“I’ve had a hard day Grannie Jane.”
My nephew Elijah was 3 years old at the time and living in California, chatting with my Mom on the phone.
“Why have you had a hard day?” she queried.
“Because I couldn’t get my man to sit in the tractor,” he said, referring to his prized toys.
We smile at Elijah’s answer and perhaps even long for days when life was so simple. But there is something to be said for how a child describes a hard day. Sometimes we have a hard day because we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or we’ve caught a bug and don’t feel well. But sometimes we have a hard day because nothing works the way we want it to.
Such is the life of a person with Alzheimer’s. There are myriad things we do in succession every day of our lives: wash our face, brush our teeth, put on our clothes and shoes, eat breakfast and so on and so forth. When someone has Alzheimer’s, everything becomes discombobulated and what has worked for years doesn’t seem to work anymore. There are mornings when my Father will hold up a shirt and try to put his legs in it. There are other mornings he’ll get a sock and shoe on one foot but skip the sock altogether on the other foot.
I’ve noticed this regression more in the past year than in the seven years I’ve been living here. There are days he’ll come to the dinner table and forget which seat is his, the same seat he’s occupied for 36 years. Then when we show him, we ask him to pull out his chair so he can sit down. But instead of grabbing his chair, he’ll try to pull the entire table.
Thankfully, my Father has a great sense of humor and tends to laugh off these things. Like when we’re in the car and he’s searching for the right words but they elude him. He has something to say. He wants to communicate with his daughter but some days the words get tangled up in his mouth or mind. There was a time when he would poke fun at himself. “My tongue is wrapped around my eye tooth and I can’t see what I’m saying!” But now I hear him struggle with words like “clouds” and “traffic.”
I’ve had a front row seat for this tragic transformation and I’ve learned that the greatest response to my Father’s hard days is love. The kind of love my Mother shows him in the daily sacrifices she makes for her husband of 53 years.
When my Father gets up in the middle of the night and cannot find the restroom, she leads him by the hand until he’s safely back in bed. When his arms miss the sleeves of his shirt in the morning and he has no clue what to do with his pants, she helps him get dressed. When he tries to manage a plate of food with only a spoon, she cuts up his meat and shows him when to use the fork and knife.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
When my Father asks each night if we’re ready to go home, my Mother patiently tells him, “We’re going to stay here for the night.” She irons his clothes, bathes him, shaves him and puts on his favorite TV shows to bring a smile to his face. She cooks his meals, manages his medicines and tells him that she loves him.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
My Father will more than likely have more hard days, days when things just don’t work the way he wants them to. He may not be able to even put into words, like his grandson Elijah did, what’s bothering him. But my Mother knows the answer to that kind of uncertainty is love. Just as she showed her grandson love and took his frustrations seriously, she shows love to her husband and takes his reality seriously. Why? Because she knows.
Love never fails.*
* I Corinthians 13: 4-8