Couple Adhere to Vows
|'She's my life,' caregiver, 82, says of Alzheimer's patient, 83.|
February 2002 - When Kenny and Eleanor Olsen exchanged wedding vows in 1941, they meant what they said. In sickness and in health, they vowed to be there for each other.
When Eleanor's father died at an early age, she pitched in to help her mother pay the rent.
Kenny and Eleanor Olsen had three daughters. The clan grew to eight grandsons, then to 10 great-grandchildren. In 1977, Kenny retired from a career with the U.S. Postal Services, and Eleanor finished a career in sales that spanned stints with Gold's, Brandeis, and Younkers.
When Eleanor's health began to fail, Kenny set aside some of his retirement diversions to be at her side. When his life partner and confidant was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, his initial reaction was anger. It wasn't until he attended some support group meetings that he saw a silver lining.
"I was mad at the Lord for giving us this cross to bear," Kenny reflected," but after I heard other stories, I decided I didn't have it so bad. I've heard cases where the patient cusses at their partner, and throws things."
That's not the case with Eleanor Olsen, now 83. One of the biggest problems her husband has had to confront is her fatigue.
When an opening in the daycare unit at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital gave the caregiver some relief, Eleanor, usually an avid walker; succumbed to fatigue and could be found sleeping in a patient's bed.
Being able to take his wife to an Alzheimer's day-care setting six days a week has enabled Kenny Olsen, 82, to cope with the rigors of his caregiver schedule at night and on Sundays.
Two years ago, the schedule forced him to give up season tickets for Husker football and men's basketball games that had been in the family since 1936.
Kenny has no regrets. In fact, he's happy to trade climbing all those steps at Memorial Stadium for the comfort of his own home, where he enjoys most of the Husker football games on TV. As a student at University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL) in 1936, he remembers his $6 athletic ticket admitted him to all Husker athletic events.
Eleanor's condition has regressed to the point where she no longer recognizes her husband or their children. But her husband accepts the reality and treasures her presence.
"I'm dedicated to her ... she's my life," says Kenny, who hopes he and his wife will be able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in August.
Kenny looks back at his heart surgery in October 1995 and wonders now if the burden of caregiving was related. But with the daytime help now provided by Madonna, the devoted husband of 59 years hopes he'll always be there for his wife.
None of the couple's three daughters live in Lincoln, although one plans to move here in June.
"I've told my daughters, 'I hope the Lord let's me live longer so I can continue to take care of her.'"
After all, it's what the Olsens promised each other they'd do in 1941.