I rise early on this Friday, as I do every day, to prepare coffee and mix a protein shake. The television news plays quietly in the corner. Flossie, my wife, is still asleep.
Sometime after eight, she begins floating out of slumber. I bring the shake to her bedside, put the straw in her mouth and give her cheek a little pat as she begins to drink. Slowly the liquid recedes.
I sit there holding the glass, thinking about the past eight years. At first, she asked only an occasional incoherent or irrelevant question; otherwise she was normal. I tried for two years to find out what was wrong. She grew agitated, restless, defensive; she was constantly tired and unable to hold a conversation.
At last, a neurologist diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. He said he wasn’t sure-but a firm diagnosis could come only from examining brain tissue after death. There was no known cause for this malady. And no known cure.
I enrolled her in a day care center for adults. But she kept wandering off the property. We medicated her to keep her calm. Perhaps from receiving too much of one drug, she suffered a violent seizure that left her immeasurably worse: lethargic, incontinent and unable to speak
clearly or care for herself. My anguish gradually became resignation. I gave up any plans of retirement travel, recreation, visits to see the grandchildren-the golden era older people dream about.
The years have passed, and my days have become a routine, demanding, lonely, seemingly without accomplishment to measure. She has gradually dropped in strength and weight, from 125 pounds to 86. I take some time to work with a support group and to attend church, but the daily needs keep me feeding, bathing, diapering, changing beds, cleaning house, fixing meals, dressing and undressing her, whatever else a nurse and homemaker does, morning to night.
Occasionally, a word bubbles up from the muddled processes of Flossie’s diseased brain. Sometimes relevant, sometimes the name of a family member, or the name of an object. Just a single word.
On this Friday morning, after she finishes her shake, I give her some apple juice, then massage her arms and caress her forehead and cheeks. Most of the time, her eyes are closed, but today she looks up at me, and suddenly her mouth forms four words in a row.
“Do you want me?”
Perfect enunciation, softly spoken. I want to jump for joy.
“Of course I want you, Flossie!” I say, hugging and kissing her.
And so, after months of total silence, she has put together the most sincere question a human being can ask. She speaks, in a way, for people everywhere: those shackled by sin, addiction, hunger, thirst, mental illness, physical pain … frightened, enervated people afraid of the answer but desperate enough to frame the question anyway.
And, Flossie, I can answer you even more specifically. It may be difficult for you to understand what’s happening.
That’s why I’m here, to minister God’s love to you, to bring you wholeness, comfort and release. Mine are the hands God uses to do his work, just as he uses others’ hands in other places. In spite of our shortcomings, we strive to make people free, well and happy, blessing them with hope for the future while bringing protein shakes every morning.
Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul (Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark Donnelly, Chrissy Donnelly and Barbara De Angelis)