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.