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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Gerry and Sandra Williams face struggles and frustration as she suffers from dementia.

Dealing with dementia

Frustration mounts as memories fade – ‘That’s just part of it’

– A few weeks ago, The Journal Gazette stopped being delivered to the gray ranch home of Gerry and Sandra Williams.

Gerry hated the idea of not getting his morning paper for several reasons. First is that he and his wife, Sandra, had been longtime subscribers; secondly, because he had worked for the paper about three years as a part-time photographer, taking pictures for car ads; and third, he was the subject of a story 10 years ago when, as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, he and some others drove hard for two days to get to Florida to aid victims of Hurricane Charley.

Because he was so saddened by ending his subscription, the 74-year-old Williams, in a two-page handwritten note on the back of a renewal request mailed to his home, explained his decision to Journal Gazette associate circulation director Kevin Lentz.

“Ft. Wayne Newspapers has been a big part of our lives, as a news carrier as a kid growing up, and until about 6 yrs. ago as a ‘car photo’ photographer,” Williams printed with a blue pen.

Lentz admits he gets his share of bad news from readers, whether it is a missed paper or a missed porch or a Sunday edition without the ads. But getting a heartfelt note from an apologetic reader? “That’s pretty rare,” Lentz says.

It’s not because of the cost, Williams wrote while explaining his reason to stop subscribing. It’s because of Sandra, who will turn 69 this month. Because she has been diagnosed with dementia, she cannot read the paper. And he doesn’t have time.

“As a care giver now, I have to get most of my news in between medicine schedules and doctor’s visits,” Williams wrote.

He also wrote that there are many couples like him and his wife, who struggle every day with a similar situation.

Williams answered his home phone one late afternoon this week, picking up just as the answering machine came on. He said he had been out running errands – something he has to do while Sandra is at a day-care center. He couldn’t talk long because he had to pick her up.

“It’s hard to describe,” Williams says of his frustration with his life now, and of her life. “You get so aggravated with it; so flustered. There’s nothing you can do with it. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate. And it’s pretty much isolated us.”

Even with a daughter, they had always been a busy couple. He worked at General Electric, and Sandra taught fourth and fifth grades at elementary schools, first at Harmar, then Abbott and finally Shambaugh. They traveled in their recreational vehicle with their German shepherds. They talked about going to Florida for a few weeks.

Instead, they spent the quiet, cold winter nights together inside their home.

When Jan. 7 came, Williams gave her a card for their 47th anniversary. Usually he was the one who forgot. This time, though, she didn’t remember.

“When I gave her a card, she perked up like, ‘Wow. How long have we been married?’ That’s just part of it.”

A couple of times over the phone, his voice breaks.

“My wife is a very talented person,” Williams says. “She’s a quilter, a sewer, a homemaker – all kinds of hobbies; a painter. It’s just like the doctor described. It’s a disease that takes the personality out of the person.

“She still knows who I am. They’ve already told the family and told me that the day’s going to come when she may not know who I am or who my daughter is.”

On the second page of his note to Lentz, Williams wrote about their anniversary, and how she forgot it. “Tomorrow, who knows if she’ll remember me,” he printed.

“We take so much for granted and sometimes we get a wake up call,” he continued to write. “I’ve had mine.”

When things “kinda settle back to a slower pace,” Williams adds, he’ll subscribe to the paper again.

The afternoon is slipping away, and Williams says he has to get things done around the house before he picks up his wife.

“I know when I pick her up, we’ll be back the way we were,” he says. “The disease is still there, and I still have to deal with it, and we’ve got to go on with this.”