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Dementia Patient's Strange Request Foreshadows Tragedy

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One day when I arrived at the Alois Alzheimer Center to visit Ed, my delightfully colorful, wickedly eccentric beloved Romanian soul mate of 30 years, he was in bed asleep. He was often asleep when I arrived, but I was usually able to wake him and get him out of bed for a lively visit. So I called out his name. He opened his eyes and looked over at the housekeeper, Mary, who was mopping the floor.

"Isn't she beautiful?" he said, referring to me.

I was touched that even in his mentally-impaired state he could still make such spontaneous, loving comments.

Mary nodded in agreement then left, silently closing the door behind her.

I smiled, walked over to Ed's bed and handed him the large white teddy bear with curly fur I'd gotten for him at Walgreen's the day before.

Never tiring of receiving new stuffed animals, he took the bear in his arms, hugged it, caressed it, and kissed it several times.

"Do you like it?" I asked.

"Like it? I'm overcome with affection for him."

Seeing how much he loved all the stuffed animals I took him brought me joy.

"Do you want to get up?" I asked.

"Slee-py!" he called out loudly in a child-like voice.

That was a first. So I sat down on the bed and held his hand. He dozed intermittently, looking so tiny and frail in his little bed.

His breathing was strange. I'd never seen him breathe like that. He took several short breaths then he stopped breathing completely for several seconds. Each time he stopped breathing, I watched his chest intently, waiting to make sure it started moving again.

This is how it will end someday. He will be dozing like this and breathing like this and stopping to breathe like this and simply not take another breath.

We talked in between his intermittent dozing. Nothing important. We talked about whether he had breakfast that day (he said he didn't) and he told me again how beautiful I was. He also told me how wonderful it was that we were living in R-r-romania and that the facility where he was 'leev-ing' was f-r-r-ree.

"I have to go home now," I said after a while. I let go of his hand reluctantly and got up to put on my coat.

"When are you coming back?"

"Tomorrow," I answered, getting my gloves from my purse.

Every time I visited -- and I visited frequently -- I always said I was coming back 'tomorrow.' It made him happy and I knew he'd never know the difference.

But instead of saying, "Wonderful! Marvelous!" as always, he suddenly looked hurt and disappointed, as though I'd said I wasn't coming back for a month.

"Tomorrow?" he asked. "What do you have to do that's so important you can't come back until tomorrow?"

I didn't know what to say.

"Well, when do you want me to come back?" I finally asked.

"Today!"

"Okay," I said, playing along. "I'll come back today."

"Early today!" he added firmly.

"Yes," I said. "I'll come back early today!"

"Marvelous!" he said. "Wonderful!" he added.

He smiled, obviously convinced by my statement. His eyes twinkled as he kissed my hand, and when I left I turned and blew kisses to him and he blew kisses back to me.

As I left the building, I contemplated the fact that Gerald Ford had died just two days earlier at age 93. Reagan, another of Ed's heroes, had also died at age 93.

Ed was 93.

I have to admit I was a little superstitious.

I didn't go back to visit Ed again that day, of course. I'd said it just to please him as I'd always done.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, later than usual. I opened my journal file and started typing, keys softly clacking away in the otherwise silent house. I wrote about how worrisome Ed's breathing was and I noted how odd it was that he had insisted I come back "early today."

I paused to get my second cup of coffee. How much time did he have left? A year? More? Less? Who knew? I knew it was hard to predict with Alzheimer's. I finished my journal entry after revising it several times, true to my obsessive-compulsive nature, then clicked 'Save.' Another day's entry was complete.

Just then the jingling of my little Sanyo startled me. I walked over and picked it up from the file cabinet. The caller ID said it was the Alois Center.

Jeez. Why are they calling me so early on a Sunday morning?

I flipped open the phone.

"Hello," I said.

"Hello. Is this Marie Marley?" asked a woman whose voice I didn't recognize.

"Yes, it is," I answered.

"This is Joyce from the Alois Center. I'm afraid I have bad news for you."

Oh my God! Ed's fallen and broken a hip.

"Edward is gone," she said.

And thus ended a beautiful thirty-year love story.

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For more stories about Ed read my award-winning book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy, and visit my website, which has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers. A slightly different version of this post was published on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.