your spouse's family, too.

I never gave Alzheimer's disease a thought. Had I even heard of it?

The unexpected

When you marry the family, too, you may get the unexpected. I don't mean that you find out they have annoying habits or idiosyncrasies, although this will probably happen.

You one day may ask these questions:

  • Did I give my mother-in-law all of her medications on time?
  • Did she put on a new pull-up?
  • Why is the floor wet?
  • Did she eat any of her food?
  • Will she be able to buckle her seat belt ever again?
  • Can she remember my name today?
  • How can we afford all this?
  • Is this what Alzheimer's disease looks like from the front row?

This set of questions never entered our pre-marital counseling. They were never even a consideration when we began to raise our children.

The unpredictable

I had read all the birthing, toddlering, and teen-ing books. I had become familiar with formula, diapers, and pull-ups. Speaking of pull-ups, I thought we were done with them. But we were not.

You see, that sultry evening in the Crescent City was not just about what my future in-laws could do for me, what I could do for their daughter, or how we would all get along. Those questions would soon be answered.

That night was more about what we could all do for each other and what it would take to be a family "'til death do us part." I would eventually ask these other questions.

I am entering the mix

I am now a caregiver for my mother-in-law, who suffers from Alzheimer's. Sure my wife handles the bulk of the load, but more and more, I am entering the mix. I am getting my hands dirty, up to my ankles.

I am doing things I never thought I could or would do. It's an emotional tug, for sure. I have my moments, but I land in a good place in those moments. I keep reminding myself that loving is about serving and that has made all the difference.

With Alzheimer's disease, you ask other questions.

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