It came quietly, like a gentle incoming tide. After being married 54 years, you tend to pay less attention to any doubts concerning your spouse.
Jean had always been so focused, so intelligent and with a remarkable ability to unravel the complicated, making things seem far clearer than they appeared initially. This was one of her special traits that kept us close for so many years.
I had recently retired from a successful oral surgery practice. Our son, Kevin, had succeeded me after my 58 years of practice, including two years in the U.S. Air Force.
Jean, as I learned later, had all the signs and symptoms of early dementia — lost keys, misplaced jewelry, phone numbers forgotten and all the rest that accompany this horrible disease.
Early on, her automobile would appear with paint scrapes that later became dents and progressed to fender benders that Jean would not explain other than remarking that they must have occurred at the mall or shopping center while the car was parked.
Daily, I began to observe this dignified, wonderful lady slowly deteriorate from one who could type 70 words a minute, solve the most difficult crossword puzzles in ink with ease, and recall the birth dates of all our relatives, to someone who could no longer do any of those things. Is there some parallel here with the old axiom that the bigger they are the harder they fall? I think so.
I kept Jean at home while the disease ran rampant. I employed assistance from home health care services, some of which were not as responsible as others. Our son was and continues to be my main support guy.
Unless you are confronted with a situation similar to mine you have no idea the breadth and depth of the sorrow that will befall you. How could this happen to such a bright and intelligent person was not now the question.
A decision had to be made as to where Jean was to be placed. This was complicated by her hip fracture after a fall at home. I had fed, bathed and cared for her every need and, even with the best home care money could provide, I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. I still am at this writing, for loneliness can become its own anguish.
Now it became evident that I had to admit Jean to a facility that could afford her the care I could no longer provide 24 hours a day.
Think of the most difficult thing that you have ever had to do in life. Now triple that, and you will not even come close to what it feels like to subject someone you have loved for so long to a place so foreign to both of you. This only happens in the movies or to other people, does it not? Think harder. It can and will happen to many of you reading this — about 6 million of us.
I visit Jean every day. I am fortunate to have the financial ability to provide full-time attendants 24 hours a day, making certain she is physically well-cared for. God did give us somewhat of a break in that regard.
Jean is no longer Jean. She will smile when I see her, but her words are indeciferable. I cry a lot. Often, when she sees my tears, her eyes will moisten and a tear will fall. I wonder if there is, in some corner of her mind, a special lockbox with a little of me deep inside. I think so.
Louis Monteleone is a retired oral surgeon in Tampa.