Oliver: This tale of love and devotion can’t be changed even in the face of chronic illness

Remembering the ‘good’ years helps with coping with husband’s Alzheimer’s

Marriage has been described as a lifelong journey, one where the joy comes from the trip itself and not the destination.

Circumstances shift along the way; each member of the couple changes in subtle and obvious ways. Yet, the success of the union often comes from the pair’s ability to manage and roll with what life brings.

Over the years, my beloved husband, Tony, and I have had to deal with job changes, knee surgeries, the deaths of our mothers, my breast cancer and all the big and little things that come with living with another person for decades.

Chronic illness can alter the dynamic of a marriage, too. Alzheimer’s disease certainly has done that to ours.

Part of coping with Fred, the name we’ve given to Tony’s Alzheimer’s disease, has been to not spend a lot of time dwelling on how much of Tony I’ve already lost. To do that would be to invite a crushing sadness. Because, honestly, he’s not the man he used to be. Sometimes he can be downright unrecognizable.

However, as we mark our 26th wedding anniversary this week, I find looking back on all of the “good” years is a perfect way to remember exactly what a wonderful, caring and thoughtful partner I married.

Tony set an incredible example of devotion and loyalty to me in those years before Fred. I treasure those memories so much.

One of my favorites was when Tony was working day shifts as a fire inspector with the McHenry Township Fire Protection District and I was still at the Northwest Herald working on the night copy desk.

We had met at the Herald when we were both working on the copy desk, and that’s where I first noticed what a great guy he is.

Tony managed to stay calm amid any sort of crisis, had a wry sense of humor that never failed to crack me up, and treated everyone with a respect that I found appealing.

He was good-looking, too, but I suppose that goes without saying. Back in those days, he even sported a beard, which wasn’t something I had ever found particularly attractive. On him, though, it was a totally different story.

After he left the paper, he spent more time at the fire department. Unfortunately, our work shifts didn’t sync very well, so I didn’t get to see my husband nearly as much as before.

To address this, my dear Tony started driving down to Crystal Lake every night when I was working. Since he knows how much I love my coffee, he would swing by Country Donuts and get me a large coffee, with two creams and two sugars, just the way I like it.

He did this so often that the folks at the doughnut shop knew when he walked in exactly what he wanted. Sometimes he’d even bring me a doughnut.

My co-workers noticed, too. Years later, one of the reporters brought it up as something that he thought was incredibly sweet. He said it might be too high of a bar to meet in his own relationship, though.

I would have to agree, about the sweet part at least.

Tony did this despite having worked his entire shift at the fire department. He did it in all sorts of weather. And he did it despite the fact that he’d only get to see me for a few short minutes before I’d have to get back to editing copy.

I have tears in my eyes as I think about it. If he had never said “I love you” out loud, I still would have known. Yet, he would tell me every single day, too.

These days, although Tony doesn’t have the ability to hold up his end of our endless conversations anymore and he rarely says “I love you” first, I know that deep down he hasn’t changed.

I’m still his “person.” And he is mine.

I hope he never forgets that. More importantly, I hope I don’t either.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.