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Sweethearts Forever. Then Came Alzheimer’s, Murder and Suicide.

Mr. and Mrs. Shaver dancing

“They were absolutely soul mates.”


It began almost playfully, like tiny hiccups in her mind. She would forget she had already changed the sheets and change them again, or repeat a thought in the same breath.

Then the illness amplified.

She grew confused by everyday tasks. Became convinced her parents were still alive and insisted upon a visit. At social gatherings, she was anxious and fearful. She forgot how to sew and cross-stitch. Forgot the faces of her children.

She did remember her name. Alma Shaver. But not her age. Eighty.

And sometimes, she did not know her husband.

He was Richard Shaver, a man whose wife of 60 years had been found by dementia, that thief that robs the minds of 50 million people worldwide. So common, yet so personally cruel — it comes with no road map for those tending to the afflicted.

For a while, Mr. Shaver managed. He would sit next to his wife and rub her hand, her knee, to try to calm the unease. He left notes explaining simple tasks. If she was stuck repeating herself, he asked yes or no questions to break the cycle. Did you graduate in 1957, Alma? Why, yes.

When visiting family, he picked out her clothes, usually the beige sweatshirt with the collar and a bird stitched on the front. He resorted to fast food in the drive-through lane so she wouldn’t have to get out of the car.

By the spring of this year, things had gotten worse, as they always do with an illness that takes and takes and takes. Ms. Shaver had slipped beyond a murky fog that her husband could not join.

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