By Daphne Simpkins
He stood behind his new bride at the dinner party,
wearing the poker-faced expression of a caregiver who feigns
invisibility until the patient in his care requires
assistance. His too-thin wife sat in the only
wingback. Her legs splayed comfortably in an
uninhibited posture that contrasted with the modest
Southern-girl bonnet she wore to hide her bald head.
His wife has breast cancer and this man has become the
vigilant caregiver—better, bodyguard—a job that seasoned
lovers and good daughters usually adopt.
A former caregiver who spent three years locked
inside a house with a father who suffered with and then died
of Alzheimer’s disease, I watched the bridegroom bodyguard,
wondering in what ways his experience was different from
My patient—my father—lost his mind slowly. He
forgot how to behave in public. He drooled and leaked.
He got mad at hallucinations that stalked him. Sometimes
strangers and his own kin feared him. In his
dilapidated state, my father was not attractive to others.
The isolation was acute for him and for me.
During that time, I learned how to be alone in ways
I did not know were possible. I learned how to wait, too.
And I learned how to do different jobs that are part of
caregiving for an Alzheimer’s patient: cut a man’s hair,
shave him, pare his nails. I even made friends with his
delusions, which appeared as the sun set.
Sundowner’s syndrome, they called it.
I wondered about the new words in this bodyguard’s
life since the diagnosis of his wife’s illness, and if he
said the new words over to himself outside at
night—practicing how to say them calmly when he had
too—fearlessly, when it mattered most.