Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Loss Of A Husband To Alzheimer's Disease

April 12, 1999

A friend, Emily McLaws, experienced her husband Monte's Alzheimer Disease from its earliest signs in 1987 to his death in 1996. Emily has sent me a manuscript of a book she's written about what she has been through. In the book she includes poetry to describe her feelings. With her permission, I selected a few of her poems that describe how Alzheimer's altered their relationship as husband and wife. When her book is published, I will announce it in my column.

Early Signs
His emotions would explode
Like a string of firecrackers
Which took me by surprise
Leaving nerves taunt and tense
Wary and on edge
Pummeled by raw meat
Struck by the tenderizing hammer
Until I learned to save myself
By building a wall around my feelings
Causing him to ask
Where the sweet girl he married had gone
Leaving me to wonder the same.

Will I ever get over
The feeling of disappointment
Of thinking
You might be better
When I only find you worse?

Alzheimers is a trap
Where the afflicted,
Unable to express or control
The fear of encroaching disability
Caging them,
Cling to those who care
Trapping them in their grasp.

Cruel Choice
It seems a cruel choice!
How do you choose to be a widow
without a death?
But going on in limbo
to spend your life alone
while he lives on in oblivion to you.
And you carry the memories of years of married life
of children loved, problems solved,
Of life's ebbs and flows
feeling only half.

The nightmare I had
Where I slowly bled to death
Feels a fitting symbol
For my life ahead,
Where, Monte, in my dream
Was killed but did not die.

It hurts
to see people
avoiding you.
the raging man that they see
is you
while inside somewhere
the gentle man that I knew.

Our Love
He was better than I in telling of his love.
I was like Golda.
I baked his bread, cut his hair, had his children,
letting that speak of mine.
Over thirty-three years of married life,
we were companions, lover and friends.
Now, how do we say goodby
when we are not gone
but, living in separate worlds,
he, in the nursing home,
I, at home?
The memory of our life together
filling my thoughts and causing my pain to grow
While his task is forgetting us
and gaining some peace.

Grief Work
They may not understand
As I carry on Life's business
While you die lying
That I have been doing it for many months,
As you have left me bit by bit,
I have learned to grieve
As I work.

Do they wonder
Why I do not wail and cry
And shed tears of sadness
At your leaving me?
You left me long ago
but are just now
Saying goodbye.