Ed, my colorful Romanian life partner, was a resident at Cincinnati's Alois Alzheimer Center. They had four wings, each one providing a different level of care. He had started out in what they called Assisted Living, the level for people who needed the least amount of care, but only lasted there for a month. Then he was moved to the Courtyard, for residents who needed more care. And finally, as his illness advanced, he had to be moved to the third level, the Terrace. On the day of that move, I went out to visit him to see how he was adjusting. I wasn't prepared for what I found.
"I want to go home," Ed kept repeating plaintively to me and everyone who passed by.
He was sitting on a little padded bench outside his new room. He looked bewildered. I felt faint and terribly guilty. I felt as though I'd ripped him away from everything that had become familiar to him. From what he'd come to accept as his "home."
I couldn't begin to imagine how confused and lost he must be feeling, and there was nothing I could do to make it better.
Seeing my tearful state, Janelle, the Terrace aide who would soon become my favorite, looked at me with compassion, squeezed my hand and said, "He'll be OK. You'll see."
I would soon learn that the aides in the Terrace were the most empathic of them all.
The instant I woke up the next morning, I heard Ed's melancholy voice in my head, repeating over and over, "I want to go home."
I drove to Alois with a new stuffed animal, hoping it might bring Ed some comfort. He loved getting stuffed animals.
I ran into Janelle outside Ed's new room. Dressed in teal scrubs that flattered her mocha skin, her black hair was intricately woven. She had an ever-present radiant smile -- a smile so serene I always assumed it was spiritually inspired.
"How's he doing today?" I asked, expecting the worst.
"Oh, he's fine," she said with a little laugh. "He stopped asking to go home."
"He what?" I asked, stupefied.
"Yeah. He's already forgotten he was moved and he's settled into his new room as though nothing's changed. He's in a real good mood this morning," she said, eyes twinkling. "Go in and see for yourself!"
I stopped in my tracks and let her statements sink in. "So I'm the only one who's still suffering," I said.
"Yes. It's often like that. Residents often adjust to being moved to new rooms more easily than their loved ones do."
"Ann, the social worker, told me that, too," I said, exhaling forcefully and leaning against the wall. "I guess that may be one of the benefits of dementia. You quickly forget painful things that happen to you," I said, mostly to myself.
Even though he had forgotten about the move, the sound of his voice asking to go home reverberated in my head and troubled me for days. This just goes to show that sometimes we suffer more than the person with Alzheimer's.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.