Richard Roy Smith is a romantic and yes you have to say his middle name or include his middle initial because there are just so many Richard Smiths.
But this “Dick Smith” is special to his wife, Jeannie Snap Smith. Even though he is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease, his wife Jeannie wants to talk about the good times – the times when they were together, the times when he showed her how special and loved she was.
Those times include the 20-second hug. Since they married in 2002, she and Mr. Smith have done the 20-second hug. They would stand in their living room, where they hug each other, and count “One I love you. Two I love you, three I love you…”
Towards the end, she would say, ‘I really do love you dear.’ His response, “As long as the stars twinkle,” Mrs. Smith said.
Now that Mr. Smith, 82, lives in the memory care unit at Sunrise Brighton Gardens and COVID-19 has hit, they do their 20-second hug over the phone when the hospice palliative care nurse calls her, she said.
“I tell him ‘pretend that I am hugging you.’ I said ‘I love you. Dick I will always love you.’ He doesn’t talk back to me as much,” Mrs. Smith,76, said. But one time, she said, he responded “every second.”
“He may not remember my name,” Mrs. Smith said. “But he knows I love him.”
“I do get choked up, I do cry, it’s hard,” she said. “I am by myself with nobody telling me what to do. I would say the thing that keeps me the best is my connection to God,” she said. “ I’m too blessed to be stressed and we have to remember our blessings. We cannot dwell on the negative things,” said Mrs. Smith, who lives in Kettering.
COVID-19 has changed life for so many, particularly Alzheimer’s caregivers. Before the stay at home order, she used to visit Brighton Gardens twice a day. As for how she is doing, “I would say better than expected, better than the average person. I know Dick is in a good and safe place …I have a great spiritual connection and I have accepted what God has given me.”
“People want to baby you, I don’t want any of that,” she said. She said she used to be a school bus driver for kids and she always lived by this motto: “If you have a problem, turn it into a project…See what you can do about that.” Mrs. Smith said.
The Smiths married after an eight-month courtship. She remembers one time when they were dating, she came to his home and there were stickers, like computer labels, all over the house:
‘you are beautiful’
‘I love you’
‘I want you for my wife’
were some of the sayings. “He is really so romantic,” she mused.
He proposed marriage pretty quickly. She accepted in May. They were married in August of 2002. “Once we got married I started noticing things,” she said. “I told his son; your father has a problem. He has trouble with his memory.”
They sought information and support at the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter. They participated in one of the first early-stage engagement programs. She still attends a support group. Now the support group meets over the phone. “After you have been diagnosed, you’ve got to go to the Alzheimer’s Association,” she said. “To be a caregiver is a hard job,” Mrs. Smith said. “I just try to do my best.”
So, she holds on to the memories, like him calling her “sweetie.”
“I told him the average man lives somewhere around 76 years old….you lived to 76, was very high functioning, you had a good job, a good life, you raised wonderful children…Dick all you are going to do now is fade, fade away.”