Marty Schreiber used to be known as Gov. Martin Schreiber.
He served Wisconsin in that role from 1977 to 1979, stepping up from the lieutenant governor spot when Gov. Patrick Lucey left to become ambassador to Mexico.
The lawyer and former state senator went on to lose his first attempt at getting elected governor, to work as a vice president for Sentry Insurance, to lose his second gubernatorial bid and then start his own lobbying firm.
His life partner, Elaine, was with him all along the way.
At a talk at the Beloit Public Library on Wednesday night, Schreiber described her as the perfect mate.
He met Elaine at Milwaukee Lutheran High School in 1953. He knew immediately she was the one, he said.
They dated, went steady, got engaged, then married and had four children.
She was his adviser, companion, the hardest worker on his campaigns and the one who could ease the sting of losing, he said.
Then about 14 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease slowly started stealing her away.
Among the first signs: She got lost while driving to familiar places.
Schreiber became Elaine’s caregiver, a role he continues to this day. The experience led him to write a book: “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.”
The first Elaine was the woman he married, he told the audience of 27 people. The second is the woman he cares for.
“This is a new person. This is a different person,” he said. And to give love and attention to this new person, he had to let go of the first.
Accepting that the old Elaine was gone was part of a journey as Schreiber learned about Alzheimer’s the hard way.
Another lesson he calls “therapeutic fibbing.”
Elaine once asked how her parents were doing. He told her the truth: Her parents had died. The shock on her face was painful to him.
The next time she asked, Schreiber told her how well her parents were enjoying their lives, which satisfied her.
Schreiber said caregivers often feel guilt and frustration as their loved one slowly loses memory and lives in fear about what is happening.
“Another reason we feel guilty is because this disease is progressive. No matter how much attention and love and affection we give our loved one, it’s still not good enough, because the next day is a new day. So what am I doing wrong? So I work harder, and I give more attention, and I devote more time, but still the disease progresses, so I must be doing something wrong.”
Caregivers should take breaks from the work and take care of themselves, Schreiber said.
And he recommended forgetting the word “no.” If she wants a glass of wine at 9:30 a.m., why not? he said.
Schreiber reports he is nearing 300 such talks since the end of 2016, hoping his experiences will help others in the same boat.
He tells stories and jokes to break up the tension in the room, which worked well. But he laid out the truth about Alzheimer’s in his book:
“It is unrelenting and irreversible, and it can drag on for years before it kills someone you love dearly. There, I just said what we all fear the most.”
Schreiber told of a woman who told him about a dementia episode in her family. Her mother called her, saying her dad was acting strangely. She rushed home to find him sitting on the living room floor and acting as if he were casting and reeling in a line.
“What are you doing?” the daughter asked.
“Fishing,” he replied.
“What are you fishing for?”
“Can I join you?”
The woman joined her father on the floor and had one of the best talks with him she ever had, Schreiber said.
“Join their world,” Schreiber recommended, rather than trying to impose your own.