My wife, Kathy, told our daughter, Amy, and our granddaughter, Jennifer, a year ago that she “wanted to go to the sky to live forever.” She got her wish Tuesday, May 28, about 11:30 a.m. soon after receiving the last rites of the Catholic church.
After I retired from 20 years of auto sales July 30, 2003, Kathy decided we needed a vacation and we went to Seattle to see her brother, Tim Cadieux. As we drove in six lanes of traffic in Seattle, Kathy sought telephone directions from her brother. “You just missed our turnoff,” she exclaimed.
I commented, perhaps not so calmly, that it would seem pertinent to let me know just what turnoff I needed to turn at to get off that highway. She said she would let me know and she sure did, right after I passed the next exit. She was not happy to relinquish the phone so that I could hear directions from her brother.
Then and there, 16 years ago, I knew there was trouble ahead and not just Seattle traffic.
Kathy had always known where we were going and when. We went to Mankato to a nephew’s wedding in October 2003 and highway navigation was up to me as, by now, east and west were the same to my bride. She had no concern for directions.
The world continued to turn oh so slowly, until one night I went into the kitchen to inquire about dinner to find her sobbing at the stove. She could not remember how to turn on a burner to fix dinner. I became navigator and cook and soon, wardrobe assistant.
Someone mentioned to me that the picture of Kathy on her memorial card at the Goglin Funeral Home visitation “did not look like Kathy.” I responded that was because she had had Alzheimer’s disease for nine years which took a toll on her appearance.
The picture that drew the comment was from our 40th wedding anniversary portrait done in 2011. I thought it was an excellent picture. But few knew at that time that Kathy could not dress herself. As wardrobe assistant, I had to find undergarments and socks and shoes and slacks and blouse and earrings and necklace, as well as a little lipstick and color for her cheeks, and comb the hair. Then we were ready to go out.
When Kathy’s sister, Cele Baker, and her brother, Tim, took us out for her birthday lunch Feb. 11, 2016, they noticed how much trouble Kathy was having trying to eat. Cele took me aside and said it was time for a nursing home. I readily agreed.
But Kathy was not ready to leave her home. I explained that the doorways of our old home were not wide enough for her to navigate with her walker and that it was time to go. As we turned into the nursing home driveway, the longtime social worker said, “Well, I guess I have taken care of a lot of people and now it is time for someone to take care of me.” Situation resolved — for the time being.
Kathy had a very nice room in the Dakota Neighborhood, a new section of Sister James Nursing Home. She was provided excellent care — but every morning she said she wanted to go home. Not an unusual request from nursing home clients.
But when I came to visit Friday morning, May 24, Kathy was dressed but did not want to go to breakfast. A staff member placed her in her recliner and when Kathy could not drink her, by then, favorite beverage and only nourishment, strawberry Ensure, I realized we had a problem.
She began to fail and I was called by staff Sunday afternoon and I spent the next two nights with her as she struggled to get her breath. Our daughter, Amy, and her daughter, Jenny, left work and came to visit. Kathy’s sister, Cele and Jim Baker, and brother, Tim Cadieux, were there each day.
When Amy came to visit Tuesday at 10 a.m., she told me to go home, shower, change and come back. I instead went to Mass and told Fr. Michael Schmitz that Kathy was really beginning to fail. Following Mass, he came to her room and administered the last rites of the Catholic Church. I touched Kathy’s forehead, told her Fr. Mike had done his job and that she had done hers and that she could go to sleep, and she did.
I looked around to learn Amy had left the room. I walked fast to find her and brought her back. Sobbing, Amy clutched her mother’s hand. Kathy took two more breaths and was gone from us.
A more profound writer than myself referred to Alzheimer’s as “the long goodbye.”
Sixteen years? Really? Or more like almost 48 years. In 1971, we were young, danced at the Elks Lodge and drove around in Kathy’s bright blue, two-door hardtop 1971 Olds Cutlass and promised “until death do us part.” With God’s Almighty grace, we did.