Even though you do nothing to deserve dementia, you still feel as though you could have done things differently. You begin questioning the way you ate, exercised, even lived that could have made a difference. You then must determine the simple actions that will make life easier for your loved one.
It’s been 7.429 weeks or 52 days or 1,248 hours or 74,880 minutes or 4,492,800 seconds since my best friend soared to his forever home. Many people live in the element of time and have allowed this time to totally take over their very existence. While talking with a friend, I was told that, even though their loved one had passed six years ago, they were still trying to deal with the loss. I have suffered loss in my life previously and could show empathy for other’s loss; however, when Henry passed, I was thrown into a new category called widow. It was a week after that momentous passing that I realized I was now alone and yet I wasn’t. Yes, I have a son, Rob, daughter in love, Melissa, and daughter, Kimberly, also five most amazing grandsons, yet, there’s still those night hours when no one is lying beside you and you become enveloped in aloneness.
What more could I have done? I spent hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, on nutrition to feed Henry’s brain. I even went to the extent of hiring a nutritionist to put us on a schedule of foods and nutrition that would give healing to a brain that was already being ravaged by a disease that the specialists had no answer.
I watch the world bow down to COVID19, this unknown virus who attacks people anytime, anywhere. No one knows the origin or solution to bringing this unknown enemy to its knees. This virus, or whatever it’s called, has totally affected every area of our lives. It has devasted world economies and entire nations. When we think an end is coming, we then hear that a new surge is on its way, so people stay suspended in time while not knowing how to break out and begin living again.
This sounds like the life I have been living for the last five years with Henry who was such a force in our family that we all just listened and moved when he spoke. So, we now live in the before and after. Remember, we did this before – Cancun and Hawaii vacations, cruises, church, revivals, traveling the world. After Henry was diagnosed, we traveled once more to Indonesia because we could. This nation was Henry’s love, after God, his family, his nation. I’m not sure how in the world this nation was the one chosen. Henry had been to Jamaica, Honduras, Santo Domingo, Philippines, Amsterdam, and so many other places on missions’ trips; however, when we traveled to Indonesia in 1997, it so affected Henry that he spent the next eighteen years in and out of that nation ministering to thousands. In fact, when we would be headed to the airport to get on that international flight to Indonesia, it was as though we were headed to an exclusive vacation far away. Henry could spend hours preaching and praying for anybody and everybody that needed his undivided attention. He did not care if there were thousands gathered in a stadium or five people in a home, he gave his all.
I knew that this last trip in 2015 would probably be his last international trip unless we received a miracle. On every other trip, Henry was contacting travel agents in San Francisco, getting us set up with economy deluxe seats on international flights so we could be comfortable for the twenty-four to thirty-six-hour flight across the Pacific. However, this time, I was being stretched as I made the calls, purchased the tickets, talked with our friend, Harry, who always made our schedule for our Indonesian trips. This little girl who had been exclusively covered and protected by this strong man in my life was now taking over as protector and guardian while making sure that Henry knew he was still the MAN!
I remember on our last cruise in 2017, yes, I did take him on one last cruise, we were with our spiritual father, Bishop Bill Hamon, and his Board of Governors. I think we christened every men’s restroom on that ship. I learned to wait beside the door as Henry went in. I’m still not sure if Henry needed to use the facility or if it triggered something in his brain that he was supposed to just go in. All I knew was that I needed to wait because we would get separated, and he would not be able to find me. He was wearing his GPS watch, but I was still unsure if I would be able to keep him safe. We even ported in Roatan, Honduras and spent the day being normal tourists. No one would have known that Henry had trouble just finding his way back to the cruise ship, so I continually was holding his hand. I did not want anything to separate us. What in the world would I do if I lost him in a third world nation? I look back at our pictures from those days and am amazed that we made it home safely. Looking at him on the ship as we sat in the sunshine with the breeze blowing his gorgeous white hair, he was so handsome and looked so normal. Yet, he could not figure out menus – what would he like to eat or even drink. He would always ask me, “What are you eating? I will take the same.” He was conscious that he had a problem but did not know how to solve it. He covered it up so well, and yet, we all knew he was not able to be the force he had been.
“God, why can’t we find our way out of this dark place we are in?” More than once, I would sit in the bathroom of our master suite and just weep because I missed the strong force called Henry who had swept me off my feet fifty-two years ago. Honestly, I truly have never met anyone that I sensed there could have been an attraction with like my Henry. I did not want him to see me break down so I would cry a bit, then dry my tears and get on with life. I refused to allow this disease to take us out. I refused to allow this disease to break us. So, until we could not, we would get on our bicycles and just ride. We would go to our local senior center and join in with other seniors in the aerobics and stretch classes. I knew Henry needed the social interaction with people who would not judge him because he was unsure of his actions. He would do what I did. If I exercised, he would exercise. In church, if I clapped my hands, he would clap his hands.
Henry had always been a sharp dresser. For years, he would shop at a shoe store in Atlanta called Mitchell’s. When we would be shopping, it was not shocking to see NFL and NBA players shopping for the latest skins – alligator, lizard, etc. The salesman would show us shoes sized twenty-two. I could have almost sat down inside those shoes; they were so huge. My hubby knew style and loved to dress up! So, when he became unable to choose his clothes, I would have his outfit ready. You would have thought he was walking the runway as he left the house. He knew he looked fine, and everybody told him. It became my job to keep him living in the style in which he was accustomed. He would allow me to style his hair and even trim his neck, ears and nose hairs. I never did understand why in the world it took Henry so long to dress. He would stand at the mirror while cutting and trimming. I am yelling that it’s time to leave. What are you doing? After the fact, I now know it takes guys much longer to primp than it does women. They have hair growing in the most amazing places – even their ears. I was buying trimmers of all sorts just trying to keep Henry looking spiffy. The most amazing fact to me is that he allowed me to do this until the last ten months of his life. He was like Barbie’s Ken. I took pride in making him look good.
So thankful we have great pictures during those days. My grandsons will look at the pictures and remark that this is after the disease because we could see it in Henry’s eyes. He would look disconnected, confused, yet, quietly allowing us to do whatever necessary to take care of him. Throughout this journey, there were decisions that had to be made such as estate attorneys, quit claim deeds, new bank accounts. So many decisions that would affect my life after Henry. I began to realize that, this man who had said he would love me until death, was slowly leaving me like a picture gradually fading through the years.
Who could have known that I would be sitting here today while telling the world that he’s gone? That he took a piece of my heart with him, and I will never forget him. I will be walking in the Alzheimer’s Walk this year to end this crazy disease that still has no end in sight. That the medical community still cannot figure how in the world it can target certain families, and how to counteract its devastation. You cannot wear a mask or wash your hands enough nor quarantine to protect yourself from this disease. God, give us an answer! We do not want anyone else to suffer through this dark, unending journey until death part us!