Sister-in-law's warmth, wit fondly remembered


To the Editor:

My brother’s wife is enduring the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and he is suffering in his own way along with her. How he has managed his time as a caregiver is almost beyond comprehension. His patience, often tried, requires a supreme effort in order to deal with someone he loves, who once returned that love, but now is a stranger living in their home. She is sometimes grateful, more often spiteful, and on occasion prone to violence.

As a matter of convenience, let’s call my sister-in-law Karen. Karen came into our family in the early 1960s, a farm girl from a small town some 60 miles west of the Twin Cities. I was best man at their wedding, and everyone was impressed by Karen’s warmth, wit and homespun wisdom. As a spouse and later the mother of two beautiful girls, she fit right into our family of simple, practical yet proud folk.

Karen was no pushover. She could deflate on an entire room full of “male bonders” who had started on shots and beers early on some weekend morning. This bunch could include family, friends, neighbors and perhaps a couple of “old salts” from the Second Marine Division of World War II. No matter. They all soon met their match, at least verbally, from someone half their size and half their age.

Far from being a shrinking violet, Karen could, with very little urging, do a passable imitation of Xavier Cugat’s sexy young wife “Charo.” She may not have had the exact shape to match the famous Cuban, but she did have the moves.

Many of my favorite moments came after family gatherings when Karen and I would do dishes to give Mom a break. We two would start singing part of a score from some old operetta featuring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Judging by the applause from the living and dining rooms, we must not have sounded half bad.

Now, as Karen reaches the end of her journe, accompanied by what I consider my saint of a brother, I prefer to recall those good old days, rather than dwell upon the present situation. Such memories tend to dispel thoughts of disease and even death. My hope is that Karen still has some pleasant, lucid flashes in her tortured brain that include Charo, Jeanette MacDonald and, yes, maybe even her old Nelson Eddy.

Thomas Ylsabeck



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