For three years I had watched Alzheimer’s disease slowly and robotically erase the mind of Martha, my wife and best friend. All I could do is stand by helplessly as the steady “woosh-woosh” of that eraser inside her head moved back and forth. My first wife, Loretta, had died of melanoma thirteen years before. I learned how to administer her IVs and give her injections.
But Alzheimer’s was a world I had only heard of. Now I understood why it’s called the “The Long Good-bye.” Once it grabs hold of someone, it does not let go. It cannot be slowed; it cannot be driven into remission; it cannot be cured. It feeds on its host until it kills her.
An Unlikely Couple
Marty and I knew each other from church, where we were both members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She was a widow, and about two years after Loretta passed, we went out to dinner together. We were an unlikely couple, yes, but God gave us as gifts to each other.
Marty had played the piano since she was a child and was quite an accomplished pianist. She was so good at it that she was substituting as the organist at her church when she was in sixth grade. During the summer and fall of 2014 I became concerned that she might forget how to play. Her doctors confirmed that, indeed, she might forget.
A few days later, those concerns became a worry I could leave for the future. I was in my cluttered, paper-strewn home office staring at the computer monitor when piano music began filling the house. I leaned back, and listened. After a few moments I realized this was not the usual Marty. This was a transcendent Marty playing the most beautiful music I had ever heard from her. “Autumn Leaves” filled the rooms, followed by “That Old Feeling” and then, my favorite, Chopin’s Major in E Flat.
I crept into the hallway, and watched — saw her lost within the music she was bringing forth from that old piano. It was like watching one of God’s magnificent flowers breaking into full bloom.
I Began Recording
Realizing that these moments were now fleeting and might soon be no more, I began recording her with my phone, knowing that when she did forget how to play and did not recognize the piano or maybe even me, the music will still be here.
I thought then: That is when I will play it for her. Maybe, just maybe, from whatever world her mind has traveled, she will hear it, listen and smile. I will smile back, realizing I have been blessed to taking care of one of God’s treasured daughters.
Larry Peterson, Sr., writes for a number of Catholic sites and has written three novels and one children’s book. You can find them at cradlingcatholic.com. He has been widowed twice and has three children and six grandchildren who live within three miles of each other in Florida. “Alzheimer’s Stole My Wife” is a shorter version of a column that appeared on Aleteia, for which he writes regularly.