Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Good Man Is Not Hard to Find

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

A Good Man Is Not Hard to Find

Article excerpt

Gene Conrad, 86, got up every morning at 5 a.m. to make breakfast for his wife, Reva. Before he shuffled downstairs, he cuddled next to her and began singing the song they had sung to each other every morning since they married in 1950: "You Are My Sunshine." Reva was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 21 years ago but she glowed as she heard the words Gene sang. Gene died last week after a brief illness.

I'm sitting in a circle with nine other guys in a meeting room at Union Memorial Church in Stamford, Conn., remembering Gene. We are members of a support group he began and moderated for men whose wives have dementia. Union was Gene's parish.

We're joined this afternoon by the Rev. Blaine Edele, a trim fellow much younger than the rest of us. "Their daughters placed Reva in Waverly House when Gene died," he informs us, "the best facility around. Gene had it all set up. The girls didn't tell Reva Gene had passed. That would have been unkind. She would forget it in a minute anyway She's adjusting well."

Blaine shares memories of Gene. "When I asked him what advice I should give to caregivers, he said without a beat, 'Caregiving is noble, rewarding but frustrating. Patience is both a virtue and a necessity' "

The guys in the room nod and share knowing glances. Blaine continues: "Gene never felt he or Reva was a victim. He saw the experience as an opportunity to become wiser, more nurturing, more tender and mature."

Blaine then passes the spiritual baton to Paul, the logical successor to Gene as group moderator. As he remembers Gene, I remember Paul's story His wife, Joan, has been in a near vegetative state for five years. He visits her in the nursing home every day.

He once shared: "When I come into her room and sit at her side, I ask her; 'Where is my kiss?' and, amazingly she puckers up Her eyes are dosed. She can't talk The only real communication is when I feed her Her mouth opens up just like a little bird. …

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