Alzheimer’s: Such an unimaginable sorrow

I looked out of my office window one morning during “drop-off” time for Charlie’s Place, the Alzheimer’s Services Adult Day Respite Center.

My heartbeat seemed to lapse a little as I watched caregivers say goodbyes to their loved ones.

One of drivers, his wife’s dedicated caregiver, gently leaned over before she got out of the car and kissed her. They would be separating for six hours and this affectionate gesture was not uncommon.

It reminded me of one of my favorite Shakespearian plays, “Romeo and Juliet,” at a balcony scene when they are parting for the evening. “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

What sweet sorrow it must be for married couples, for any individuals caring for a loved one with the disease. What unimaginable sorrows they must feel all the time, not only with a kiss goodbye, but with a whole myriad of sorrowful goodbyes — goodbye to planned retirement, to knowing and not knowing, to every spontaneous or orchestrated life moment. Goodbye to time lost.

But, the kiss of goodbye, just like Romeo and Juliet’s, can be full of hope. “That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” What happens tomorrow? What pleasures will ensue for us? What gratitude or spark of motivation can be awakened in a caregiver if that loved one with Alzheimer’s remembers their name, recognizes their face, smiles at them, or even utters a simple “thank you”?

Spiritual writer and speaker Joyce Rupp talks about sorrow and goodbyes in her book “Praying Our Goodbyes.”

In it, she writes: “Although life is difficult and always has its share of sorrows, life is also very good and deeply enriching. It holds promises of growth and treasures of joy. It is not easy to believe this when we re hurting greatly because of our loss. Sometimes it takes years to understand and accept this truth.”

Rupp continues: “ Sometimes goodbyes still overwhelm me, but my questions are changing. Instead of asking ‘Why me?’ I much more readily ask ‘How?’ How can I move gracefully through the ache of the farewells that come into my life? I also ask ‘Who?’ Who will be with me in this process? Because I know that I cannot go through intense leave-taking without some kinship and some loving support to sustain me.”

I am the first one to tell another that I absolutely hate goodbyes. But, I agree with Joyce Rupp’s perspective in her writings: “Hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it. There is, or can be, new life, although it will be different from the life we knew before.”

Goodbyes transform us, awaken us, renew us, bring belief to us and foster hope and growth in us in the same way hellos can.

We are, in some fashion, always saying goodbye to some parts of life and hello to others. Alzheimer’s disease may mean a very long goodbye to loved ones, but we can be reminded that it can be a life enriched, when days of “hellos” spring little moments of bliss and provide little moments of hope as caregivers tenderly carve their goodbyes.

At the end of the day, he picks her up from Charlie’s Place. Before he drives off, she leans over and gives him a kiss. “Hello,” she says.

He lovingly reciprocates, and though I’m not in the car as he drives out of sight, I can only imagine how that hello brings so many possibilities of something new and wonderful in their life that can, for a short while, mask the sorrows of Alzheimer’s disease.

This Romeo may have felt the sorrow of goodbye, in one way or another, when he dropped her off in the morning at Charlie’s Place. But the happy “hello” from his Juliet was enough to last him “till it be morrow.”

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