When we think about a person with Alzheimer's, we rarely think they could teach us anything about life, love or beauty. And in many cases, they don't.
I, however, was most fortunate. Ed, my beloved Romanian soul mate of 30 years, saw beauty in the staff at his long-term care facility and those who visited him there. He even found beauty in those who were not particularly attractive. He expressed it freely -- not only in words, but also by holding and kissing the hands of these people -- even his male visitors.
In addition, he felt that I was beautiful and he frequently told me how beautiful I was. So often that I actually asked him to stop at one point! He also expressed his love for me and it was far more often than he ever did before he developed Alzheimer's. I'd like to share some stories that illustrate these points.
Ed said repeatedly how lucky he was to be at the Alois Alzheimer Center and how joyful he was to have all the people there who took care of him. He thanked every person whenever they did anything for him -- no matter how small.
Mary, the housekeeper, went in one day and emptied his waste paper basket. He thanked her then kissed her hand.
"You are so beautiful and I am so lucky to have your help. I really mean it," he added. "It's from my heart -- not just words from my lips"
Saying that feelings were from his heart -- not just words from his lips -- was one of his hallmark behaviors. It was so endearing. And if this outpouring of affection and gratitude was just for her emptying the trash you can imagine what he said to his aides when they showered, shaved and dressed him!
A week later, I was signing out when Maria, the receptionist on duty that day, turned from her computer screen and told me, "I bet that Edward was a real lady's man in his day. Every time he comes up here he tells me I'm the most beautiful woman in the world, and that it's not just words from his lips -- but that he really means it from his heart."
Ed also saw beauty in his visitors. One day, I arrived and found our mutual friends, Dinny and Dick, just finishing up a visit with Ed. He was sitting on the sofa beside Dinny and holding her hand.
As they prepared to leave, he kissed Dinny's hand several times and said, while looking into her eyes, "Thanks you for coming. You are both so beautiful."
Another day, a close friend of mine, Rosa, came to visit. After I introduced them, Rosa sat on the sofa beside Ed. They took off having a lively discussion.
Then they suddenly stopped talking, held hands and looked at one another, gazing into each other's eyes. Ed finally spoke. He simply said what he was feeling.
"I'm looking at your face... I like it. You are so beautiful."
I was deeply moved to see that a man with Alzheimer's could make such a spontaneous and lovely response to a total stranger.
Ed also experienced and expressed his love for me. When I entered his room one day he said, "Oh! It's you Oh! I am so happy to see you. You're an angel!"
Then, he looked my eyes and said in a serious tone of voice, "Since I because [sic] in such high admiration of you, other beauties didn't exist."
Again, I was touched by his ability to express love in such a poetic way. Then I realized that no matter how advanced his dementia, Ed still had the innate capacity to feel and express love.
Finally, on still another occasion, I showed Ed several old photos I had found in his desk that morning. He studied each with interest. The last one was a picture of him with a woman standing behind him. She had her hands on his shoulders and her head was peeking around his, facing the camera.
"Ah... She loved me," he murmured, an affectionate expression on his face. He kept looking at the photo.
"What are you thinking?" I asked when he didn't say anything more.
"I'm thinking of love," he whispered.
"I am that woman and I still love you."
He looked up and gazed into my eyes the way he had done all those decades before when we were lovers. I couldn't tell if he was in the past or the present. I decided it didn't matter.
How wonderful it would be if we all experienced and expressed the beauty we see in people and the love we feel for them.
This is what I learned from my loved one with Alzheimer's.
For more about my relationship with Ed you can read my 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.