This is the final chapter of "Where Does the Wind Go?" a novel comprised of cathartic journal entries capturing Audrey Shafer's experiences as her husband battled Alzheimer's disease.
When I kissed Donald for the final time on March, 20, 2001, his journey was already complete. I, however, still had a ways to go.
In the days and weeks following Donald’s death, I was so immersed in the details that accompany death that I was too busy to feel the profound loss and aching that follows a loved one’s death. Soon, though, the funeral was over and the friends and relatives retreated again to their own lives, and I was left with lots of time and lots of memories to bring this part of my journey to a close. Donald’s death created a void in my life the likes of which I had not felt since my first husband passed away. For the second time in 50 years, I was left with no one to care for and no one to care for me.
I was alone again, but strangely, I didn't feel lonely. Beneath the indescribable sadness that death brings to those left behind, I began to feel the faint, gentle pulses of my own life reviving itself. For close to eight years, I had been in a constant battle against Alzheimer’s disease. I knew early on that there wouldn't be any victory; my main objective was to stave off defeat for as long as I could and in the meantime keep Donald happy, comfortable and never allow the disease to eat away at his humanity like it had at his mind. As a result, I was tired and nearly spent. Upon Donald’s passing, I emerged as if from a fog. With his release, I was free again, too.
I remember our many walks on the beach down in Florida and watching children scoop out pails filled with dark, wet sand near the edge of the water. They were able to gouge deep holes in the gritty earth until the next wave rushed in and filled in void with salt water and sand. In time, the hole disappeared and the shore returned, unblemished and complete. Likewise, in the emptiness created by Donald’s death, my memories of him rushed in and filled that dark hole.
I will never get over losing Donald, but I will get through it because I will remember how his eyes would twinkle and how he would wink at me and say, “I love you.” I will remember him wiggling his ears to the delight of everyone who witnessed it. I will remember his wonderful smile and how contagious his laugh could be. I will remember how I used to ask him if he was having a good day, and how he would always answer, “I haven’t had a bad one yet.” I will remember that I acquired from him the ability to love and to be happy with each day, to enjoy nature, especially the trees and the birds. I will remember what a good listener he was. I will remember the special kind of love we shared. Early in our relationship, Donald gave me a card in which he wrote: “Lord, please bless Audrey, who cares so deeply about my happiness. Her smiles and thoughtful things she does for me make every moment a lifetime of love. She adds extra happiness and warmth to my life. She made my dreams come true. Audrey, my wife, you are my greatest gift.” I will treasure this memory and all the others forever.
These pieces of time are a testament of love’s promise and endurance. The body may be absent, and the spirit may move on toward its next destination, but in their places love settles in. All else may dissolve into the gentle nothingness of time, but not love; love never disappears.
I am a very different person from when I first met Donald. My journey with him as a learning experience. I have learned to respect people who selflessly give of themselves 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 better. 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 and not forgetting that despite the devastation that such a disease causes, it can never, ever wipe away the person’s value as a human being.
Earlier this year, I went to Florida with a friend, and it was there that I finally brought closure to this part of my life. There, I was the happiest I have been in a long, long time. I had forgotten how nice it was to laugh over nothing. Once again I can enjoy a leisurely bath in private, a glass of wine before dinner and a long evening walk before retiring. I am not rushed to do anything. Sometimes I wonder if I have the right to feel so happy, but then I think, “Sure I do. I’ve earned it.”
This book has also helped bring closure. It has been a labor of love because in the end its topic is about Alzheimer’s but its theme is about love. I used to ask Donald if he knew why we were so happy. He’d reply, “Because we’re in love.” It is that love that I've tried to express. I did not write it to hurt anyone although I’m sure some will take exception to a few of the things I've written. Nor did I write it to be overly critical or judgmental, but, again, some will think that I am. Rather, I wrote it because I was called to write to help others in the same situation. I wanted to reach out to others, be a blessing to them and supply them with the necessary information to help them take a positive and proactive approach against this disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but there is one for fear. It is called knowledge. I hope this book has gone a long way toward helping you acquire the knowledge and understanding you’ll need on your personal journey with your loved one.
Because of this book and because of my efforts with Donald, maybe someday I will be remembered as my mother was — a woman with a clean soul. I know in my heart I did my best to make Donald’s life happier than it would have been without me. I know now that I was happy, too, because I gave myself to him.