Jun 302014

Love is a symbol of eternity. It wipes out all sense of time, destroying all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end. ~Author Unknown

I stopped at the desk to sign in and explained to the receptionist I was a reporter from the local newspaper and was doing a story on a gentleman who lived there, a World War II veteran. As I made my way down the corridor to Mr. Walter’s room, I heard the receptionist behind me.

“Mrs. Dodson, you know Mr. Walter is practically deaf and suffers from dementia, don’t you?”18490465_postcards

“No ma’am, I didn’t.”

His daughter, who I’d spoken with days before, failed to mention his condition, but because I was already there I decided to go ahead with the interview.

As I passed room after room, each one looked the same: a single bed, a dark wooden nightstand, and a shiny brass lamp. I smiled at the elders sitting along the wall in their wheelchairs.

“Mr. Walter?” I read his name on the plaque outside his door, but I would have never recognized him by the picture his daughter had e-mailed the day before. A soldier dressed in army fatigues, tall and thin, but with broad shoulders and an even broader smile. It looked as if the photograph had captured him in the middle of a hilarious joke.

He looked up from a sunken blue chair, a blanket covering his lap. I could tell he didn’t understand what I’d said. I sat down on the corner of his bed and introduced myself, stretching my hand out to his while he slowly shook it.

“Aw, you have soft skin!” he said hoarsely.

Luckily, he knew I was a reporter and that I’d come to interview him for a story on local veterans. We spoke for a few minutes, and although communicating was difficult because he was hard of hearing, he had a quick wit and made me feel at ease.

“Can you tell me a little about where you served in the army?” I asked.

The interview began like many others, I asked questions and he answered them. I’d learned over the years as a reporter to say as little as possible, allowing the person to do most of the talking. And Mr. Walter did.

He shared with me that he was a medic in World War II and during battles their battalion put crosses on their helmets signifying their position. Under the Geneva Convention, enemies weren’t allowed to bomb his area.

“But it didn’t always happen that way,” Mr. Walter said.

I sat quietly, writing and listening, but in the middle of one of his recollections of the Battle of Normandy he blurted out, “And I drove so quick to JCPenney I nearly ran over a pedestrian!”

And so it went for thirty more minutes. Talks of soldiers and battle wounds mixed with Yankees baseball and his daughter’s first communion.

Soon I put my notebook down and resorted to spending the rest of the visit talking with my new friend. I’d have to tell my editor we couldn’t use the interview. The longer we’d spoken, the more farfetched his stories had become.

“I took out an army of men, over one hundred of ’em with my own bare hands!” he said, laughing.

His face lit up as he spoke. It was clear he would fade in and out of conversations. I watched him closely and you could almost see it. He would answer one question precisely and to the point and moments later struggle to find the easiest of words. A nurse walked in during our conversation and she lovingly moved the blanket that lay in his lap to cover his legs. He thanked her by name but minutes later had forgotten she’d come at all.

Before leaving, I thanked him for talking with me, and made my way to the hall. Standing at his doorway, I wished we’d met years earlier.

“Did you see my postcard?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t; show it to me,” I said as I walked over to the framed card beside his bed.

As I picked it up, he told me it was from a woman named Emma.

“She was the most beautiful lady you’d ever laid eyes on. She sent me that postcard on her wedding day,” he chuckled. “She was all dressed up in a white wedding gown, about to say ‘I do’ and when the church doors opened for her to walk down the aisle to meet her groom, she slammed them shut! She ran back home, and sent me that card. She was my best friend growing up. She told me she’d be waiting ’til I got home from the army and we’d get married.”

It was another of his stories. I was sure the postcard was significant in some way, but that was pretty farfetched.

As I pulled out of the nursing home, I called Mr. Walter’s daughter from my car. I told her I’d visited her father and as much as I’d enjoyed talking with him, I couldn’t publish the piece because of his condition.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias is now available for purchase, with all royalties going to the Alzheimer’s Association. Read all the inspiring stories.

She was kind and not surprised. She said her father’s dementia had worsened over the last few months. But before we hung up, I told her what her dad said about defeating an army of German soldiers with his bare hands.

“That sounds just like him,” she laughed.

I also went on to tell her about a postcard he’d shown me, and the story he’d shared of the woman, his childhood friend who’d stopped her wedding with minutes to spare and professed her love for him.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Hello?”

“That one is true,” she said, quietly.

She told me of the sixty-two-year marriage between her father and mother and how her mother waited for the soldier she’d always loved to return home from war.

“They had never even been on a first date,” Mr. Walter’s daughter said.

A week later I drove back to the nursing home and visited Mr. Walter again. He told me about Emma in great detail, never once trailing off as I’d witnessed days before. He recounted what Emma had worn the day he’d seen her upon his return, the address of their first home, their family pet, and Emma’s favorite flowers he’d planted along the front porch stoop.

We published his story on the front page of the newspaper a week later. I hand delivered a copy to him.

“Why do you think you remembered so much about Emma, but so little about the war?” I asked.

He sighed, thinking for a moment, then told me, “World War II was a big part of my life, but Emma was the best part.”


Author: Amanda Dodson

From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living With Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias by Amy Newmark and Angela Timashenka Geiger. Copyright 2014 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Jun 142014

father's day blog 2Father’s Day – or any day, for that matter – is not a typical day for Jason.

Jason is a teenage caregiver.

While many young adults of 18 are thinking about final exams and high school graduation parties, Jason Hatke’s mind is looking much further into the future. At age 46, Jason’s father Mike was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Jason was only 13.

There were signs in the years before Jason’s father was diagnosed. In the 6th grade, Jason was in his school classroom viewing a video about Alzheimer’s with his fellow students. Jason immediately recognized the signs of Alzheimer’s shown in the video as behaviors his father had been displaying at home. He breached the topic with his mother Rita. Then, other issues began to surface. Mike’s boss noticed he had been experiencing trouble with his memory, especially in the afternoon hours after lunch. Soon Mike was seeing doctors to figure out what was going on.

Two years and many tests later, the truth was revealed.

Mike received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and it changed the course of Jason’s life.

At 15, Jason became his father’s primary caregiver. Jason chose to step up to the plate, taking on the task of determining his father’s daily needs. With his mother working full-time more than 30 miles from their home, it became Jason’s responsibility to watch over his father. “It’s an everyday struggle,” Jason says. “There are days when my dad doesn’t know if he’s hungry or thirsty. It makes every day very real.”

As with all Alzheimer’s patients, scary situations arise and the reality of the situation is often raw and emotional. Jason manages to keep afloat while growing up a lot faster than his peers. “I feel like I am closer to 35 than 18,” he says. “Support from the Alzheimer’s Association and aid from other caregiver children coping with the disease has offered me a lot of comfort.” Jason has attended a ranch camp twice since his father was diagnosed. This is where he made new connections, supportive friends and where he met his girlfriend, whose father recently passed away with frontotemporal dementia.

Inspired by his father’s strength, Jason become an Alzheimer’s advocate. He has traveled to D.C. alongside his father to ask representatives to make Alzheimer’s a national priority and encourages other young adults to become involved in the fight. He’s learned to “make every single day count.”

Advocating is a passion that requires compassion, much like Jason’s caregiver role. “It is a blessing and a curse,” he says. “I’ve had to figure out who I am quickly, more quickly than my peers. I see the future more clearly, and I’ve learned the advantages of the family unit and how to not take it for granted. Where other people my age are rebelling and turning against their parents, I have learned how to appreciate mine.”

Although Jason feels a strong moral obligation to remain in Indiana to support his dad, he recently enlisted to join the Navy. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t worry about his decision. He does. He worries about the “what ifs.” What might happen when he returns? What if his father doesn’t recognize him?

Like Jason, many caregivers and family members of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s experiefathers day blog 1nce feelings of guilt. But Jason’s family is encouraging him in his decision and is committed to him pursuing his passions. His father insists that he won’t “weigh Jason down” by insisting that he stay in Indiana. Until Jason leaves for the Navy, he continues to live every day as it comes, taking to heart the many life lessons he is learning from his father — particularly his attitude toward Alzheimer’s. “He decided to step up and fight this disease. He advocates for progress and change and shares his voice on Capitol Hill. I respect my dad so much because of that,” Jason said.

Jason’s work as an advocate is a calling that he plans to continue to pursue beyond his years as a teenage caregiver, because he knows the difference he can make. “Imagine if my situation was your situation. Imagine how helpless you might feel, and how it would make you feel to lose your memory. My family and I advocate for change on the federal level and in our community to change the future for other families. I fight because my dad fights. I fight for those who can’t. Go big or go home.”

About Jason: Jason is sharing his story during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in hopes that he can inspire others to get involved with the cause. He currently serves as an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association, recently attending the Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum for the third time. He is also working on launching a dementia website of his own.

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Become an Advocate
Take Action: Tell Elected Officials to Invest in Alzheimer’s Research
Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

Jul 302012
Photo courtesy of Kristine Walsh

Caregiving blogger Sherri Snelling spoke to actors Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker about their journey in caring for Jill’s mother who has dementia.  At the heart of their story is family and how “eat, pray, love” may be their new catchphrase when it comes to caregiving. 

What struck me the most when I spoke to Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker – her partner in marriage, career and life – was that in all things they are a team.  We even did the interview with the two of them together, at their suggestion, and it gave me a glimpse into how their special bond of support, respect and caring for each other is a recipe for all couples who face a tough caregiving situation.  In fact, their story is about love of family and food and the ingredients needed to keep it all cooking.  Jill and Mike are like salt and pepper shakers – two distinct personalities and characters – but you never pass one without the other.

We all watched them as one of our favorite TV couples in the 80s and 90s in their roles on the Emmy-winning series L.A. Law (what boomer woman can forget the famous Venus Butterfly episode?).  Since then, both Mike and Jill have thrived as solo artists – Mike as an actor and as an acclaimed author, and Jill as a continually sought-after star on stage and screen with her latest turn in the movie, Young Adult.   However, it is when they are performing together – whether it is playing the couple in Broadway’s Love Letters, or caring for Jill’s mother with dementia – that they really are at their best.