This is the introduction from "Where Does the Wind Go?" a novel comprised of cathartic journal entries capturing Audrey Shafer's experiences as her husband battled Alzheimer's disease.
My name is Audrey. I met my second husband Donald in October 1993 and got married in November 1994. We had both lost our long-term spouses three 1/2 years before we met. We intended to fulfill our retirement dreams and ride off into our sunset years together and be happy. Circumstances changed those dreams into seven years of emotional highs and lows, stomach-tightening anxiety and continuous soul searching that put our loving relationship to the true test.
Shortly after the wedding, Donald was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Almost immediately, my world was turned upside down. I became more than Donald's wife, friend and retirement companion; I became his constant care giver, assisting him with his simplest day-to-day needs, looking out for his physical, mental and social needs while trying to preserve his dignity as a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and human being. At times, I felt helpless to do anything to change the situation. Each day I faced a fresh lineup of "what ifs" and uncertainty.
At first, I didn't know a thing about Alzheimer's. In fact, I'd never heard of it until Donald was diagnosed. It was something I learned about and became more knowledgeable of as I went along. I read every book I could get my hands on and filled tablets with my notes. I talked with doctors, neurologists and psychologists and picked their brains for all the medical information I could collect. But most of all, I learned from Donald.
During the course of his daily care, I got a first hand look at how Alzheimer's creeps insidiously across the landscape of a person's mind and body, wrecking both forever, leaving behind only glimmers of the person who was there before. Donald was in my care until March 6, 2000 when he was placed in a long term care community. He passed away 54 weeks later on March 20, 2001.
From my experience, I will share the knowledge I acquired over the eight years when Donald was afflicted With Alzheimer's. I will share frequently asked questions about Alzheimer's and lessons I learned. I will explain how to handle adversity. By sharing this information, I hope you will be able to avoid or better navigate through the same difficulties that confronted me.
I played the hand that I was dealt and I played it as well and with as much courage and energy as I could muster. Despite this terrible set of circumstances, love, faith and loyalty formed a small but significant pocket of hope that no disease, no matter how powerful, can ever destroy.
I am a very different person from when I first met Donald. My journey with him was a learning experience. I have learned to respect people who selflessly give themselves up in order to care for a loved one, despite the hardships and regardless of the inevitable conclusion. I have learned to forgive others and myself. I have come to understand the human condition more fully. I understand why my friend who recently lost her husband suddenly begins crying for no reason. I understand the importance of treating an Alzheimer's patient with respect and dignity, not forgetting that despite the devastation that such a disease can cause, it can never wipe away the person's value as a human being.