I have lost three people very close to me to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the most recent being my mother last spring. As anyone who has been through it can tell you, it is an absolutely brutal experience. I wish it on no one.
Here at the beach, I have a neighbor — a well-known writer, actually — who just went through it with his wife of some 60-plus years. I watched it, and I recognized it. We talked a lot out by the pool. That’s where I told him the Ernie story.
Ernie was my grandfather. He passed away several years ago in his 90s. He felt pretty old and hopeless when my grandmother was going through Alzheimer’s, and he, of course, did everything in his power to help walk her through it. Eventually, he reluctantly had to put her in a home because she was doing weird stuff.
He thought his life was over with hers, as so many do.
But it wasn’t.
When grandma passed, the family sent Ernie on a cruise. Not like a Carnival thing, but on an icebreaker in Alaska or something. Details tend to fail me. Early dementia, I guess. But on this cruise, Ernie met a recently widowed lady. Her name was Dutchess. And what a Dutchess she was.
They proceeded to fall in love. And they married. And the next time I saw my heretofore totally buttoned-down grandpa, he was like Elvis with a half-buttoned silk shirt and a gold chain around his neck. My dad said he saw him in a Speedo. Hell yeah! God bless him!
Anyway, Ernie and Dutchess lived in her beautiful home on the Oregon coast. But they bought this Van Halen-like tour bus that they would run around in to visit family across the nation. They spent most of their time doing just that, and it was always hilarious when these folks in their eighties would roll in. Grandpa would be like, “I just need an outlet to plug the bus into and some bananas.”
So I made sure I had the bananas. And he was happy. They lived well and happily. With lots of bananas. A second act, if you will.
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Getting back to my dear neighbor, I had told him the Ernie story as his wife was in decline. And I like to think it gave him hope. Strangely enough, a woman in the same situation moved into our building. And they hit it off. And it is a beautiful thing to watch.
They are now off to Europe. He, too, in his eighties, has a second act. And that’s that.
Point? Second acts are here for us. The Universe wants us to be happy. Keep your eyes open and look around. Don’t allow Alzheimer’s/dementia to kill two people at once. No victim would want that.
And God willing, one day we will figure out this nasty, nasty disease.
God bless you, Grandpa Ernie. And you too, Dutchess, you beastie! And God bless my neighbor and his friend on this, their own second act. Love, Christian.