Ultimate Act of Compassion

We all know the wedding vows…”For better or for worse. ‘Til death do us part.”

As recently seen in the news, Charles and Adrienne Snelling were married 61 years and by every indication, they had a love story that most couples dream of. Six years ago, Adrienne developed Alzheimer’s. She knew her disease would not be kind, as she wrote to her family members detailing this fact after her diagnosis.

Last Thursday, Charles ended his wife’s life and her disease and then took his own. Some would say that this was a selfish thing for him to do. But all evidence points to the fact that this may be the ultimate act of compassion and love. Others suggest that Charles was stressed by being his wife’s caregiver for six years. However, his children said the couple talked about what they would do when their quality of life was robbed by this disease.

You see, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease that robs the victim of health. It is a disease that robs the victim of history, their history and everyone’s associated with them. Imagine waking up one day having no history. You don’t remember your name, where you were born, or any of your relatives. You have no past and no future. This is what Alzheimer’s is; it steals our existence on this planet.

As a CEO of a company that has cared for thousands of Alzheimer’s residents, I see this daily. The blank stares in the eyes of someone’s mother. The tears in the eyes of the daughter. When my mother got to the stage where she no longer remembered my name, I felt lost. I felt as though I was just told that I was adopted. We are so tethered to our parents, our family, our friends and to see them wiped out shakes the ground beneath us. We are creatures of relationships; they feed our souls and allow us to know we have lived.

As my mother journeyed further into her illness, I wondered if her form of existence was really life. I so wanted to do what was right for her, to end her suffering, to give her back her dignity. My mother asked her children to do everything that we could to help her live as long as she could. But would she have said that if she could have seen herself at the end of her life? I watched her wither away struggling to breathe. There were no good solutions.

What Charles Snelling did was to love his wife until the end and then made sure she didn’t leave alone. This was love.

 

7 Comments

  1. Alicia Rotman
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Dwayne, I just read this article above in the Sun Sentinel (FL) and it moved me to tears. Although I did not lose my parents to Alzheimer’s, one of my dear aunts lost her loving husband to it and I saw very closely the devastation that it caused on her. Thank you for putting what so many of us who have had contact one way or another with this terrible condition into such compasionate words. My thoughts are with you.
    Sincerely,
    Alicia Rotman
    Boca Raton – FL

    • Dwayne Clark
      Posted April 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Dear Alicia,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. I hope that by sharing my journey that others can benefit from my experience and learn from my challenges or at least know that they are not alone. This is a cruel disease that we hope we can cure one day.

      Thank you again,

      Dwayne

  2. Gail Bussell
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Dwayne,
    Thank you so much for sharing such an emotional article in the Ionia paper. I could have written it word for word. My own mother passed away July 6th of 2011 of Alz…she suffered for 12 long years, 8 of which she lived with us and I was her caregiver until I couldn’t do it any longer. My brothers put her in a nursing home, and I have never forgiven myself for allowing them to do that. I visit her grave weekly, begging for forgiveness. I miss her so..In regards to your article I have forwarned my husband and my children, I choose not to live with Alz..if I am diagnosed, I will also end my life, I will not put them through it. Again, thank you….

    • Dwayne Clark
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Dear Gail,

      Thank you so much for sharing your heartfelt comments with me. As the children of parents with Alzheimer’s, we can only do what we think is best for our ailing parent and are often forced to make tough decisions along the way. It is time to forgive yourself and your brothers. I am sure your mother knew that you and your family loved her and only wanted the best to make her comfortable. You are a wonderful, devoted daughter.

      I can feel your grief and understand what you have gone through. It is not an easy road.

      All the best,

      Dwayne

  3. michele
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Dwayne,
    I live very close to your beautiful faciity in Aptos. My mother has Alzheimers and our struggle now is to encourage my 91 year old father that assisted living and memory care is absolutely what mom needs. He continues to try to reason with her while her condition continues to deteriorate.. How do we convince my father that we are wanting the best possible care for our mother and him (an exhausted caregiver)? We come very close to acceptance but then his “logical” side talks about cost, freedom, relocation, etc. Myself and my 3 siblings have become divided and have lost sight of what is really important. My mother’s care is my priority. I will read your book and if nothing else may get some much needed affirmation that what our family is going through is “normal”. I am thankful for people like you and others who devote their lives to this incurable disease.

    • Dwayne Clark
      Posted May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      First of all, thank you for sharing your comment and experience.

      Your question is a difficult one. Your parents have been married for a long time and I am sure it is difficult for your father to think about anyone but him providing the best care for his spouse. There are no good solutions, only good suggestions. Here are a couple.

      If your parents have a doctor that they trust and believe in, have the doctor speak with your dad. Generationally, often they will trust their doctor’s judgment.

      Second, do more of what your father loves to do and give him a needed break away from your mom. If that is watching baseball games, going to the ocean or playing cards, get his mind off of your mom.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Dwayne

  4. Lee Ann
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    As a long term care nurse, we always strive to give as much personality and normalcy to our patients so that their children can see something of their parent. One day I mentioned to this woman that she was married to Tom. She smiled and said, “Oh yes I married that wonderful man that took care of me so well.” Smiling and sweet, reminiscing. So ten minutes later, her husband Tom came in to visit her, so I prodded her a bit, hoping she would say something nice about her marriage and life with Tom. Instead, she gasped and said, “OMG I married Tom??” Well, I guess it wasn’t as sweet as I’d hoped. lol

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