But I haven’t yet told you the most amazing thing about him. It’s not that he started taking singing lessons around age 90, and then gave monthly performances at his assisted-living facility. It’s not the extraordinary kindness and appreciation he showed me when I played the piano there.
By the time I met Walt, he’d been widowed for about 5 years. His wife died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. For a while, he had cared for her at home. When that became impossible, he decided he needed to move her into a dementia facility.
She resisted. In fact, she became so distressed by the idea that he put it off for a while.
But eventually, Walt had to do it. And here’s that most amazing thing: To make the move less distressing for his wife, he moved into the memory-care facility with her.
He didn’t live in a different wing among people he could have normal conversations with. He lived with people just like his wife, people whose brains were being ravaged by dementia.
They say that the best way to interact with people suffering from dementia is to enter their world, their reality. Don’t correct them when they say something wild, like “Bob is taking me out to dinner tonight.” Bob, her husband, who died in 1990.
Just go with it: “Are you? That sounds like fun. I hope you have a good time.”
Well, Walt certainly entered his wife’s world.
He lived with her in the dementia unit for about a year, until she died. I can’t imagine what that experience was like for him. He had been a physician—the kind we used to call a GP. His brain remained sharp until the end.
At Walt’s memorial service, his daughters talked about his time living with their mother in the dementia facility. One daughter summed it up this way: “That’s when I really knew what love was.”
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey