Ed, my beloved Romanian life partner, had Alzheimer's for the last seven years of our 30-year relationship and was living at Cincinnati's Alois Alzheimer Center. I'd been visiting him only on Sundays because I'd been preoccupied with my work. I just hadn't had time to visit more often. But one day I decided to go see Ed anyway although it was Saturday.
When I arrived I hurried into the building and found Ed in bed asleep. He was lying on his back with his mouth open. His beige blanket was pulled up under his chin, covering every square inch of him except his head. He looked so frail in his tiny bed.
He was often asleep when I arrived, but I was usually able to wake him up and get him out of bed for a lively visit. So I called out his name. He opened his eyes then looked over at Mary, the housekeeper, who was silently mopping the floor.
"Isn't she beautiful?" he said, referring to me.
Mary smiled and nodded.
"Do you want to get up?" I asked.
"Sleepy!" he called out loudly in a child-like voice.
That was a first. I sat down on the bed and held his hand. We hadn't held hands since we were romantically involved all those years ago. But I felt like holding his hand that day. He dozed intermittently.
His breathing seemed strange. He took several short breaths - huffing and puffing like someone who'd just run up several flights of stairs - 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 told me how beautiful I was, and he told me how wonderful it was that we were living in Romania and that the facility where he was living was free.
"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.
But instead of saying, "Marvelous!" as always, he suddenly looked 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?"
"Well, when do you want me to come back?" I asked.
"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.
He smiled, obviously convinced by my statement. He kissed my hand, and when I left I turned and blew kisses to him and he blew kisses back to me.
Back down the hallway I went, then through the lobby. 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 had 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'd always known he'd never know the difference.
I woke up at 8:30 the next morning, later than usual. I made coffee and enjoyed that first cup while sitting at my desk. I opened my journal file and started typing. I wrote about how worrisome his breathing was. I noted how odd it was that Ed had insisted I come back "today - early today."
The jingling of my little Sanyo startled me. Caller ID said it was the Alois Center.
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 out of his wheelchair and seriously injured himself.
"Edward is gone."
And thus ended a beautiful 30-year relationship.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (www.ComeBackEarlyToday.com) has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.