We save and celebrate the extraordinary – holidays, birthdays, an anniversary or graduation. But the ordinary, everyday things, made up of small moments, like a run to the store for groceries, a phone call from a friend, are not notable until something goes awry. A missed turn, the confusion on a loved one’s face, a misplaced word or item. Alzheimer’s is a disease that robs a family of the ordinary moments.
It was like that for this Marquette family. Fred, a retired Phys. Ed teacher in Marquette; Charlotte, his wife of 54 years; 13 grandkids, 2 great-grandchildren and 5 adult children, including Bobby – their youngest, who will celebrate his 40th birthday soon, a birthday no one thought he’d see when he was diagnosed as a baby with Down’s Syndrome.
Bobby is still Charlotte’s baby. You can see it in her eyes, even if she can’t reach out anymore, even if the words don’t come. Alzheimer’s has robbed this family of so much, but not their love and caring. “My kids are great,” Fred affirms. “They call me all the time to hear how Bobby is doing, that their Mom is okay, and that I’m not overdoing it. After Charlotte was first diagnosed, I was kinda lost. She is a wonderful wife and mother - the one who made the house a home. I didn’t know anything about cooking or shopping or paying the bills. When she got sick, Bobby and I both lost 15 pounds in the first 18 months! But it was one of those things where you don’t know how much you’re really doing until help arrives.”
That help came when Fred started attending the local Alzheimer’s support group for caregiver husbands. “They told me I needed to take care of myself, too. They told me to get help. I wasn’t too sure I wanted strangers coming into the house, but when the Doc (John English) told me about the respite caregivers coming to his home I decided to give them a call. They help with cooking, cleaning and laundry and also allow me to run errands and go to appointments while they’re here. I used to run to the store quick for milk, but my kids would tell me I couldn’t do that, that it was like leaving two young kids home alone.
Last summer U.P. Home Health and Hospice started coming too. At first, a therapist came out to teach Fred how to help Charlotte walk and to get her into and out of bed. Eventually, nurses, social workers, and home care aides became involved to help with Charlotte’s care. Volunteers arrive every Monday so Fred can go to the senior swim at the university pool. And more recently, Gala, the physical therapist, is working with Bobby to re-build his strength after a serious bout of pneumonia. The nurses are all angels in Fred’s eyes. “They have all been very helpful and I don’t know how I could do all this without their help. I am so thankful. Charlotte and Bobby just love having the same people coming week after week. They’re taking such good care of us, our kids aren’t worried anymore.”
And neither is Fred. “There’s nothing so special about us,” he protests. “There’s Bobby, sure – but you know, we are so lucky to have him. I think Bobby made us all better people.” And then Fred glances at Charlotte in her chair by the fireplace. His eyes and his voice both soften. “She understands me,” he says quietly, “even if she can’t speak. Bobby’s still her special one. She always said God gave us Bobby as the one who’d stay. And she was right!”
Ordinary families are made up of countless everyday acts of kindness - the kind of caring that U.P. Home Health and Hospice supports and nurtures. Like the way friends drop off cookies for Fred to share, and the way the kids telephone their dad to check up on Bobby, and to make sure that Charlotte is okay. And the way Bobby always says “Goodnight” until his mom gives him an answer. Ordinary family. Extraordinary lives.