Alzheimer’s: Pain and Tragedy

I got a surprise email recently from a friend in Arizona. I’d not heard from him since I had an unpleasant conversation with his wife three years ago. I tried to leave on a pleasant note and I remember hugging her as we parted. When I left their home later that night, I hoped I would hear from either of them, but I got not a peep. Given the manner of the parting, I felt the next move should be theirs, but it never came. Until a few days ago …

I saw an email reply to a notice I’d posted about a recent photo safari I’d been on. The reply informed me that a couple of weeks ago my friend of more than 45 years had taken her own life. I learned she had contracted Alzheimer’s and she knew there was no nice outcome. She’d recently read a book called “The 36 Hour Day” which included some brutally honest and accurate descriptions of what the disease’s road map had in store for her. She apparently decided it was not something she wanted to put herself or her husband through.

I’d known this woman since 1971 or ‘72. I drove from San Diego to Louisiana with her and a good friend of mine, and attended their wedding. I saw them through a part of their lives where children were born. I saw the marriage break up. She married again, but I never met her second husband. There was a long gap in our contact, but a few years ago we reconnected at a memorial for a mutual friend who’d passed away. The memorial was a lovely affair. I was able to visit and catch up with many old friends. That afternoon, she kept telling me of her third husband, and how happy she was in the relationship. She kept insisting I should meet him. Ultimately I meet her new man, and it came as a nice surprise how well he and I hit it off. We became instant brothers.

I believe once she decided to end her life, she knew she had to find a distraction to keep her husband from intervening and prevent the result she sought. She manufactured an argument with her husband as a means to be on her own for a few days. Because of her disease, he was destined for a future of pain, and though he’d have gladly endured the hardships ahead, she did not want to lose control of her life. The road ahead would have led to a state of existence where she’d lose her capacity to act on her own free-will. Instead, she took control and ended her life on her own terms. Her loving husband is a victim of severe pain due to his wife’s decision. I believe he will heal with time, but for now he suffers the pain and loss of his friend and lover. I can only imagine she must have believed he was bound to suffer the pain of her passing anyway. She must have thought it better to spare them both the harsh realities of the final stages of the disease.

I’ll miss my friend. I’ll remember her smile and her laughter. I believe she will always be here in our memories.