A Tribute to My Care Partner
November 14, 2013
Next month, Mary Margaret and I will have been together 50 years.
She is a very positive gal, extremely caring and inclusive with her friends. I am not always a social animal. Mary, however, is very outgoing and makes new friends easily. These days, we are attached at the hip… but it wasn’t always this way.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
After I received the diagnosis our lives changed. At the time, Mary Margaret and I were living in California, but this news caused a great sense of stress, so we relocated to Minnesota to be closer to family. Moving wasn’t difficult – it actually took a weight off our shoulders. Then one of my wife’s friends said “Why don’t you call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour helpline?” That really changed our lives. Not only have I become very involved in the Association, but so has Mary. During our career years, we really did very little together – now we do everything together. Our connection to the Alzheimer’s Association and shared commitment to raising awareness of the disease has brought us closer together as a couple.
Before I received the diagnosis, Mary and I were absorbed in our separate professional lives: She had her activities, and I had mine. If we got together on a Sunday, it was a big deal. It’s almost like we are dating all over again. She has turned me on to subjects I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and we have immersed ourselves in an eclectic series of programs. She is an avid reader and I’m not; however, through themed book presentations I have been able to learn something new with Mary, and that was a different experience for me. In turn, I have turned Mary on to the arts and now we are both passionate about visiting museums. There isn’t a local museum we haven’t been to!
We support each other. The experience for caregivers and care partners is unique to the relationship. Mary and I support each other on a daily basis; we have to. She is the social contact, the “hostess with the mostess”, and I am her assistant, you might say, helping in the ways I can. I’m not a terribly patient person, so I am trying to be more patient, which is the least I can do.
The biggest thing that I notice is her relationship with other caregivers. I have a deep respect for the sacrifices that caregivers make every day to support individuals like me who are living with the disease. Today, there are more than 15 million unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the United States. The role is demanding; they are our lifeblood.
Mary Margaret’s compassion extends beyond our relationship. She spends much of her free time talking with other caregivers; learning from others and offering support. She has hundreds of followers from all over the U.S. on Twitter, and she will refer articles to them to get feedback and exchange ideas. Compassion is in her genes! During National Caregiver Month, I want Mary Margaret and other caregivers to know that I am grateful. THANK YOU!
What makes a caregiver in your life special? Leave a comment here on the blog, or leave a tribute for a caregiver or care partner at the Caregiver Center.
About the blog author: Ken Lehmann is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 National Early-Stage Advisory Group (ESAG), and he pays tribute to his wife and very special care partner Mary Margaret during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. As an Advisor, Ken encourages others living with the disease to avoid worrying about the past, but to “live in the moment.”
While the diagnosis of any dementia including Alzheimer’s is devastating, it can also lead to positive changes.
- A recognition of the fragility of life and time can change priorities. Have you ever heard of anyone on their deathbed regretting they spent too much time with loved ones? Of course not. Getting a diagnosis like Alzheimer’s can lead to a mind shift, also known as a paradigm shift, in priorities.
- Living in the here and now rather than a future event. While living and planning for the future is important, it can be easy to get caught up in future plans to miss the daily miracles of life. And living each day as if you’ll never have the chance to make the same memories again can be a blessing. It can also become a way of life that is life-changing.
- Discovering you are not alone. Feeling alone is one of the hardest things about caregiving. It can also be one of the big challenges of dementia. When someone’s brain is affected by dementia, it can be frightening to not understand what’s happening. And to be unable to explain how you feel, let alone understand what’s happening. There are others who have walked in your shoes, and don’t want you to feel alone or frustrated.
And one easy place to start is with an Alzheimers Companion Card, explaining to waiters and other service folks that the person you’re with has Alzheimer’s — and what it means. Click here to get your Alzheimer’s Companion Cards now. They work for you and can make a wonderful gift for as caregiver or companion of someone with Alzheimer’s during National Family Caregiver Month.
From my heart to yours… Laugh Well, Love Well and Live Well!
Ina Gilmore, M.D. (Retired)
“The Knitting Dr.”