Having Alzheimer’s During COVID: Staying strong, and using nature to find peace

By Eugenia Zukerman ~

We wake up early, together. He goes to the barn to feed the horses and muck out the stalls while I roll out of bed and do my morning exercises, and we meet in the kitchen where he makes the coffee and I forage for fruit. We sit at the table, eat and chat, and he reminds me what I need to do that day. He reminds me because I do not remember. I once was sharp as a tack— until the tack turned into an attack…..on my brain.  I have Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve lived with it for more than three years, and I’m often told, “You’re doing so well!”

“Thanks” is the proper reply, but after more than three years “thanks” goes not to me alone……it goes to my amazing husband, children, grandchildren, dogs and horses. This may sound odd, but in fact, this is the happiest time of my life.

Dick is retired and we are together all the time and unless he’s faking it, he seems plenty happy too. Of course we are all well aware of the COVID Pandemic and its power to wreak havoc. Living in Upstate New York where there is room to wander, to plant gardens, to hike and bike, we nonetheless take all the caution we possibly can to stay healthy, watch out for ticks and other problematic health traps.  That said, my comfortable degree of safety was strangely jarred when my husband announced that an important  doctor’s appointment he’d been waiting to have confirmed in New York City had finally come through for the very next morning.

“Great,” I said. “What time do we have to leave?”

“They ask that I come alone. It’s a new protocol ,” was the answer. “And I’m not comfortable knowing that you’d have to sit in the car or walk around the streets while you wait for me.”

I swallowed hard. 

“Sweetheart,” he said, seeing my fearful look. He pulled me into his arms for a hug. “I’ll be back by dinner!”

“Come on,” I told myself, feeling suddenly like a jerk. I buried my face in his shirt, and told myself to butch up.

Let’s go watch a movie,” he suggested. 

“Great!” I lied, and marched into the living room after him.

“What is wrong with you?” I scolded myself as I tried to sleep.  “You’ll be fine. Perfectly fine…..”  But I wasn’t. My husband would leave for New York in the morning and what would I do? 

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I berated myself for being ridiculous. “I can still drive. I’ll go up to Great Barrington,“ I told myself. The shops are now open. But a shopping spree was for some reason not high on my list. “ I’ll call a friend and go for a hike.  But I’m tired.” And so the night passed, with little sleep and lots of angst. 

The next morning, I rose early to send my husband off with a kiss and then I trudged up the stairs to practice the flute, as I always do.  But as I played I saw a red-winged blackbird perched on a branch outside my window. He cocked his head.

I played a tune.  He tried one of his own. I reciprocated with a flourish by Mozart.  And in a flash, I put my flute in its case, put on my hiking boots and dashed out the door, walking stick by my side, and a whistle dangling around my neck, in case the bear who’d been recently seen up the hill dared to accost me.

The road is steep, and it’s a chilly morning, but looking over the fence to see our two horses I’m already feeling warmer. The glorious maple trees seem to be saluting me, inviting me to look up. Birds twitter. Glorious patches of pink and purple phlox line the sides of the road. Butterflies and hummingbirds are everywhere. There are day lilies, wild flowers and a variety of hot colors like flaming magenta and golden yellow. 

A sudden loud sound bursts out of the bushes on my left.  I stand still, hoping it’s just a squirrel.  But then I look up high above me and I’m staring  into the eyes of a huge hawk.

It sits just above me waiting for me to make a move. My heart seems to be fluttering. But with a sudden woosh of those magnificent wings the bird takes off, soaring high above me. He circles over me one more time and sails off, leaving me dazzled and thrilled with the joy of being alive. 

EUGENIA ZUKERMAN is an internationally renowned flutist and writer. She was the artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado for 13 years and the arts correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning for more than 25 years. She is the author of two novels, two works of nonfiction, and numerous screenplays, articles, and book reviews. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1944, Eugenia graduated from the Julliard School of Music and lived in New York City for many years. A mother of two daughters and grandmother to two, she makes her home in upstate New York with her husband, two horses, three dogs, and assorted wildlife.

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