Losing My Father-in-Law to Alzheimer's Disease

I seldom talk about this, but it was on this day three years ago that our family lost my father-in-law, Terry Wetmore, to Alzheimer's Disease. My father-in-law was truly a second father to me; after my wife and I were married, Terry quickly became one of my closest friends. No matter the situation, the two of us would trade jokes back and forth - perhaps a little too often - and often to the chagrin of everyone else around us. Terry was a successful businessman in his younger days, and in his latter years Terry and my mother-in-law were part of a clown ministry that performed around the world.

Terry-and-Bob

The first indication of Terry's battle with Alzheimer's Disease was forgetfulness, and as his symptoms gradually progressed over several years, we found ourselves trying to help him process his fears and frustrations as he fully realized what was happening to him. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been for Terry, and it was extremely painful to watch his slow descent from a successful and self-determined businessman and loving grandfather into a growing fog of confusion.

As the months slipped by, Terry became progressively disorientated; for example, on more than one occasion he would plead with me to take him home, and I would have to gently remind him that he was already there. Eventually he could do little more than sit and stare at the world around him with an empty gaze from eyes that could not process his surrounding environment. One of the worst parts about Alzheimer's Disease is that each day passes and you are gradually robbed of your loved ones in spirit, even though you still have them physically.

I have a cousin who is living through similar circumstances, and during one of our conversations I mentioned that I am certainly no expert on how someone should go through this type of situation with a loved one. But I told her that I learned to appreciate the good days that we had near the end, and one particular event came to mind. My wife and I were visiting with my in-laws at a time when Terry's existence was rarely more than sitting in his favorite chair and watching television during his conscious hours. My mother-in-law invited my dad over to join us for dinner, and as the five of us relaxed around the dinner table, Terry miraculously emerged from his usual lethargy and became fully-engaged in the conversation. Terry was behaving more like his old self – he was joking with everyone, he was firing back at my dad’s ubiquitous one-liners, and he was referring to me by an old nickname which he had fashioned for me during all the years that we had known each other.

This was a wonderful moment in time; but it was all-too-brief, and sadly it was the last of its kind. Terry’s return to normalcy lasted for just that evening, and even though the weeks ahead had periodic episodes of lucidity, we soon had to put my father-in-law in a nursing home because his day-to-day needs were too much for my mother-in-law to take care of on her own. Terry’s health declined rapidly over the next several months, and he passed away within the year.

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There is hardly a day that goes by where I do not think about how much I miss Terry. Brief moments like the dinner that I described were unexpected blessings, and they are wonderful memories that I will treasure for the rest of my days. Events like that are the way that I choose to remember Terry's latter years, and I am so thankful that I have a lifetime's worth of deeply-cherished reminiscences of him from our younger years.

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