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The darkness has lifted, a brilliant mind restored

POSTED: January 29, 2012 1:30 a.m.

I am often asked if I have a favorite column among all of the hundreds I have written.

I do.

It was a love story that I must repeat this week, because one of the subjects has passed away. Wendell Carpenter’s long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease is now over. It was six years ago that I wrote these words:

Her name is Marguerite Carpenter; her husband is Wendell Carpenter, a gifted musician and teacher. Their son, Cris, played pro baseball with the Cardinals, Rangers, Marlins and Brewers.

Wendell was a beloved chorus teacher at Gainesville High. He also was the organist at a number of churches. He led groups of high school students on trips to the great sites of Europe. My wife was one of those students and recalls with both detail and fondness her memorable trip to some of the world’s most spectacular places.

But now, the windows of his mind are slowly closing. This brilliant man who inspired many is dwindling into a childlike state, requiring care in a nursing home.

Marguerite’s days involve regular visits to the nursing facility where they spend time together.

Sometime back, this ugly disease erased that portion of his mind where her name had been etched for nearly half a century.

I can’t imagine the daunting task of going to a home to visit your lifemate and finding he or she no longer knows you.

But love wins in this one. If you haven’t got a tissue nearby, you may want to get one. I had to when I wrote it.

Wendell might not know Marguerite’s name anymore, but the disease has not affected his heart, the inner part of us where those deep emotions are stored.

There is a glimmer in his eye when she walks into his room. It’s a hint of a glimmer that happened years ago.

One day, as they were enjoying each other’s company, Wendell looked over at this woman who has become a stranger to him, albeit a familiar stranger.

"I don’t know your name," he said to her. "But I would be so honored if you would be my wife."

Marguerite, in a gentle way, reminded him that they had been married for 46 years. She’s not sure if it registered.

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that is about as tough on family members as it is on the person who has it.

When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, he didn’t mention caregivers directly, but he did say that those show mercy and those who mourn are blessed. I think to be a family member and caregiver of someone with that dreaded disease, you do a lot of both.

But you know it had to make Marguerite Carpenter’s long string of dark days just a bit brighter when the man she loves admitted through his clouded mind that he’d marry her all over again.

That was six years ago, and if all I believe is true, Wendell Carpenter’s brilliant mind has been restored. Wendell and Marguerite were married more than half a century. Sadly, the last few of those years were in the time that he could not even acknowledge her daily presence.

I don’t know of a more faithful example of a loving spouse. She never wavered in her devotion to Wendell.

In my heart, I believe that Wendell now knows that more than ever.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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