By Rosalys Peel
Every two minutes someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Most will face this discouraging illness with their wife, husband or partner at their side. And yet the typical “Alzheimer’s couple” has no idea how to make the most of what lies ahead.
This is the predicament my loving husband Michael and I found ourselves in when we discovered that Mike had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Over 35-plus years of marriage we had always dealt with problems together. But now we were advised to start preparing ourselves for the day when Mike would surely be moved from our home to an outside care facility. We simply weren’t ready to accept that.
“I don’t want to leave you and our home,” Mike told me—and so we made a deal. Despite all the scary stories we were hearing about this disease we decided to stand up to Alzheimer’s and defy the statistics as long as possible. Together we would go right on pursuing our hopes and dreams as husband and wife, confronting the disease together in our own home, and living the fullest life possible…for as long as possible.
Writing a book was the last thing on my mind at that time, but I did start keeping a journal. At first I was just trying to record new information and treatment advice from our doctor. But it turned out that journaling became a very empowering and comforting companion for me over the entire nine and a half years that Mike and I dealt with his Alzheimer’s.
My journal was a safe place where I could give words to my worries, concerns and fears. It’s where I logged the frustrations and setbacks that Mike and I encountered, but also where I recorded and celebrated our many victories, large and small. Day by day, my journal chronicled the astonishing power of mutual love, patience, compassion and stay-at-home care. Over time I became convinced that other couples and caregivers might be able to benefit from some of the new approaches Mike and I were learning.
Despite Mike’s illness we eventually exceeded virtually every typical Alzheimer’s expectation. Together, we travelled to several countries, helped care for our granddaughter, maintained our romance, kept Mike on his feet, celebrated every milestone, and found new ways to communicate with our friends, family and each other. We also saved countess thousands of dollars by caring for Mike in the familiar surroundings of our own home right up to the very end.
Mike eventually died, but he died as we all wish to die—with dignity and grace. And not before we had enjoyed nearly 10 full years of life, love and, yes, laughter together.
Gradually, there was the birth of a new idea in me. Looking back to when Mike was first diagnosed I could remember how I had searched the bookshelves in vain for a book that would help couples like Mike and me navigate the Alzheimer’s journey together. Later, I had a chance meeting with an experienced and caring writer who gave me this quote by author Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
I took that quote to heart and set out to write Mike & Me as my gift to other Alzheimer’s couples and their families who are just now starting their journey. While the word Alzheimer’s usually triggers pessimistic feelings, Mike & Me is an optimistic book, and for good reason. It chronicles the changing face of home care among Alzheimer’s couples. And it shows how the astonishing power of love, patience, compassion and stay-at-home care can help Alzheimer’s patients defy the usual statistics and live a longer, fuller, happier life despite this discouraging disease.
Writing this book has been a work of heart, and I know Mike would be happy that what we learned together on our Alzheimer’s journey is now helping other couples, families and caregivers.
About the Author
Rosalys Peel is a Registered Nurse, a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator, and a Gottman-certified couples’ relationship facilitator. She teaches classes at Seattle’s prestigious Swedish Medical Center and has been featured on NPR and The Today Show. She remains a tireless teacher, writer and speaker, and a caring advocate for Alzheimer’s couples, families and caregivers everywhere.
In more good news, Mike and Me has been named a Finalist in the 21st annual Foreword INDIES “Book of the Year Awards.”
Connect with Rosalys Peel
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Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors, the global community of writers sharing their personal Alzheimer’s and dementia stories to light the way for others.