Dramatically personalizing Alzheimer’s

A one-act play with two actors, “Sage bush” and his wife Mary Anne, the actress in her own silent movie: This one-act play is a 10-minute play (also known as flash drama).

Why the name “Sage bush” for the male actor? He had many talents, but he was also a skilled herbalist (one who studies plants for medicinal purposes). He would later remember that one of those plants, Sage, is supposed to improve one’s memory and does in fact contain an agent rather like the drugs that have been developed to slow down Alzheimer’s disease, which he sadly discovered his wife had.

For ten minutes he wanted to personalize Alzheimer’s in a dramatic way. His wife Mary Anne was sitting beside him, but the audience only saw her back. She was oblivious to her position and unaware that her husband was sitting beside her. She probably didn’t remember she was married. Now Sage begins to speak, as he gestures toward the motionless lady he loves.

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Mary Ann once told me. “Before we were married, I wanted you to notice me, but you didn’t even know I was alive. My mother told me, ‘Invite him over and cook him a good meal. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’  We both later agreed, ‘It worked!’”

Our “new journey” began in 2002 when I recognized that my wife was leaving a key ingredient out of a recipe she had made literally hundreds of times. Once she drove home alone to visit her parents, but she lost her way while driving back. To make matters worse, her parents never told me they noticed how bad her memory was, something I told myself I had not been aware of.

Later on she fell, and an ER physician discovered a non-cancerous tumor on her brain. She was referred to a neurosurgeon, who felt that something else was going on. After more examinations and tests, he began to see the signs of dementia, common with early on-set Alzheimer’s.

I knew I couldn’t take care of her alone, so I then tackled the real challenge of relocating my wife at a care center. It was just 15 minutes from my home and had a memory unit for her safety and to better assist with her daily living activities. My favorite time with her was singing hymns that she had learned early in life. She would pick up the tune and the words as they came to her, and it was amazing to see the joy in her eyes and experience how very present she was in the moment during those memorable visits.

But soon the light went out. I could never have imagined that I would have to seek permission to take her out. But there she is, catatonic. Sort of.

I know the day will come when she will make the final journey to her true home in heaven. Before she leaves, I will tenderly hold her hands, even though this time she doesn’t even know I am alive. No one can tell her now to cook me a good meal. I guess the way to a woman’s heart is to embrace her heavenly bridegroom. I miss her so very much, but a good friend reminded me that she is my legacy, and that keeps me smiling and remembering what was.

Suddenly the lights go off and the projector shows her earlier life when she was dating, getting married, talking, dancing and even cooking up a storm. It ended by showing the two of us on our wedding day, kneeling in prayer, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes. As I placed my hand on her shoulder, I remembered that someone had questioned why I continued to see her, since she no longer knew me. I quickly replied, “But I still know her!”

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.

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