“Telling you my story as it relates to the Alzheimer’s experience gave me an opportunity to recall some of the wonderful, memorable experiences we’ve shared over the years. We’re very blessed.”
Jim and Shirley Mallonee met at a sock hop while they were sophomores at Seattle University. After graduation, Jim joined the Army and shortly thereafter, they were married. When Jim was finished with his service, they settled down in Snohomish County where Jim worked as a CPA and Shirley taught special education and first/second grade in the Edmonds School District. They have three children and three grandchildren, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016. “It’s been a good life. We have an enduring love for each other,” Jim says.
Both Jim and Shirley retired by age 60. Jim remembers this as a very joyous time for them. “We traveled to Europe and Australia, and we spent the winter months living in Arizona. We would spend our time fishing, hiking, and enjoyed being active. We met people from all over and made some very good friends. I feel fortunate to have had that time with her,” Jim says fondly.
They also enjoyed going to concerts together, including Dolly Parton and Jimmy Buffett. One of Jim’s fondest memories is of a trip he and Shirley took to Orlando, where they sat on the “Porch of Indecision” at Margaritaville Café — a place Jim often revisits in memories. “I now spend considerable time in my mind on the porch of indecision. It’s a good place to be.”
Things started to change as Shirley began showing signs of dementia. She was an avid reader and enjoyed going to book club. It became increasingly difficult for her to remember and discuss the books she read, so she stopped attending. She also had a hard time playing one of her favorite games: Mah Jong.
Jim remembers becoming truly concerned about Shirley when she had a hard time filling out a volunteer application while they were in Arizona. Together, they went to a memory-screening center, where Shirley was referred to a neurologist for further testing. After getting an MRI, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 70.
Jim says he fluctuates emotionally and relates to ambiguous loss. “It’s a different kind of grief, because you’re slowly losing the person you once knew. Compared to other types of illnesses like cancer, it’s very hard because there is no remission and there is no cure.”
“You’ll never understand why this happened, so it’s about learning how to cope.” He says, “My goal is to continue growing through life’s challenges.”
A few years ago, Shirley moved into a memory care facility where Jim visits her about three times a week. When he’s there, Shirley’s eyes light up and she listens intently to his stories, laughing whenever he says something funny. Her love for him is apparent. “She is and always will be a precious gem in my universe. Every twinkle in her eyes is a sign of her love,” Jim says.
Jim has become more accepting of how their lives have changed, and has started to focus more on his own health and quality of life. He’s been traveling, including a fishing trip in Arizona and a family visit in North Carolina. He’s even planning a fishing expedition next year in a remote part of Alaska. Whenever he hesitates about whether or not he should go on a trip — sometimes carrying guilt that he’s able to do these things when Shirley isn’t — he asks himself, “Would Shirley want me to go? The answer is yes.”