I pulled the car into the garage after Sunday breakfast.
Do you know me?
Yes, You’re Jerry.
No, I’m Larry, your husband of 32 years. And I love you with all my heart.
She looked at me strangely.
Let’s go in. It’s hot out here.
This was another moment to let her heart hear what her brain sometimes cannot. And to let my heart hear it, too.
I miss Barbara so very much.
I love you so much, it hurts me
Darlin, that’s why I’m so blue
I’m so afraid to go to bed at night
Afraid of losing you
And there’s nothing I can do
I want to hold you my dear, forever and ever
I love you so much, it hurts me so
Biscuit is our little Cairn Terrier. He lies in wait for me to drop a napkin or a tissue. Out of the shadows he darts and the game is on. With paper hanging from the sides of his mouth, Biscuit races for the center of the family room. Front paws down, rear end up, tail wagging, his eyes sparkle with anticipation. I lunge at Biscuit, while he springs out of reach and dashes to his next spot to taunt me.
This game once took several minutes. Now we’re both older and I soon get to the point. “Does doggie wanna Beggin Strip?” He trots out from under the coffee table with the limp wet napkin on each side of his mouth. I open the bag and pull out his booty, like a bartender forking over ‘protection’ money to the local mob.
Biscuit knows where all his stuff is. He knows all our games. He knows when he can ride in the car and when it’s time for the crate. He knows who is a friend and who is a stranger. He is deeply attached to Barbara and he knows something’s terribly wrong with her.
Alzheimer’s Disease has slithered further into her brain, clinging to and wrapping around more cells, squeezing the cognitive life from her. Unlike Biscuit, Barbara doesn’t know where her stuff is or should be. She doesn’t know where my stuff goes. She often thinks our children are her siblings. She sometimes greets strangers at the grocery store like long lost friends.
The commonly used word for my relationship to Barbara is her caregiver. I reject this word. I believe it comes from a desperate attempt to cope with an elusive horror. It is a benign label which completely redefines my relationship with Barb and creates a distance from her. Under this label, I “give care” to an ever strange person.
The fact is that I am Barbara’s keeper.
For more than three decades I have been her keeper and she has been my keeper. When I got paid every two weeks, I was her keeper. When she built our family and nurtured our home, she was my keeper. When I helped her through the deaths of her mom and dad, I was her keeper. When she led me to Jesus Christ, she was my keeper.
There is no life before Alzheimer’s Disease and life after Alzheimer’s Disease. There is only our life as keepers of each other. Barb is still my keeper. She keeps me strong. She keeps me turning to our God. She keeps me aware of all she means to me.
This is the tie that binds our life together. Imagine Cain saying to God, “Am I my brother’s caregiver?” I am my beloved’s keeper.