What’s left of Art’s silver gray hair is disheveled; he wears old gray dress pants, a flannel shirt and a cardigan sweater as he works outside trying unsuccessfully to fix the Christmas lights. He skipped a button when putting on the cardigan; a loop of fabric sticks out near his waist.
Back inside, he heats some Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and carefully makes a sandwich. This is his noontime ritual: he trims the lunchmeat so it fits on the bread and arranges the trimmed pieces on top of the larger piece of meat. Later he will heat his tea and milk in the microwave and leave it there until he remembers it or, more likely, until it is cooled. By the end of the day, he will reheat the milky concoction several times. Slimy crumbs from his sandwich and cookies cling to the inside of the mug. If you suggest he use a clean cup, he will protest.
He washes the dishes after lunch, a task he assumed years ago when Wanita returned to full time work. Later she rewashes most of the dishes as he sits in front of the TV. Grease and food still cling to the pots and pans.
The diagnosis came just a week earlier. It was no surprise to his family; Alzheimer’s disease seemed like the only logical explanation for his odd behavior and deteriorating memory.
Later Art asks when he should take a shower; Wanita wants him to wait until after supper. He asks the same question repeatedly until she finally tells him to take a shower. By eight o’clock he is showered and dressed for Midnight Mass. He tied his necktie wrong; the wide end is too short. He tucked the skinny end into his shirt to hide it. He is frustrated but he will not allow anyone to fix it. He keeps his jacket buttoned to hide it.
While watching the evening news he works the word puzzles in the newspaper, handing them to Wanita when he is stuck. They both enjoyed this activity before the Alzheimer’s; she would answer the questions in the crossword that he could not figure out. Now it is frustrating for both of them; the answers he writes down are nonsense leaving her to rework the puzzles by herself or abandon them altogether. She chooses the latter.
The family plays Chinese Checkers on Christmas day. Art is confused about the rules and does not understand why he cannot move his marbles the way he wants to. When his youngest daughter playfully chides her mother after making a good move, he accuses them of conspiring against him. In spite of the Art’s confusion, the game is close.
Wanita will not be able to care for him at home indefinitely. He will eventually forget everything he knows, even basic hygiene. The disease interferes with the body’s vital functions – other heath problems are likely.
Wanita struggles to keep her own sanity while caring for her husband of forty-three years and keeping him safe. The stress of living with a man whose memory is fading takes a toll on her. Resilience is her best asset; cancer and other health problems only slowed her down temporarily. However, nothing can prepare her for the challenge she now faces.