As an admitted pessimist, I watched with a heavy heart as Alzheimer’s crippled my dad’s mind and body. On one visit home, my dad restlessly paced the living room floor, then suddenly stopped in front of the couch where my mom and I were sitting. He asked, with complete sincerity, “Where’s Jane?” My mom’s name is Jane, and my parents were married for 40 years. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. My mom remained calm, obviously used to this line of questioning. She simply responded, “I’m right here.” Mom’s strength as my dad’s primary caregiver continued to amaze me throughout my dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s. After breaking her shoulder due to a fall no doubt caused by exhaustion, she still boarded a bus for the hour-and-a-half trip each way to visit my dad in the memory care center he was residing in at the time, her arm wrapped in a blue sling. Mom also taught me about the power of laughter, even in the darkest of times. Any time my father would do or say something humorous, she would let everyone know, from the nursing home staff to family members. Sharing these funny little stories boosted her spirits and she spread that joy to others, brightening their day as well. When I saw submissions were being accepted for a special fundraising edition of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias,” I knew I had the perfect story to submit. If you want to read my story, “French Toast,” and all of the inspiring and moving stories included in the book, please purchase a copy at your local or online book retailer. The book goes on sale today, April 22, 2014. All royalties benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s not easy finding those moments of joy when you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Some days will indeed be very dark. My mom’s actions as a caregiver certainly proved how laughter can help soothe the sadness associated with Alzheimer’s. But it was something my father said to me, on that same fateful visit when he did not recognize my mom. He told me, “You have to keep your sense of humor.” That’s a message I hold near and dear to my heart every single day.
Joy Johnston is an experienced digital journalist who has been producing online content since 2002. Her father’s death from Alzheimer’s complications in 2011 inspired The Memories Project blog, which was featured on NPR. Joy lives in Atlanta with her partner, two spoiled cats, and a goofy pit bull.