Pat Testa sleeps on a twin bed, surrounded by photographs of smiling relatives. His wife watches over him from their wedding portrait. Every day, his first thought is of her. His space in his assisted-living home was nearly silent, except for the occasional shuffle of another aged resident passing in the hall. Pat, 95, wears a hearing aid and bifocals. His voice is brittle, and he needs help getting dressed. But while his body is fading, his mind is still bright. Seated in his red power chair at a table in a common area, he recalled his life with his wife precisely to whom he is married with Alzheimer’s.
“Ohhhh,” he beamed. “This is my pretty wife. You see that? She’s still a beautiful woman.”
Taking small steps, Millie slowly moved to a seat next to him. They kissed.
On their 76th wedding anniversary, Millie knew Pat was her husband.
Many times she doesn’t.
At an appointment with Millie’s cardiologist, she said he wasn’t her husband. The heart doctor told Pat to get her to a neurologist.
Millie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.
When he learned of her condition, Pat went to a common area, away from Millie, and cried.
Her condition continued to worsen. Millie told the apartment manager Pat wasn’t her husband, get rid of him. She called the police several times.
“I had to show them pictures to prove I was the person who belonged there,” Pat said. “Her husband.”
The manager eventually made a complaint to an adult protection agency. A woman from the agency told Pat he had to find a better place for Millie.
She was moved to an assisted-living home in Englishtown called Brandywine. She was enrolled in a program for those with “memory care needs.”
Pat would take a cab from their old apartment to visit Millie, but it cost $50 a day. After a month of living apart, he moved to Brandywine too.
“I was gonna move in with her, but she started screaming that I wasn’t her husband,” Pat lamented.
So he sleeps on his twin bed in a room he shares with another man.
Pat visits Millie in the morning and again at 2 p.m. Sometimes she dozes off, but he stays by her side.
“I’ll ask her sometimes if she still loves me,” Pat said. “And she’ll always say yes. But there are times she’ll tell me to go to hell, too.”
He’ll leave her for dinner and come back to her when he is finished. Pat and Millie eat separately because of her condition.
After dinner on their 76th wedding anniversary, Pat held his wife’s hand in the movie room at their assisted-living home. Millie sat in a red plush seat; Pat sat in his red power chair. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo looked down from a frame on the wall.
They pass the time holding hands. They don’t talk much, but they’re together.
“I just believe that I’ve got to be with her,” he said.
When the staff puts Millie to bed, he heads to his room, watches a little television and goes to sleep. Their wedding photo hangs next to his bed.
“My first thought is of her every day,” he said.
Pat said they outlived their two daughters. They have six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Millie doesn’t remember them.
She can still walk, she’s in good health. Her body is outlasting her mind.
A caregiver told her she was sitting with her husband, Pat.
Millie repeated, hesitating.
“That’s right,” the caregiver said. “Very good, Carmela.”
“Can I have a kiss, Mill?” Pat asked sweetly.
“Huh?” Millie said.
“Can I have a kiss? ” he asked again.
She leaned in.
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