We struggled to keep the connection between us. We had said we wanted to travel. Well, we would. The two of us took day trips to scenic places along Lake Superior; we crossed the international border for an overnight trip from Fort Francis to Thunder Bay, Canada. We planned for the spring of 1997: in April a trip to Florida by plane, then by train to South Carolina to see Dan’s sister and on to New Jersey to visit his mother in a nursing home; in May a long-dreamed-of trip to Scotland. Travel did not lessen the reality of Alzheimer’s. Dan thanked me for arranging our trip to Scotland, but after we returned, life became more difficult. As we descended into the confusing, unfamiliar landscape of Alzheimer’s, Dan’s fear and confusion turned to anger. My hardest lesson was to learn to accept unreasonable anger directed at me. Dan and I argued during our nearly forty years of marriage, not always gently, but on both sides there was an attempt at rationality, a recognition of lines we would not cross. That summer of 1997, Dan became physically aggressive, would shove me or act threateningly, and was irrational when things upset him. My tolerance diminished.
“Why don’t you just kill me,” he shouted at me.
I considered: Why not end it for both of us? Why not go out together, now? Get in the car, turn on the motor. Go to sleep. (Now I think of the grandchildren I would not have known, the family gatherings, the joy of remembering, the pain my children would have felt.)
A friend called me often, sensing my despair. My children called to see how I was doing. Their voices through the phone became invisible threads, holding me in place, but I knew I must seek help.
I put an advertisement in the paper for someone to come twelve hours a week as a “companion,” and the irrepressible Liz responded. I had advertised for a person to take Dan fishing and hiking. Liz did not like outdoor activities, but she brought other things into our lives. She understood Dan’s frustration and anger and helped me to be more accepting. She was fast-talking and funny. She loved to drive, and Dan loved to ride. They were obviously a team as they covered the country roads, picnicked at parks, toured zoos and museums and stopped for Dairy Queen Blizzards. I always envisioned them like Toad and his friends in Wind in the Willows flying over the landscape in Toad’s motorcar.