Ten years ago, Alzheimer’s was something that affected other families. I heard stories about it. I heard about the hardships and heartbreak, but it didn’t really affect me the way it does now. It was a disease other people were dealing with. I’ll never forget when my father n law was first diagnosed with dementia. My husband was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and during a satellite phone call home to his family, one of his brothers informed him that their dad was diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. I think in my own mind, I believed it wouldn’t progress and that somehow it may even go away. I think all of the family felt this way. But it didn’t go away and sadly it has progressed. Alzheimer’s is tragic, no matter what the circumstances are. What makes Pito’s (Spanish nick-name for grandfather) situation so sad is that his mind was his life. You see, Pito was a medical doctor that specialized in pediatrics and family practice. He loved children and loved helping the sick be healed. When he was at home after seeing patients at his office and the hospital all he did was read, to stay current with today’s medicine. He loved reading, he always said it exercises, stimulates, and challenges one’s mind. He was also a very active adult. He loved to play tennis. He taught all his boys to play tennis when they were very young and continued to play with them as they grew into adults. I remember playing with him when my husband and I were dating. At that time he was in his mid-60′s and he still moved around the court like a teen. My mother n law and he would also frequently go on walks together, holding hands and sharing memories of their boys and life.
My husband and I moved our family back to our hometown in 2011. Before moving home, I think we still felt some separation from the disease. We had no idea how hard the daily life with Pito was, nor did we have any idea how quickly things would progress and change. I still do not think we can ever really understand what my mother n law goes through emotionally and physically caring for her husband. Sadly, he has progressed to the point where he mostly doesn’t recognize his wife of over 40 years and his four sons. He now just sits around his house, talking to himself and to photos on the walls. He’ll be 80 this year and his age is finally showing. My mother n law still takes care of him in the home where they raised their four children. She tries to keep him active by taking him walking daily along the same path they’ve walked thousands of times over the 40 years they’ve lived in our hometown. He walks slowly now and gets winded quickly, but is still by his wife’s side, holding her hand. My mother n law would not be able to maintain her sanity and strength if it were not for her faith in God. It amazes me that even with her husband slowly slipping away, she still seeks to serve others. She will call and ask if she can cook us dinner, take care of the children, or even do our laundry. She truly exemplifies selflessness and is such a godly role model for me, her boys, and grandchildren. She has good and bad days with Pito, but she says that she would rather have him like this than not at all. Even through the heartbreak of Pito not recognizing her, the woman he courted as a nurse in the hospital where he worked after graduating from medical school, she still manages to love and serve him. She says he deserves this, for being such a devoted loving husband and father for so many years. She vows to be by his side until the end. Love endures all….
As I have witnessed Pito progressing, I felt God pushing me to capture him through the lens. His life at home, with his adoring wife, sons, and seven grandchildren. I wanted to be able to capture moments of him now–not always pretty moments, but his life as it is. I feel our family needs these memories. These memories are a part of his story, just as much as his childhood memories are.
Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
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