At 31 years old, Miriam Reeves just might be the youngest person ever to get married in a nursing home. She and her fiancé, Mark Davis, had every intention of tying the knot in their local church, until Alzheimer’s disease disrupted their plans.
Miriam’s father, Bernard, has been living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis since 2006. A former Vietnam veteran and police chaplain, Bernard’s condition eventually reached the point where he could no longer take care of himself, so his family moved him to the Foundation Park Alzheimer’s Care Center in Toledo, Ohio.
While planning for her special day, Miriam was consumed with the fear that Bernard would wander off and become lost if he was taken away from the center for the wedding ceremony. So she and Mark made a decision: if Bernard couldn’t come to the church, then they would bring their nuptials to him.
“My dad has been my hero my entire life and I know that if he was well, he would be at my wedding front and center,” Miriam told the Toldeo Blade. “And I thought, ‘Why not move it there and it would be more of a special event.’”
Miriam’s selfless decision to accommodate her father’s condition aligns with one of the foundational principles of caring for a person with dementia: entering their world.
"You have to learn to live in our world because we can't live in yours; it doesn't exist for us anymore," says Harry Urban, who's been living with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, for nearly a decade.
Navigating the ever-shifting nature of a dementia patient’s reality can be a daunting task for family members and professional caregivers alike, which is why Urban implores people to learn as much as they can about the condition. “Don’t just pick up a book and learn about the stages. Discover the unique things about their disease, learn why your loved one does the things he or she does. If you don’t, then you’re both just going to get frustrated and angry.” He urges families to remember that their loved ones may still be aware of what’s going on around them, even if they can’t communicate their understanding, and argues the importance of treating them accordingly.
Here again, Miriam sets a sterling example, “He knows who we are…I feel like a part of him will know what’s going on.” And so he did—on August 16th, 2014, Bernard Reeves walked his daughter down the aisle, his face illuminated by a radiant smile.