In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we wanted to recognize real love in all of it’s forms. First, we’ll meet Tracy Reading and his wife, Pauli. Pauli was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 54, but Tracy’s unwavering love for her has never dimmed.
When have you experienced smiling, laughing, and loving all at the same time? My next question, is it possible?
From my perspective, not only is it possible, I have witnessed it myself for the past 12,775 days. I know that sounds overreaching, but it’s true. I met my wife Pauli 35 years ago. When I was young it was more about the infatuation, but as the time passed, each of these qualities blossom with more color and life. Sure we have had our challenges like everyone does, but we made a point to strive for these God given gifts everyday.
Our life together seemed like a fairy tale. But like any fairy tale, there was a darkness looming over. Roughly seven years ago, we had an intruder come into our lives trying to rob us of these simple joys. It’s name? Early On Set Alzheimer’s. Just like any villain, its purpose is to destroy happiness. However, this theft underestimated Pauli and me. Allow me to expand a little further. Pauli and I had a core belief in life that if we can strive these three qualities for ourselves and our family, no one could defeat us.
SMILING should be as easy as breathing, at least that is our philosophy. Every time we smile, we are providing a gift to the world. It’s one of the most selfless acts one can demonstrate in their life. Though Pauli is in the final stage of her journey, every time I walk into the room, she lights up like a fire fly with a huge smile. She no longer knows my name, but she knows that I belong to her. Whenever I see her smile, I know that I am loving her.
LAUGHING is good for the soul, at least some say that. I think it’s one step further; it’s good for our health. If you don’t have good health then it’s hard for our soul to shine. Though Pauli is winding down, she can still laugh. We no longer can travel the world, but we travel on our weekly Starbucks date. We love interacting with friends and strangers and we are always laughing.
LOVING is our God given right. If we don’t show our love then we are not living. As challenging as this disease has been, here is the silver lining: Pauli has taught me how to love. Love has shifted from our bed to holding hands, communicating with our eyes, and most important embracing each other.
My gut tells me that I will be saying goodbye to Pauli this year. As difficult as this is going to be, she has given me one extraordinary gift; herself. Pauli has been and will always be my beacon of light. Therefore, as the tears fall and dry, I will continue to smile, laugh, and love. After all that is what Pauli would expect out of me.
Next we want to introduce you to Minnie Fields, whose beloved mother, Roselia, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 77. Though Minnie has become her mother’s full-time caregiver, she has not forgotten the sense of unconditional love that her mother instilled within her.
Growing up I watched my mother be the caregiver to everyone: helping with my grandparents, taking care of her four daughters and husband, and being the go-to aunt whenever someone needed a medical observation. As a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), she was always ready to tend to all our cuts, scrapes, colds, or whatever the case might have been..
My mom was called by many names—Roselia, Mrs. Raymond, Peaches, Aunt Peaches and Rosie. But (Ms) Peaches is what she responds to because it is a name that was given out of love and fond affection.
My name is Minnie and this is my story. I never thought I’d find myself in the position of taking care of my mother. After all, mothers are there to take care of us. My mother was there whenever I found myself needing that non-judgmental opinion and reassurance that everything was going to be okay. She showed me unconditional love, she nurtured me, she took care of me, she was my crutch when I experienced challenges with my pregnancies, and never let me lose hope. She is the matriarch of four generations, followed by four daughters, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
And then at age 77, all that changed. Prior to her illness, we talked every day; either I would call her or she would call me. Then her calls stopped. My mother started forgetting the simplest things such as family member’s names and phone numbers. My whole world started to take a turn when I noticed little things out of the ordinary, such as bills not being paid, things being misplaced or not recognizing how to get to and from places she frequently visited. My most frightening moment was when my mom left to drop off mail at the post office, which was six blocks from her home, and was gone three hours. She later told me she was lost and couldn’t remember how to get back home. I retired from my job two months later to ensure this never happened again. Today I bathe her, dress her, feed her, hold her. But more than anything, I love her. I remember that woman who was always there and held my hand when I was hurt as a child, walked down the aisle on my wedding day 39 years ago, or was there for the birth of both my children.
When I sit and talk to her, although she doesn’t understand me anymore or know my name, I can still see the love in her eyes. This makes me smile and think about the love she used to show me every day and that makes me able to love her back.The thing about love is, if someone shows you its true meaning, you will always know how to give it back. Alzheimer’s and the lessons learned throughout this journey give me the opportunity to love my mother in a special way every day.