IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
That’s the title of a film I watched many years ago. These words also applied to our fifty years of marriage. She was the love of my life.
In 2006 I noticed a change in her short-term memory. She was sixty-six at this time. We were having our lawns mowed and she would come outside and call out ‘Craig, would you like a cup of tea’. Craig always replied ‘No thank you!’ and my dear would return inside and then immediately come outside again and ask the same question and receive the same reply. This was a regular occurrence and became more frequent, as with other matters.
It was at this stage that I suggested that she forfeit her driver’s license.
In 2007 things began to change more severely. Before leaving the waiting room for a medical appointment she would ask me, ‘What was the day’ and ‘the date of her birthday’. Her memory was really declining.
On one occasion she decided to take our dog for a short walk by herself. I was in our front garden when I heard a loud cry. My dear had fallen on the footpath and came home with a few minor cuts which I attended to. She then told me that she had lost her engagement ring. We were not able to find it. I said, ‘Don’t worry, the main thing is that you’re ok’.
My dear reached the stage of not being able to prepare a meal. I started to take over and gently touched her left arm, suggesting that she go and sit down. To our amazement, she took a step forward and threw herself face down on the floor. My son and I could not believe what had happened. Her face became bruised but luckily there were no other injuries. We, of course, were worried about what other people might think. Some weeks later my dear did the same thing again.
She would also often walk to the kitchen of the place we were staying in and ask for some food for her children. Every day she would ask us, ‘where is the bedroom?’ On one occasion we were dining out with some friends and we both occupied a long bench-type seat. My dear would continually shuffle from one end of the seat to the other and, when the food was served, she would comment in a loud voice, ‘What is this?’ We felt obliged to leave.
My dear would often go out to have coffee with her girlfriends at a local coffee shop and I would call in at a certain time to pick her up. On my arrival my dear did not seem to show much recognition. The others laughed and said, ‘Every man that has come in, your wife has said “here he comes now”!’
By 2009, things were becoming very difficult. It was impossible to sleep at night as she would try to climb over me to get out of bed. For quite some time I had to sleep on the lounge. I knew at this stage that my dear did not know me but I could not tell my friends that.
My dear had now started disappearing from our home. Twice we had to call the police when she disappeared, and both occasions they found her walking by herself quite some distance away. A neighbor living opposite told me, ‘You are disgusting, you should be ashamed of yourself’. I did not reply.
Then came the most upsetting day I have ever experienced. My dear was having a shower in the morning. I was not in the vicinity at the time. When I went to see how she was getting on, she was not there and the shower was still running. Then someone came to our door saying, ‘You had better come!’ My dear had apparently run to the adjoining home units with only a towel wrapped around her, calling, ‘Come and help! Come and help!’, while banging on their front doors. I was able to contact my daughter who came to help. We decided to contact the police and I told them about my experience, and they noticed that the shower nozzle had been broken off. These officers, one male and one female, were very understanding. When they asked my dear, ‘Why did you run away?’, her reply was, ‘To get away from him’, pointing at me. This was the end of my wonderful life.
After this incident, she was taken to the hospital and then to a care facility. She would never come home again, and I still shed tears because I miss her so much. She passed away on 15 September 2012.
The neighbour who told me I should be ashamed of myself did apologise for not understanding the situation. And the engagement ring was found by my son under the front seat of our car a short time ago.
My sincere thanks to my lovely daughter, son and three grandchildren.
And a special thank you to Lucie Downer, Ray’s granddaughter, for encouraging Ray to share his story.