Compassionate Husbands in Alzheimer's Stories
Tired of reading and hearing about Alzheimer’s? That’s understandable, since the very mention conjures up feelings of despair. Yet, positive emotions surface when we look at the dedication of some family members.
Here we appreciate husbands specifically, because:
- "Being a caregiver is not a traditional role for men" - Marc Chamberlain, MD.;
- Although women make up 60 to 70 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers(US Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet 2014), some men provide excellent services for their wives.
Retiree Husband Gives Compassionate Care
Several movies about Alzheimer’s are touching in their portrayal of dedicated love. The disgusting gunk of the disease still comes through, but watching the husband’s care for his sick wife provides a good feeling where otherwise there would be none. Four realistic Alzheimer’s movies (plus a bonus) help to illustrate the point about these compassionate husbands.
(1) The Notebook
The Notebook, released in August 2004, is based on Nicholas Spark’s 1996 novel by the same name. The major part of the movie is a flashback to the story of Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) who shared a romance in the 1940s.
In old age, Noah and Ali (James Garner and Gena Rowlands) reside in the same nursing home. Every day, he reads to her from the story of their romance which she wrote at the onset of her memory loss, with instructions for him to "read this to me, and I'll come back to you." Now, she only remembers hearing the story before.
Noah Reading to Allie
Noah continues to read, uncertain of the outcome. Eventually, Allie recognizes him reading their story. Excited, he arranges for dinner by candlelight in her room. They eat and then begin to dance. He calls her darling and she pushes him away, angry that he overstepped his bounds. He is shocked that her memory lapses so soon.
Noah is disappointed, falls ill and is taken to the hospital. When he returns she remembers him, and he is happy and forgiving. They discuss their fears about the future. During the night, Providence grants their desire, and they both die in her bed.
Above the story of a cruel disease, is the story of Noah's compassion, patience and hope empowered by love.
(2) Away from Her
Away from Her, released in May 2007, is based on Alice Munro’s 2001 short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain. Grant and Fiona Anderson (Gordon Pinsent and Stacey LaBerge) have been married for 40 years, when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They both agree to have her admitted to a nursing home.
Grant is upset about the home’s no-visit policy for the first 30 days, but finally agrees that it is in Fiona’s best interest. By his first visit, not only has Fiona forgotten him, but she is attracted to Arthur, a fellow resident. Grant watches them laughing and feeding each other as they dine together. He is angry and heart-broken, but when he tries to remind Fiona who he is, she is not interested.
He wonders is she is faking forgetting him, but nothing would make him abandon her, even while she continues to show affection for someone else.
Arthur is also married and when his wife removes him from the home, Fiona misses him and gets depressed. What does her loving husband do? He arranges for Fiona to meet her new love. He will not deprive her of happiness.
Eventually, Fiona’s memory surfaces and Grant discovers that Fiona still loves him; but what does it say about his selflessness that kept him waiting indefinitely?
(3) The Genius of Marian
- Home - The Genius of Marian
An intimate family portrait that explores the heartbreak of Alzheimer's disease, the power of art and the meaning of family.
The Genius of Marian, released in March 2014, shows actual photographs which were intended to be part of Pam’s White project—writing her mother’s story, to “keep her alive by not forgetting who she was.” Her mother was portrait artist, Marian William Steele, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2001. One year into writing her mother’s story, Pam is diagnosed with the disease at age 61.
When her husband, Ed, becomes her caregiver, his associates think that he would do it temporarily and then resume regular hours at work. They are mistaken. He plans to cook and clean house, provide her personal care, put on her make-up, and do whatever needs to be done. “I like being with her,” he says.
His children want him to get out of the house and live his own life, but he is determined to be Pam's caregiver. He begins to unravel when he cannot figure out how to keep her mind active after she stopped reading the books from her Book Club. They fight about her taking her medication, and out on the ocean in their boat, he becomes so angry at her stubbornness, he curses.
The viewer sees the frustration of a husband trying his best to take care of his wife. Eventually, he admits feeling caged, since he takes her wherever he goes. In the midst of his tears, he chooses to focus on “the phenomenal life she has given me.” What loyalty!
(4) Still Alice
Husband's Initial Denial (1:41)
Still Alice, released in October 2014, is based on Lisa Genova's 2007 novel by the same name. Dr. Alice Howland (played by Julianne Moore), linguistic professor at Columbia University is diagnosed at age 50 with early onset familial Alzheimer’s.
This type of Alzheimer’s is hereditary. The children, all grown up, test for the disease and the results are: Anna, the first daughter, positive, but her prenatal twins test negative; Tom, the son, negative; Lydia, the second daughter, afraid to be tested.
Physician husband, John (Alec Baldwin) presents a cool, controlled posture for most of the movie –when Alice repeats questions, when he finds her phone in the freezer, when she wets herself while searching for the bathroom. He is angry when she stays out for two hours and misses a dinner function, but he soon remembers that she is not to blame. He is patient and forgiving.
When he leaves for a job assignment in Minnesota, his second daughter Lydia moves back home to take his place. John cries out his bottled up emotions on her shoulder. Just his humanity!
When Love Becomes an Instinct
Healthline includes this on the list of 2015 movies about Alzheimer’s. It is no more than a clip (2.43 minutes) from CBS Sunday Morning, but no increase of time could make it more powerful. The man, Melvyn Amrine, is the Alzheimer’s patient, but he also takes on Alzheimer's in his own way and makes it is obvious that he would have been the most compassionate husband if the roles were reversed.
He gets lost on the way to finding his wife’s Mothers’ Day present, but he will not go home without it. Watch and enjoy!
© 2015 Dora Isaac Weithers