Thursday, April 7, 2011

A True Test of Faith

My faith has been tested MANY times over the last 10 years, and I am honored to say that Mike was the one who has taught me the true meaning of FAITH. The life he has lived has been terribly unfair, yet he ALWAYS kept his positive thoughts and faith that God would always guide him. Mike and I met in July of 1985 when we worked together. I had met his mom only once, but immediately I realized there was a problem. He told me that they were taking her to be tested because she was having alot of problems with her memory. They originally thought it was menopause. One day, Mike got a call from her saying she was at the supermarket and "couldn't get the car to start". When he got there, she was sitting in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition. Mike started the car with no problem. She forgot what to do with the keys. His dad hired an aide to stay with her during the day and that worked well until his mom fell and the aide couldn't pick her up. I forget the actual reason for it, but one fateful day in December of 1985, they decided to take her to the hospital. Once there, it took 4 orderlies to hold this 5 foot nothing, 95 pound woman down. Mike was only 20 when he witnessed this life changing event. His mother remained hospitalized until they performed a brain biopsy, where they determined she had Alzheimer's Disease. We knew nothing about this disease or what it was capable of. Since Mike's dad worked full time in NYC and he and his brothers were in school, they decided to have her placed in a nursing home (NH). The NH happened to be a few blocks from St. John's University where Mike attended college. He would visit his mom almost every day after school and we went together every weekend. It was extremely difficult for me to see her this way and Mike was very sad that I never knew his mom when she was "well". He had an extremely close realtionship with his mom and her illness affected him terribly. At that time they were very lucky to even get her into a NH and it was only because of his Uncle's connections and the fact that his mom was a nurse. No one wanted to take a 45 year old woman with Alzheimer's Disease. The bond between nurses was very strong and she was always well taken care of. Mike and I were engaged in 1987. We would visit his mom, show her the ring and talk about our wedding plans. Mike was heartbroken that his mom was alive, but not really able to fully enjoy the happiest day of his life. Mike and I were married in October, 1988. In February of 1989, his dad got sick. We all thought he had a rough case of the flu. Nothing was staying down and he was losing weight. His doctor ordered an endoscopy which showed a mass on his esophogus. He ordered surgery to remove and biopsy the mass. Mike never got over the guilt he felt when he and his brothers went to visit his dad in the recovery room and they all gave him the thumbs up. They did this to keep him strong, when in fact it WAS cancer and it spread to his stomach, liver and pancreas. Mike now had his mom in a NH with Alzheimer's Disease and his father at home dying of cancer, and he was only 24 years old. I could not believe how strong he was. His faith was undeniable and I was in awe of his positive attitude. His dad lasted 10 months. Both Mike and his oldest brother had been married and were out of the house. Only his middle brother still lived at home. Very early on the brothers decided it wasn't fair for Bob (the middle brother) to have to care for his father all by himself every weekend, so they set up a calendar to share responsibilities. I remember quite vividly the one weekend Mike was supposed to care for his dad, but he had to be away for work. We were married less than 6 months, but I offered to stay with his dad for him. It was a night that I will never forget as I sat with my father-in-law as he threw up constantly into a basin. Nothing stayed in and the pain I saw him go through was unbearable. I was relieved when Mike's Aunt came early to relieve me. I quickly realized that in the short time I knew Mike, I never really got to know either one of his parents when they were well. Over the next three years or so, Mike lost three grandparents and a favorite Aunt. It seemed like we lived at the funeral home and to this day the smell of fresh flowers only reminds me of funerals. Despite all this, Mike soldiered on, his faith carrying him forward. In 1991 Courtney was born and it was probably the ONLY TIME I saw Mike really heartbroken. As he saw my entire family there celebrating with us, there was no one there from his side of the family. His dad had passed away and his mother was in the later stages of Alzheimer's. The fact that neither parent got to meet his children was Mike's deepest sadness. (Mike's mom passed away in August, 1992. By that time she had Alzheimer's for 7 years...she was 52) Still, Mike moved forward, deep in the belief that everything happens for a reason and we will all be OK. In 2001, Mike was diagnosed with Young Onset Alzheimer's Disease and the rest is history. I never had the heart to actually tell him that since he was diagnosed, both his oldest brother and his grandmother, along with my dad, had also passed away. I'm sure he was aware of the additional losses, but I could never bring myself to actually tell him. He has suffered so much already. And he's still suffering to this day. The bed sores and fever and some water retention have been coming and going for weeks now. I cannot help but ask myself, "WHY"? Why should this happen to someone as good as Mike, someone who has been through so much already? It just doesn't seem fair. I imagine Mike telling me "not to worry, everything will be OK". When I would ask him how he knew, he would say to me, "I have connections". I often lay next to him at night and ask if he still has those "connections". Then I realize that if Mike was able to get up each and every day with renewed strength and faith, despite all his loss and suffering, then so can I. I do this for Mike and hope he is proud of me. He taught me well.


Kathy Knowles said...

Karen, you are my hero, and you have shown Mike and your children the meaning of unconditional love. You are helping make others aware of this tragic disease and what it does to the entire family. Thank you for sharing . . .Mike knows how much you love him. Did his older brother have AD also?

Gail said...


As hard as all of Mike's suffering is to witness and live with, you have consolation in knowing his life was well lived! All of what he went through with his parents made him the man you fell in love with and still love today! His faith is your faith and that can not be taken away. Although it doesn't seemm so now, all of this is for a reason, God has a plan, we don't know what it is, but know that it will be clear some day. Keep the faith for Mike's sake, you know we are all there for you and Mike. Love you guys!

karen said...

You are doing a wonderful job. Need to talk send me an email. I am there with you and for you. Mike is so lucky to have you. And he knows how much you love him.