Jul 30, 2010

“We’re Still Having Fun and You’re Still the One”

“If you face a difficult situation, you have two choices. You can change the situation or, if you can’t do that, you must change yourself to meet the situation.”....
By Carol Blackwell
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Yesterday was our anniversary. Bob and I have been married 43 years. That’s a long time.

Bob and Carol Blackwell

Bob and I met at the University of Michigan during my junior year when I took Political Science, a required course. I put off taking the course for the first two years as I wasn’t interested in the topic. I much preferred history. However, I became somewhat more interested in the topic when I entered the small group discussion part of the course led by a grad student. I thought he and his southern accent were cute and his knowledge of the subject was mind boggling. I had a less favorable impression after I received a C+ in the course.

My thoughts of revenge on the poor grad student were mollified when he called a few weeks after the course was over and asked me for a date. We married about a year later. We began our life together in married housing at the University in a one bedroom efficiency apartment. The “kitchen” was a tiny stove and mini fridge on one end of the living room and you couldn’t open the bedroom dresser without moving the bed.

Bob received a job offer from Emory University in Atlanta after completing his Ph.D and we moved to his hometown. This time, I was noted for my ‘accent’ but I don’t think anyone thought it was ‘cute.’ One of Bob’s friends commented that, after 6 years in the south, I had finally lost my ‘harsh mid-western twang’.

Our two children were born in Atlanta and we enjoyed life there, but we moved to Washington, DC in 1975 when Bob was offered a job with the government. Life was pretty good. We had great kids (who recently presented us with marvelous grandchildren!) , supportive friends, and careers we both enjoyed.

We looked forward to retirement from the government with a few years of post-retirement part time work . That expectation was cut short after Bob’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2006, only a year after his retirement. The diagnosis changed our lives. He was no longer able to work at all and that was so hard for him---he loved being able to use his expertise and to feel he had contributed to projects---and, as an extrovert, he loved working with others.

I read a quote a couple of years ago that really stuck with me. It was something like,
“If you face a difficult situation, you have two choices. You can change the situation or, if you can’t do that, you must change yourself to meet the situation.”
I am still working on the changing myself part. It is an ongoing project. One thing that helps is to think about how I would like to be treated if I had the disease. How would I want people to react to me?

I would want people to be patient when I asked the same question several times in the course of a day. I would want people to speak to me in a non- irritated tone of voice.

I would want people to take the time to listen carefully to me and make sure I was included in conversations.

I would want to be told I was loved, no matter what, even when I was confused.

So what grade would I give myself in the current situation?

I give myself a C in “being patient when asked the same question several times a day”. I am patient for the first couple of times, after that I am not so patient. I am working hard on that one and hope to give myself at least a B this time next year.

I give myself a “B-“ in not using an irritated tone of voice. I can tell by the way Bob looks at me that I need improvement in this area!

I give myself an A- in “taking time to listen and be include him in conversations”.

I give myself an A+ in “being told I was loved.”

Bob and I are in this together.

Bob is doing the best he can with the disease and he deserves a spouse who helps him with it and meets him where he is. I am working to be the person he deserves, but, quite truthfully, some days are easier than others. Two days ago, as he was struggling to remember how to play cribbage, he looked up and said, “You just can’t imagine how much I hate what this (disease) has done to me.”

I hate what it has done to him as well, but we live in hope. Somewhere there are researchers working on a cure for the disease---it can’t come too soon.

So, here we are 43 years after we married in a small church in Flint, Michigan.

What did we do on our anniversary? We are at the family cottage in northern Michigan, so it was more relaxing. We took our regular 3.2 mile walk in the morning to avoid the heat, and did some work in the cottage. Bob was pleased because he likes to help with projects here--he says it makes him feel useful.

Bob took a kayak trip down the river to try and get some photos of the elusive Blue Heron—it remained elusive.

We went to dinner at a restaurant on the river, Gates AuSable Lodge—great food. We sat at a table by the river and watched the birds at the feeders and the canoes coming by. It was a good day. And, to coin a line from an old 60’s song:
“After all these years, we’re still having fun and you’re still the one……”

Carol Blackwell lives in Northern Virginia with her husband Bob. Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Carol is a part time leadership coach and instructor. Both Carol and Bob are active advocates in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Bob and Carol also blog on the USA Today website.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room
Enter Your Email Address

More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

The Alzheimer's Action Plan
300 Tips for Making Life Easier

Original content Carol Blackwell, the Alzheimer's Reading Room