It was October 1967. After boot camp at Great Lakes and three months of specialized training at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, I reported on board the USS Kitty Hawk, CVA-63, in San Diego. When I arrived at North Island, she was out at sea qualifying pilots for carrier duty. She usually went out a week at a time and would return on Friday afternoons.
As it was a Friday, nothing was going to happen with me until Monday. I was assigned a temporary berth for the weekend and reported to the V-2 Division office first thing Monday morning with five other new crew members. I was assigned to the waist catapult crew based only on where I had chosen to sit. They called the Waist Cat leading petty officer and he sent someone over to bring me to my new duty station. It was there that I met Ed.
I was assigned to be a Catapult #3 hookup man and Ed was the other. If you’ve ever seen video of an aircraft being launched, we’re the guys that would hook the device to the aircraft that pulls it down the deck when the aircraft is launched. We’re also the next to last guys to get out from under the aircraft just before it’s launched. Exhilarating stuff to be sure.
Ed was a country boy from Tennessee and quickly became my first real friend on the ship. He was almost two years younger than me and his parents had consented to allow him to join the Navy at the ripe old age of 17. Not only did he look out for me in those early days on deck but we eventually shared an apartment together. We also went to Tijuana, once, but that’s a story for a different time.
Ed and I both left the Navy when our tours were up and got on with our lives. We stayed in touch and as time moved on we were able to reconnect at the ship reunions and at her decommissioning in Bremerton, Washington. Then, a few years ago, I received an email from Ed’s wife, Linda, and she shared with me that Ed had received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia.
Needless to say, I was happy to console and counsel her as things got worse. As she gave me updates, it was clear that the disease was progressing very quickly. One of the most recent was that he had gone out to get the mail and “went to the wrong mailbox and came back to the wrong house.”
Last month, I received a message from her that they had decided it was time to place this man, who hasn’t seen his 70th birthday, in the nearby VA Home. Personally, I was saddened by this news, but professionally I knew this is what was best, for both of them. Ed and Linda have been together for 47 years, but in spite of that she knows that she has to let go, to keep him safe and out of harm’s way.
He was beginning to fall, and as most know, falls don’t usually result in happy endings. To her credit she had been proactive. She had visited the VA Home with Ed and they both volunteered there, so he will be transitioning into a familiar environment where the staff already knows him.
She continues to volunteer and visit Ed daily because he is only about a mile from their home. I’ve reminded her to keep her emotions in check around him at this time and to let the VA folks know that she’s paying attention. If you’re paying attention, they’ll pay attention. Like so many of you informal caregivers, she is a blessing in his life.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, Join the Journey.
Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.