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Alzheimer’s, the Long Goodbye: Miracles and New Beginnings

I believe in miracles.

It all started with a miracle…

After several years of trying to “figure out” what had gone wrong, my previous marriage for all intents and purposes, ended in less than 24 hours. The boys and I were broken and lost, times were uncertain, and we had so much trauma and pain. I felt overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility. I had walled off my heart, taken a dim view towards marriage, and quite frankly at this point had “issues” with men due to so many painful experiences and disappointments. 

Then I met Larry. Larry was a miracle to the boys and me when we were broken and lost.

Within a year, we celebrated new beginnings… A fresh start, a new chapter… Not everyone gets that, and we knew in our hearts, we were among the lucky ones. 

Larry was the first strong, independent, and loyal man I had in my life. For the first time in my life I had a “rock”, someone I knew I could depend on, someone who would always put the boys’ needs before his own, and took great pride in being able to “take care of his family.”  He modeled what it meant to be a loving, engaged father and husband.  

Larry’s sister introduced us and from the very first lunch date, we both recognized that we had something special. Within months, Larry started talking about leaving Florida to move to Pittsburgh, and he wanted to buy a house and get married. My first response, even though I knew he was “the one,” was that it was “too soon”; we hadn’t known each other long enough, we should date longer. His response was flawless. He said, “Monique, we're adults who have been married before, have felt the heartbreak of divorce, and have gone through hell.  When “you know you know,” and one hundred more dates or another year isn’t going to change that.”  That was “My Larry”.

For nearly half our marriage, we enjoyed the miracle. I don’t mean to romanticize it; we certainly had our struggles. We had seven children between us, each with their own personalities, perspectives, and issues, I had recently started the business, Larry had begun to experience some health issues, and a myriad of other things that life throws at you.

Even though Larry physically passed very quickly, “My Larry,” the man who I met, fell in love with, and built a life with, had been gone for half our marriage. I had been losing “My Larry” for all those years.

Alzheimer’s deaths are unique because you often go through years of losing your loved one one painful piece at a time.

If Larry had not had Alzheimer’s and had a heart attack and died suddenly when he did, my grieving process would have been hugely different. Chances are, I would still be struggling to get out of bed nine months later. This past holiday season would have been very different for our family.   

If he had passed ten years ago, before his Alzheimer’s, when we were still a young family with our kids at home and the boys were used to having their dad around everyday, the absence of him would have been profound and devastating. Because of Alzheimer's rapid decline and the enviable reality of him spiraling down to a place that meant he couldn’t have remained at home, I know he is in a better place.  In fact, the evening after Larry died, our family doctor called me. He expressed his condolences, asked me how the kids and I were doing, and then after a pause, said “I know you don’t understand now, but this is what’s best for Larry and you too.”

My grieving process with Alzheimer’s in no way means that I loved him any less through the years, it is just different. 

Needless to say, this Christmas, our first without Larry, brought up a lot of memories and emotions for me.

I’m big on turning tasks and events into traditions.  For example, tree trimming is a family event with a full buffet, Christmas music, and shared family history and stories. Christmas wrapping is a different kind of event: setting up my wrapping station on the kitchen table, getting organized, playing Christmas music, putting on Christmas pajamas and wearing my Santa apron complete with Santa hat.  Before I met Larry, it was something I enjoyed, but always did alone. 

Larry always helped me wrap presents (helping might be an overstatement). 

Once Larry and I were together, everything changed… we would laugh, talk about the gifts we were giving, and in the early years, maybe share a bottle of wine and even a dance or two.

This Christmas wrapping was my first time in seventeen years doing it alone…I was okay with it and even in the Christmas Spirit.

As I started to wrap the first gift, suddenly, the sun caught a collage of us on our wedding day surrounded by the kids. I must have stood there for a half an hour replaying memories. They were all happy memories….the pictures of he and I with the kids, dancing, cutting the cake at our wedding.  I was able to just be in that Space of Gratitude for all that we had and who we were as a couple and as a family.  Sure there was some sadness, but I was okay with it.

Then I turned around and saw the beautiful box that holds his ashes sitting on the coffee table. I smiled and moved them to the kitchen table. While I had rarely physically talked to him since his passing, that day we had a lot to say.  I reminisced with him about the “Santa Claus days”, dragging the kids to the mall to ride the train, frantically assembling toys in the middle of the night, the year he bought me an electric blue fur car coat (it  was atrocious to say the least),  and the year I bought him the Marlboro Man leather range jacket (best gift ever). 

I also allowed myself to process everything at a deeper level.

The times when he said hurtful things, did things that seemed unloving, or just couldn’t connect no matter how much I needed him to- none of that was him-  it was simply the disease. 

I told him it's  akin to when someone has epilepsy, we don’t fault them when they fall to the floor and spasm, Alzheimer's victims say and do things and it’s not  them. 

I confided in him how there were certainly things I really wish I had done differently. During Larry’s many hospital stays over the years, and in particular his last few months,  I would stay by his side even through the long nights. During his last stint in the hospital, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t stay around the clock and I went home to sleep in our own bed at night. The night before he died, his last few voicemails he left me were, “Why aren’t you here”, “Why am I always alone”, “When are you coming?”  He was calling me in the night afraid, but I just couldn’t be there… I was exhausted.  Had I known what was going to happen,  wild horses couldn’t have kept me away. 

That said, it ended with a miracle.  

Larry died at the perfect moment in time…ninety minutes after being home from his latest hospital stay, in our beloved home, with Scott and Anso laughing and “being brothers”, our grandson Silas playing at the coffee table, and after us having our “welcome home kiss,” I had just left the room to put on cozies in preparation for an evening with family. 

No regrets. No words left unsaid. No amends to be made.

He KNEW he was loved by all of us and we ALL knew he loved us… there can be nothing better. 

Something some may see as counterintuitive that you often hear widows/widowers talk about is that the ones who had happy, healthy relationships know what’s possible and they are open to the future. Those who didn’t have happiness in their relationships are often afraid of moving forward… and some never do. 

I often tell my clients, once you’ve had something/done something, you know it's possible, so the possibility of having it again is much more likely…the  proof is in your history.

This year, as the holidays approached, the kids and I talked about it and decided to continue our holiday traditions as they had always been. We recognized that Larry’s absence would at times be difficult, and sometimes even awkward, but life is for the living and Larry would want us to be comforted by tradition while moving forward in our lives. 

A fun Christmas Eve tradition, and one that has grown to mean a lot to us, is the tradition of Christmas pajamas. I’ve probably been doing Christmas pajamas for over 20 years. It’s become such a joke that every year I say, “No Christmas pajamas this year, there is nothing new to do.” Of course, no one believes me. This year as I planned for the holiday season, I knew right away how I would commemorate Larry and bring him along  into our coveted Christmas Eve tradition.

After many hours sifting through pajama options and trying to come up with a heartfelt idea, it occurred to me that the last name initials of our family (DeMonaco, Olbeter, and Gavazzi), as an acronym is “D.O.G.” and Larry never met a dog he didn’t love. With much help from our good friend Heather and my assistant Olivia, we designed the official D.O.G. shirt, the motto being, “Take care of each other.” 

I passed out everyone’s package, made a toast to Larry, and insisted that each one of them open them at the same time. It’s the only year that everyone in the family (eight of us)  had the same pajamas.

It may not be what you expected to hear, but we had a wonderful Christmas and a really nice holiday season. Yes, there were moments when there was sadness, there were times when I saw or heard one of the boys cry, and I certainly choked up with emotion when I  made the Christmas toast to Larry as everyone opened their pajamas, but in some ways it was magical. Our grandson, Silas, at the age of two was enthralled with assisting everyone with opening their gifts, there was the usual “mocking of Mom”, the brothers bonded over their Christmas gift of hockey tickets, and getting to spend time with Anso and Henry’s new girlfriends was better than I could have imagined.   

Another one of our Christmas traditions is to take everyone out to dinner one evening at a steakhouse (this year was Hyde Park).  It was a very happy occasion because each of the boys had their significant others, and our daughter, Stephanie was able to be here, and everyone got dressed up… I was really looking forward to it!  As I was getting ready, I realized there are so many clothes in my closet I quit wearing years ago. “Date nights” were long a thing of the past and  the stress of caring for Larry had led me to not prioritize my own health… I had gained a lot of weight over the years. That night, I  made the conscious decision to wear something that I hadn’t had the occasion for, hadn’t fit into, or just hadn’t felt like wearing. I pulled a black dress with an Asian print out, slipped it on, and the suede shoes to go with it were waiting in their box….It  felt great!

I know in my heart, if Larry had not had Alzheimer's and we hadn’t been losing him for years before he passed, this  holiday season, just nine months after his death, would have been much different, but Alzheimers was the hand we were dealt.  

At some point, the possibility of “life being for the living”, while fleeting, was something that I was ready to think about. Even before we were married, Larry would talk about how he knew in his heart that he would go first and I would still be relatively young, and that he hoped his passing would come after the boys were grown. He hoped that would be a time in my life where I lived more for myself, without the day to day responsibilities of raising a family, the years of responsibilities of helping to care for my parents and grandparents, and the last ten years making Larry’s health and well-being the focus of our lives. 

Shortly after Larry passed, my aunt sent me a link for a Facebook group, Surviving the Loss of a Spouse, Soulmate.

Honestly, it’s not a group I feel a deep connection with, often the things they are struggling with don’t resonate with me, and it hasn’t been a forum where I’ve really participated much. For me, it’s been more of an insight of what people are going through and how they handle their losses.

One of the things that has really struck me is the pace in which people move on.

Recently, one gentleman confessed that he had been with his wife for over fifty years and didn’t want to do one single year alone. His process was to review the women who came to pay their last respects at his wife’s funeral to figure out if one of them might be a suitable next wife. Of course, many people had opinions about this, with one woman confiding that her husband had died twenty-five years ago, and all of his things remained exactly where they were the day he died. She freely expressed that she never saw herself moving on. In many ways, her life ended when his did.

Honestly, I didn’t judge... There is no right or wrong, no one can give you the answers, and everyone’s timeline is different, but both extremes elicited a sadness in me for these two people.

The absolute fear of being alone being the motivator for trying to find your next wife at your wife’s funeral, and thinking about someone putting in twenty-five long, painful years, pining for their loved one. 

For those who lose a loved one with Alzheimer’s, they may feel a sense of relief when their loved one ultimately passes. The years of stress and struggle have left them to feel like life passed them by during the years they were a caretaker. For them, they may feel ready to move forward in their lives in a few short months or even weeks.

Personally, my  grieving process before he passed was reflected in the loss of “My Larry” and our connection. After he passed, a big part of the process became grieving all the years we lost while he was still physically here.

How soon you are ready to be forward facing in your life isn’t reflective of the intensity of your love.

If you are moving through the grieving process faster than someone who still feels like every minute of every day feels raw, it isn’t a measure of your love or commitment, it doesn't mean you loved your family member any less than the person who is still overwhelmed by their grief. 

What might seem “too soon” to some, may feel like the right timing for others. Grief and loss is a deeply personal journey. 

As difficult as it was, there were many aspects of my grieving process I was fortunate for, my grandson, Silas, being the primary one. Silas came into my life like a “Beacon of Light'' during a very dark time. When he was born, Henry and Zane  had just left for college and even though I was beyond happy and proud about that, it was the end of an era for me…I had had children at home for 36 years…their absence left a big hole in my life. Larry was rapidly declining so my loneliness seemed to increase daily…I felt very isolated and alone.

Since before Larry got sick, I’ve had my business. I’ve always loved my work, but as the  years went on, my work with clients took on a whole new meaning for me. It became a place of refuge,  provided opportunities for intellectual conversations and debate, and gave me a sense of purpose away from the house. It also provided me with great flexibility I would not have had if I worked for someone else. Early on, I would have had to make the decision to either delegate much of Larry’s care to someone else or quit my job. I had the luxury of almost always working around Larry’s needs.  

As I reflect on the past nine months, I’m well aware I am extremely blessed to have such a strong support system.

Our two oldest boys live minutes from the house, I have a wonderful daughter-in-law, Ari, who regularly checks in. I have friends who I see regularly and I talk with one of my closest friends, Mary Jo, almost daily. My assistant Olivia, with her young dynamic energy,  is regularly in and out of the house as we work on projects and my brother and I have become much closer as we talk more than we had before. Most weekends, some combination of the boys, Ari, and my grandson Silas stay at least one night and often the whole weekend.

I recognize most are not as lucky.

The incredible support I have from family and friends has been a salve to a heavy heart. Any time I have felt lonely, they were always just a phone call away.

They have undoubtedly helped me on my Grief Journey and given me hope for the future. All the wonderful circumstances in my life have helped me to remain grateful and positive and more ready to look to the future and all the possibilities that come with it. 

I decided to and am doing many of the things that I’ve missed or wanted to do, whether it’s throwing on a dress that has long been buried in my closet, going on a spontaneous getaway with friends, going to more dinners, concerts, and shows with family and friends, and working out. I’m feeling more like me, and in some ways I feel like I’m back to myself after a very long time of being away. For a long time, I had feared that that person was gone, that I had somehow “aged out” of her, but I have come to recognize that she was there all along.  Reconnecting with her has been fun and sometimes even exciting. 

As the holidays came to a close and the year began anew, I recognized the number 24 has always had significance for me. With the New Year, it feels like a time for new beginnings and more of the things that I’ve been longing to do and maybe even trying some new things I’ve never done.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but I have made a commitment to prioritize myself more, try new things, meet new people, and be very open to possibilities. 

For right now, I’ve made the decision to keep our house and my Aspinwall office.

While I'm not someone who practices feng shui, I do know that homes have an energy, and that energy can get heavy with the death of someone, conflict in relationships, or even just clutter. I made a point of clearing some old stuff out the first week of the new year and then made the decision to do a sage clearing in the house.

Sage clearing isn't anything new to me, it’s something I've done throughout the years, but not with any regularity. I came across an article about saging a space and decided that this new year was the perfect time. Believe it or not, saging the house, rearranging a few things, burning a citrus candle, going through the space and just clearing some stuff out, all in the span of a day, created a shift for me. To me, the house feels lighter, fresher, and I feel refreshed in it. 

Coincidentally, since Larry’s passing, I've been working with a client who’s phasing into retirement after a decades-long career that he let define him. When we first began working together, I asked him to consider what he wanted the last quarter of his life to look like.  Shortly thereafter,  I began to ask myself the very same question. Several weeks later, it occurred to me that in our next session, I should  make the correction and ask him what he wanted the last third of his life to look like. As I approach sixty, I want to take the perspective of what the last third of my life will look like…planning to live to be ninety rather than eighty (the older you get, the younger eighty is).

The day Larry died, I unpacked his hospital bag and laid his sleep shirt on his pillow where it has since remained. Up until recently, every evening as I got into bed and every morning as I made it, I would hold his shirt to my face to catch the scent of him. This holiday season, the last vestiges of his scent faded away. 

Mine and Larry’s bedroom has remained nearly exactly the same as when we moved in seventeen years ago.  As I look to the future and start to explore new possibilities in my own life and how I’m going to spend the last third of it, one of the things I’m focused on is redoing our bedroom, making it my own…doing something fresh and different that reflects me and the reconnection with myself. I even recently spent half a day going to different stores and exploring redecorating options, from fabrics to paint chips, throw cushions to furniture.  I even have my eye on an enchanting new bed.

I know that miracles can happen… I’ve experienced them myself. As I look to the future with fresh eyes, and even a tingle of excitement, I embrace any and all miracles that are coming my way.  

In Loving Memory of Larry DeMonaco…. The beautiful man you were and the freed spirit you are now.

If you would like to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, an organization devoted to research, treatment, and finding a cure for this devastating disease, please visit 


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