Soon after moving into current home Joe walked out front to trim bushes and met next door neighbors, lady and gentleman both about eighty. She introduced herself and said, “This is George.” Joe said hello and enjoyed lady’s vivacity and charm but thought what rude bastard husband was, bearing silly semi-smile and not looking at him.
Soon Joe saw lady again, and she came over and said, “I don’t know if you noticed, George has Alzheimer’s.”
“I didn’t realize but thought he seemed little detached.”
Sometimes Joe saw lady outside and waved. Husband was never present and Joe didn’t inquire. About year later she came over and asked if wanted to split cost replacing sagging wood fence separating backyards. Joe thanked for good idea but explained mortgage way underwater and couldn’t pour any more into house.
She understood and moved on to say, “George died last month. He’d gotten so didn’t know me and pushed and hit. I just couldn’t handle and had to get help. He’d always been best man. Now I’m having heart trouble. I know it’s stress of watching husband lose mind.”
Joe agreed she’d borne something terrible, and thought about woman whose mother-in-law used to block door to only bathroom in apartment and punch her and how she hated living that way but husband refused to institutionalize mother, saying she’d decline much faster. And he wondered if Ronald Reagan, genial man who adored wife, had in dementia ever gotten rough with Nancy.
Joe also thought about Glen Campbell, guy famous for smilin’ and country singin’, being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and immediately announcing farewell tour, brave commitment. Later Campbell looked happy and sang well on PBS at age seventy-five.
And then Pat Summitt, John Wooden of women’s basketball and coach of eight national champions at University of Tennessee, following season disrupted by uncharacteristic moods and lapses, announced she’d been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Summitt, age fifty-nine, same as Joe, said she’s going to keep charging, and lead team next season, aided by medications, bedtime reading, puzzle solving, and assistants suddenly bearing more.