Their Love Defies Age and Illness

Her husband suffered from Alzheimer's, but that did not stop him from remembering to propose again as they renewed their vows.

Posted in , Sep 25, 2019

My husband, Mick, winced in pain as I rinsed the soap out of his eyes. “Sorry,” I said. He tried to say something but stuttered, unable to get the words out. He finally gave up and just sighed, frustrated.

Mick had Alzheimer’s disease. He’d lost so much coordination, he needed help doing almost everything, such as washing his face. I’d gotten pretty good at taking care of him over the past nine years, but I sometimes made mistakes. Mick clearly trusted me, but I worried—did he still know who I was? Did he remember we love each other?

I’d met Mick when I was 24, visiting relatives in Scotland. He made me laugh within seconds of introducing himself. It was love at first sight. But I lived more than 11,000 miles away, in New Zealand. That wasn’t going to stop Mick. He applied for residency. I remember the day he got his letter of approval. “I’m a Kiwi now,” he said. “Will you marry me?” Our wedding was just four weeks later.

For the next 29 years, we had a wonderful life together. Even when things weren’t perfect, Mick could always make me laugh. It felt as if we could handle anything together. Then, like a shadow creeping into our lives, things changed. Little things at first. Mick had always been a considerate husband, but he began ignoring the small tasks I’d asked him to do. He started putting things where they didn’t belong or doing things I had specifically asked him not to. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

One day, his coworker called me. Mick had been making mistakes at work—something so unlike him. “I think you should get Mick checked out,” the coworker said. “We’re worried about him.” Doctors diagnosed Mick with early-onset dementia. It felt as if the rug had been pulled from under my life. In two years, it progressed to full-blown Alzheimer’s. Now Mick no longer remembered one day to the next. 

He’d recently stopped talking for the most part, leaving me feeling as if I were losing him entirely to the disease. He needed help with everything, from bathing to eating. I had a bad back and couldn’t lift him by myself. I had no choice but to transition him to an assisted living home. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I knew that it was the right decision. Mick needed more care than I could physically manage.

He spent a few nights there a week, to get used to the environment, and the rest of the time at home with me. Every day he stayed at the facility, I went to visit him. I worried that if I didn’t, he’d forget me. One night, while staying at our house, Mick woke up restless. He paced the room anxiously and refused to lie down. Finally I got up and sat with him. 

“What is it, my darling?” I asked.

Mick tried to answer, concentrating in a way I hadn’t seen him do in a long while. “Will…will you marry me?” he finally managed to ask. The question left me speechless. What a thing to say! I let out a giggle, despite myself.

“Of course, I will!” I said.

I took Mick’s hand and kissed it. He beamed at me. It had been so long since I’d had a good laugh. I got Mick back into bed, thankful for this sweet moment. He wouldn’t remember it tomorrow.

The next morning, I woke up to find Mick already awake. He looked at me expectantly.

“Well?” he said.

“Well, what?” I said, confused.

“Will you still marry me?” Mick said, his face shining with a smile.

I couldn’t believe it. Mick had remembered! I didn’t know how long it would last, but I knew I had to act fast. I decided to throw a party. It would be a vow renewal for me and a wedding for Mick. There was so much planning to do. An officiant, flowers, food, music, guests. I told all of our friends and family it would be that Saturday. Five days away. Mick usually couldn’t remember at dinner what he’d had for breakfast. How would he remember his proposal to me for five days?

But the next day, Mick asked me when we were getting married. “Saturday,” I told him. The day after that, the officiant came to meet us. Mick knew right away who he was and even stood to shake his hand. His eyes were wide and alert in a way I hadn’t seen for so long. On Friday, as I was doing the last of the planning, Mick asked me if we were still on for the next day. Come Saturday morning, Mick smiled as I buttoned up his Hawaiian shirt. “Today’s the day!” he said. That he’d remembered this long was nothing short of a miracle. A miracle I desperately needed.

We gathered with friends and family by the lake near our house. He stood across from me, his eyes dancing. The officiant read Mick’s vows for him. I read mine, my voice cracking when I said “in sickness and in health.” In our time of sickness, we’d found our way back to each other. After the service, the music began. Mick turned expectantly to our guests and motioned for them to join in and dance.

Mick is at the assisted living home full-time now. I visit him every day, and he has the biggest smile on his face when I come in. I know he hasn’t forgotten me. I’ll never know how he remembered his proposal to me for so long, but I’m forever grateful he did. Dementia might have stolen Mick’s memories, but it couldn’t take away our love.

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