The Role of a Lifetime
Eugene Glazer and Xenia Gratsos met in acting class in 1979. She had watched him do a scene and thought “What a great actor.” He had seen her enter the room and thought “What a great looking woman.” After class, she suggested they do a scene together. And they did. A month later, she suggested they move in together. And they did. Says Gene, “You have to understand, when Xenia wanted something, she could be a very persuasive woman.”
Xenia was born in Greece. When she was 3, German soldiers occupied the family home in Athens. Her family escaped the occupation and found their way to America, settling in Santa Monica. Eugene grew up in Brooklyn and turned to acting in his 20’s, studying under the legendary Uta Hagen. But to his agent’s dismay, he never took it seriously. “I’d work a couple of days here, a couple days there. I was tending bar 3 nights a week. It was the 70’s. Life was fun.”
When they married, the dream was to buy a great property, get lots of animals, and in retirement, move to Greece. The property came easy enough, the animals easier (at one time they had collected 18 shelter rescues). But they never got around to the retirement part.
“I’m just going to the market.”
The first time he knew something was wrong, Xenia had left the house to go grocery shopping. “Ten minutes later I look out and she’s still in the driveway. When I approached, she stared at me in confusion, “I don’t know how to get to the market.” A year later, after catching her running toothpaste through her hair, Eugene knew they needed help and in 2007, Xenia was formally diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“Initially, I thought I could handle everything by myself. So, I never reached out. I foolishly thought that if my friends and family cared they’d call me.” But, statistics show that without support, it’s oftentimes the caregiver who goes down first and after five years, things were getting bad. So, he moved Xenia to an assisted living facility. “We fixed it up with all her paintings and furniture – it looked like a great NY apartment. But after a year, she didn’t get the care she needed so we moved to a skilled nursing facility.”
For two years, Eugene visited every day, bringing her favorite things to eat – she always had a great appetite. “But it wears on you. It’s so hard to watch as 38 years just slowly disappears. One week I missed two days – and then you feel so guilty. And friends will say: ‘You’re wasting your time – she doesn’t know you anymore.’ But they don’t really understand what’s going on. One time, we made eye contact. I reached out and told her I loved her. I watched her eyes fill with tears – she felt something.”
Lost in Love
When asked what advice he’d like to share with others, Eugene offers the following:
- “Try to find a support group early. Make sure you take some “me time,” get out of the house; take walks, have an occasional lunch with a friend.
- “Try to avoid asking them too many questions, which will only serve to frustrate them when they can’t find the answers.
- “Never argue with them – even when they are having hallucinations. Go along with them, otherwise they will think they are going crazy.
- “Music is a miraculous thing, I programmed an iPod with all the music Xenia loved and put a pair of headphones on her. She would sing or hum along and her face would just open up.”
And now, the 12-year struggle is over. Last week the reality hit Eugene, “She’s gone, I can’t visit her anymore. And leave it to Air Supply to push me over the edge. There I was listening to ‘Lost in Love’ and I completely lost it.”
Every day, family caregivers do a herculean job in meeting the needs of their loved ones. We offer our gratitude and a little bit of recognition for all that they do. If you are a caregiver or know someone who is, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org so we may feature your story here and on our Facebook page.
Lost In Love by Air Supply
I realize the best part of love is the thinnest slice
And it don’t count for much
But I’m not letting go
I believe there’s still much to believe in
So lift your eyes if you feel you can
Reach for a star and I’ll show you a plan
I figured it out
What I needed was someone to show me