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Dear John: A Love Story
by J.J. Reneaux

      I was on tour California when I had the nightmare. One night I dreamt that my mother lay beside me on the floor. A clear, plastic-like shroud tightly covered her body. I could see she could not breathe or speak. In my dream, I desperately tried to make an opening in that horrible shroud, but no matter how I struggled I could not bring her air and life. I waked up with a sense of foreboding which I tried to shake off. It was just a dream, I said to myself. No sooner had I uttered the words than I heard my mothers voice answer me. Never tell a dream until you have three sips of coffee or the dream will come true.

       Before I had a chance to sip my coffee, I received an urgent telephone message to call my sister. It was a cold morning in February as I stood at the pay phone and heard the chilling news. Something was wrong with Momma. My sister was with her in NC. Had taken her to see a specialist. Dementia. Alzheimer's Disease. In the swirl of words I recalled the dream of my mother suffocating, unable to communicate, suffering within her clear shroud. I knew I had been visited by a premonition.

       Even with warning, there is no way to prepare for the emotional roller coaster ride of Alzheimer's Disease. As troubled as I was that grey morning, I had no idea of the pain that was to come. For the next seven months my sister and I watched as our mother raged without reason and sunk deeper into despair. Fear and anxiety tortured her. Her short term memory loss made her paranoid. She trusted no one and felt abandoned by everyone, even with her family at her side. We tried everything possible to help her: hospitalization, live-in companions, taking care of her ourselves, assisted living. Nothing worked. There was no cure, no relief for her suffering. At last, as our own lives and families were increasingly falling apart, my sister and I made a hard and painful decision. We could not care for our mother any longer. She must be placed in a facility that specialized in caring for people who were in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia.

       The guilt that accompanied this decision weighed upon our hearts like lead. But there was no choices left. We had to have help or we would lose our health, our jobs, and our families trying to cope with Mom's needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In September, we moved Mom into a cozy room which we tried to make more home-like with her special things. We were prepared for a slow but progressive downward spiral. What we got was nothing short of a miracle.

       At first my mother was miserable and so frightened. Then she began to receive a new medicine which helped to chase away the anxiety that crawled under her skin like ants. But the real miracle drug was yet to come. Who would have thought it would come packaged in a handsome 84 year old retired doctor, who like Mom, was diagnosed with AD/D. Before long, Mom and Dr. John discovered the healing power of a pure and simple love.

       Today, Mom and Dr. John are inseparable. They are the best of friends and sweethearts. There has been no cure for their dementia but it is more bearable for they have each other and the moment. There is no tense for them but the present and they live in it fully, joyfully, lovingly. Together they watch TV, go for strolls, enjoy meals and activities with friends from their little community. My sister and her children regularly take them home for Sunday dinner or for a special event or concert. They receive mail and phone calls from me and my children. I visit as often as I am able. Mom and Dr. John both enjoy reasonably good physical health. They are happier than a great many of the people you will meet on the street today.

       In time their memory will fade further and with it they may lose their ability to recall the faces and names of those dearest to them. But I no longer fear that time for our unlikely Romeo and Juliet are truly living Shakespeare's words: What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And like the rose slumbering in the cold winter grey dreams of summer sun, Mom and Dr. John may lose the memory of many things, but they will always remember love.

       To Mom and Doc' John. I Love You. Happy Valentine's Day.

-- JJ Reneaux
©1999






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