No matter what adversities we encounter, we can always grow spiritually. My spouse Julie was diagnosed at age 57 with Alzheimer’s. She has lived in memory care for the past 7 years. She is now in hospice. This is one of six blogs about what Julie needed from me as her caregiver and how her needs shaped my spiritual growth.
Part One: Julie needed me to be the best version of myself.
One weekend I left Julie in the care of relatives. I had completed the Christmas shopping and wrapping. Upon my return, I could not find the gifts. I asked Julie, “Where are the Christmas gifts?” She said, “What Christmas gifts?” Eventually I found them. The next day, we went through the same routine again. Julie could sense my frustration, even though she could not understand why.
Julie was my teacher in life about how to go with the flow. The need for me to live that way went up exponentially with the diagnosis. It called upon me to experience my impatience and frustration without having to judge, fix, or suppress it. Nor could I expect her to change.
We did not choose Alzheimer’s. It chose us. We both ended up choosing it back in order for it to be life giving and yet we knew that Julie was going to die from this. Thinking of it as a battle was pointless. What we could hope for was that the disease would bring out the best in both of us. And it has.
Alzheimer’s and Julie became my teachers and spiritual practice. Every day, I asked myself, “Am I a healthier version of myself? Have I kept myself fully defined apart from Julie, and yet interdependent. Have I been fully present to my own suffering and limitations?” I found it helpful to talk to Alzheimer’s as an embodied person and say, “You have a hold of us. But, I am not letting you go until you bless us.”
A sense of humor was essential. In the earliest stages, I would use Julie’s memory loss against her, and she knew it. I would try to convince her that it had been months since we have been physically intimate. Julie would reply, “You know, there are certain parts of a woman’s brain that know the truth, no matter what.”