By Debra Buchanan-Adams
For The Cordova Times
Six years ago, we discovered my late husband, Ken Adams, had “dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.” It’s phrased this way because a definitive Alzheimer’s diagnosis cannot be made until after the patient has died and his brain is autopsied. The phrasing is of less importance than what we knew would be the outcome. The average Alzheimer’s patient lives eight to 16 years past diagnosis. Ken’s disease progressed much faster. He passed away December 26, 2017. He would have been 75 at the end of July.
When Ken was initially diagnosed, our family immediately asked what the plan was. My head and heart reeled with the decision and not knowing what was best. Anchorage had facilities for his needs. California and New Jersey also had facilities and the benefit of our relatives. Sunshine and warmer temperatures were a plus too.
We decided to stay in Cordova. Living here gave Ken much more freedom. Cordova was familiar. He was known here. He was safe and able to do much more, much longer than if we had moved.
He was confused after visiting the grocery store uptown and someone drove him home. He rode his bike out to the Delta and I had three phone calls from concerned friends by the time he rode past 7 Mile. He was invited to the Baptist church’s men’s fellowship group even when we could not converse.
The police chief treated him kindly when his license was taken away. Cashiers at Nichol’s were always friendly to him — even when he couldn’t remember what celery was or that a case of paper towels is different from a case of paper napkins. The bank called when he wanted to withdraw a lot of cash (really A LOT!) Neighbors asked him for walks. People were patient with him. People were patient with me.
The reasons for staying were many. And as I attempt to list them now, I am moved to tears. I kept Ken’s diagnosis private for a long time — frightened and ashamed by it. Cordova’s kindness made it clear I need not fear for his safety and that there was certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Cordova opened its heart to us in ways that could never have been possible in bustling Anchorage, California or New Jersey. True, one cannot get an MRI here or a wheelchair ramp or the right size adult briefs. What we do have is community – something much more valuable. Moving would have meant isolation for both of us.
Our community deserves recognition. Here it goes: Thank you to Father Tom Killeen and my St. Joseph family for your faith and prayers. Even when he was inappropriate at church, you loved him. Thank you to my teaching colleagues and students through this journey. There were days when you carried me through without knowing. Thank you to Dr. Charles Blackadar and the hospital nursing staff who went over and above to meet our needs. When it was too difficult to get Ken to the clinic, Dr. Blackadar saw him in our living room numerous times! Nurses patiently fed him when he forgot to chew. EMTs and the airport staff transported him gently when we were medevaced and he had no idea where we were going.
There is an even longer list of personal thank-yous: First, Ken’s caregivers Lissette Rodriguez and her family (sisters, Eneri, Deborah and Marivee) who were devoted to him until the end. Lissette, especially, who did the work of a nurse without training, but with unconditional love. Alexis Holley, Ken’s caregiver as well, who cared for him when he was his weakest and most vulnerable. You sang to him and kept him comfortable.
To our longtime Cordova friends Nancy Bird and Karl Becker who were supports at every stage. When Ken could not manage the stairs in our house, his last trip down them was in mine and Karl’s arms. Nancy’s spontaneous visits always perked Ken up.
Thank you to other friends who came to help when I asked – Greg LoForte, Jeff Guard and Dorn Hauxhurst, Jay Beaudin, Katherine Stoltzfus, Bill and Drew Lindow, and others who offered – the Vargas family, Keith and Kathy Zamudio, Chancy Harmon, and Bob Prichard. Thank you to Mark Casey for building the wheelchair ramp and hand rails and helping transport Ken. Thank you to Theresa Stavig whose friendship and professionalism has been a great blessing. My classroom was left in good hands with you. Thank you to Paul Voz and my Bidarki buddies – my gym time was my salvation. Thank you to Bob and Dotty Widmann for years of dedication to Ken. Thank you to Renee Lindow for sharing Ken’s last days with me.
Thank you to many, too numerous to list, who brought meals, stopped by, sent cards, added us to prayer chains and offered kindness when we passed each other on the street. Thank you and apologies to those I may not remember. Please know the depth of my gratitude.
Cordova has become our extended family. We stayed because of you! Ken, Matthew and I are privileged to live and to have died here. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Debra Buchanan-Adams is a 35-year resident of Cordova and teacher.