Tom and June have been together for 64 remarkable years. They met when he was a Midshipman at The Naval Academy and she was completing nursing school. It was a blind date and two weeks after they met he proposed and she accepted. To this day she’ll tell you she has no idea why she said yes. Two years later, they were married and off to Pensacola, Florida so he could participate in Naval Flight Training. Three children, 30 moves and twenty five years later the Captain and his bride settled into a beautiful home they literally built together in Florida, near his last duty station.
The next chapter of their life together turned out to be everything they hoped it would. Plenty of golf for him, plenty of church and community involvement for her and of course lots of time for their children, grand children and great grandchildren.
It’s no secret that there’s no cure for aging and it came as no surprise to anyone that as the years ticked off, they began to slow down. What no one had anticipated however was the toll the dementia he developed would take on his bride and his children. Suddenly they all found themselves in a very steep learning curve as they tried to understand what was happening and why as well as how to deal with it. This tall, dark, handsome and accomplished Naval Officer that once flew for the Navy in Korea and ran Air Operations on two different Aircraft Carriers, now needed help to navigate to the bathroom. More importantly, she was now using her nursing skills in a way she had never imagined. The bigger problem though is that she’s now 87 and caring for him on a one on one basis was putting her in harms way.
The idea of “breaking up the set” was unimaginable. Unimaginable until everyone realized that June was about to become one of those 30% of “at home caregivers” that pre-decease the people they are caring for. Theirs was an unselfish love and that’s why when I asked her if she thought he would be OK with her putting herself at risk for him she quickly answered no. I also received a number of telephone calls from the children who needed to understand that The Captain had reached a level of care that mom could no longer accommodate and it was time to transition him into a more supportive environment. For the 91 year old Naval veteran that meant a dedicated environment for those with Alzheimer’s dementia. With the help of her children, June did her homework and found a wonderful community for her husband. As you can imagine, it was a difficult adjustment for her as that house they literally built together suddenly became very big and very empty. However, she quickly realized that she didn’t have to worry about him if she wasn’t near by, that she could rejoin some of her church committees and not have to worry about him every time she left the room. She could go shopping with her daughters and grand daughters, in short, her quality of life improved and so did his. In those early days after the transition, she would make it a point to visit him every day and feel sad when she left him. Then she learned how much fun he was having participating in the many special activities and getting all of the care and attention from the staff that appear to love him as much as she does. Sadly, The Captain got to “Rest His Oars” on May 2, 2014.
Making the decision to transition a loved one from home to either a dedicated community for Alzheimer’s care or a Nursing home is not an easy one to make. Reminding yourself that your loved one will be receiving a quality of care that they could never receive at home and that your quality of life improves as well, should help with the decision.