By John Morris
My name is John Morris Jr., and I am 62 years old. I lost Linda, my wife of 29 years, to dementia. She was a strong woman. This is why I participate in the Columbia Basin Walk to End Alzheimer’s with Team Linda’s Angels.
I noticed some changes in Linda around 2002. She had recently lost her mother, so I thought, “Well, you know she’s angry because her mother is gone,” and then I thought, “Well, she is in her late 40’s, perhaps it’s menopause,” and then I thought it was depression. At the time, I was an active partner in a farm business. Linda’s family were cattle ranchers.
Linda was a petite woman, around 5’4” and 127 lbs. I’m 5’10” and she used to be able to out-walk me in any airport or shopping mall, without any urgency or effort. Her glide was graceful, but then in time, her walk turned more into a shuffle. I noticed her penmanship, which was normally beautiful, deteriorating. The real kicker was when we were supposed to meet at my brother’s house for lunch, and Linda went to the garage to start the car. She came back a few minutes later crying because she could not figure out how to back it out of the garage, with the garage door opener programmed into the car, something she’d done a thousand times.
Some things weren’t really adding up, so we decided that Linda should go in and see a doctor about potential depression. At my insistence, I ordered a brain scan that diagnosed atrophy in the front left temporal region of her brain. That told the story with her behavior. Linda had many doctor appointments. She was finally diagnosed with dementia two months before her 50th birthday. That was in 2008. It is not the best news to receive two weeks before Christmas by any means. So then I took care of her — I was her only caregiver from 2009 until early 2010, then I hired our first full-time caregiver, a 19-year-old nursing student named Olivia.
We had a few full-time caregivers, but eventually, Linda’s care became more complex and I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to move her out of our home to a memory care community. That was in November of 2010, right before our wedding anniversary. I had to use a little deception to get her there.
For financial reasons, our lawyer recommended getting a legal divorce. All of our family knew about our situation, and her father and brother were very supportive in it. It was tough, but it was going to be better for us in the long-run. Her care was costing us $7,500 a month, and the divorce gave her a settlement of $150,000 that we could use for the remainder of her care. The funds lasted for about 20 months. Linda and I were together for over 33 years since we had first met, but married for 29 because of the divorce.
The worst part of Linda’s Alzheimer’s journey was that she knew where she was headed. Her mother, Stanna had it herself. It was really bad. She was diagnosed at 49 and lived until she was 54.
When she passed it was a relief. It was not sadness, it was grief. The thing about grief is you never know when it is going to hit you. You can’t predict it. It is just there and you have to live with it. You revisit it, and you honor it to a certain degree. Linda and I used to place flowers on the altar at my church for my father. I now add flowers to the altar for Linda, too.
I am lucky that I had quite the team of support when Linda was diagnosed. They circled the wagons and made sure that we were taken care of. Even so, I fell into a deep depression. There were mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed. But I had to. I had to let the cats in that were out and feed them. Then I had to walk the dogs who were kenneled up. I saw my doctor and he suggested getting help on several fronts. It took medication, religion, lifestyle change and my pets to pull me out of it. It took nearly a month to begin feeling like myself again.
I met Joan Acres with the Alzheimer’s Association when I placed Linda in memory care, and I started volunteering with the Association shortly after that. The Association wanted to have the first Moses Lake Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2014, so I got involved. It’s always a great group of people to work with. I started my team by inviting people who were Linda’s caregivers — part-time, paid, volunteer — to walk if they wanted as a way to remember Linda.
Being a caregiver for a loved one with dementia is a journey. I survived by making a game out of it. I wasn’t going to let it beat me permanently. At some point, it has an end. You will fail trying to do it all by yourself, so get people to help you, whether it is family, friends or a paid caregiver. It is going to be challenging and some days, you’re not going to win every day, but you’re going to tee up and hit it again.
The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is everywhere — on every street, trail and treadmill. We’re moving forward to end Alzheimer’s. Join the fight at alzwa.org/walk