Valentine’s Day is a little over a month away and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by so much love in my life. Love from my husband and children, other family members, my friends, even my colleagues. Traditional spouses are planning to buy chocolate and flowers for their loves for Valentine’s Day. More modern couples may try to outdo one another with gifts or pick something absolutely perfect for their significant other.
I’ve worked in the health care industry since 1999. When I first started, I knew nothing about how the mind of one with dementia worked. I do, however, remember the moment it started to click for me. It was early February of 2001 where Ed and Lucy moved into the Assisted Living that I was working in. Lucy had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Ed told me they had been married 65 years and their love story was absolutely sweet and endearing.
On Valentine’s Day we had a party for the couples who lived at the facility and to show even those residents who had lost spouses that the staffed loved them. Some even reminisced about the love they shared with their spouse who had passed. Everyone had a great time. We had an entertainer who played wonderful love songs and music and lovely snacks we all shared. It was a lovely Valentine’s Day as far as Valentine’s Days go.
We invited Ed and Lucy to the party since they were married 65 years and they had a wonderful love story to share. Ed came to the party and he was visibly frustrated, walking a little bit ahead of Lucy. A few feet behind him was Lucy who was yelling, “Pop! Wait for me! Where are we going?” It took a moment for me to realize that Lucy was addressing Ed as “Pop”. At this point I thought maybe this was a name she called her husband. I welcomed them to the party and found them a seat. Ed raised his voice to her and said, “Lucy, I am not your father! I am your husband. Stop calling me ‘Pop’!”
It was then apparent that Lucy did not recognize Ed as her husband. You see, Lucy couldn’t picture herself married to this 87-year-old man. In her mind, She was about fifteen years old on most days, sometimes she was closer to 25 and she clearly remembered the love she shared with her husband, Ed. He was a handsome, strong WWII Vet who came home to her and with whom she created her love story. The love story that they share was absolutely sweet and endearing as I mentioned earlier. But Lucy’s love story stopped way before Ed’s did in her broken mind. So looking at Ed and how old he is, he couldn’t possibly be her husband. Her husband was young and handsome! Not an “old man” as she explained to me one day in an anxious state. This was so hard for Ed to hear day after day. Lucy was still the love of his life. The progression of her disease made it very hard for Ed to show that love every day. Once he was with staff that taught him how to manage Lucy’s behavior, he tolerated these moments much better. He learned to “join Lucy’s journey” and when she called him Pop, he would answer her and not get as mad as he did when they first moved in. It took some adjusting, but he continued to show her love, on Valentine’s Day and every day.
What should you do if your spouse no longer recognizes the love that you have shared? Does your spouse has Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of dementia and are they not able to remember the little things you share between you as a couple? Does Ed and Lucy’s story hit home for you? There are professionals to help in situations like this who can help you manage some of these challenging behaviors. Please email email@example.com if you would like to be put in touch with a Dementia Practitioner in your area who can help you through such a situation. Remember, this is the disease that causes these behaviors. It’s not a personalized attack from your loved one. (Although sometimes it can feel like that)
We would love to hear your love story if you are willing to share it! Are you over 65 and have a love story to share from past or present? We would love to hear from you. Please email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. You do not have to share your name or any personal information to share your story. We are just looking to share love stories this Valentine’s Day. Ed and Lucy’s story inspired me many years ago and I will never forget the love they shared. Yes, it did change a little as Lucy’s disease progressed, but it didn’t change the love story they shared for 65 years or the powerful love that they shared. <3