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An Alzheimer's journey

[caption id="attachment_6119" align="alignleft" width="968"] Shirley and Tom Buxton in the early years of their relationship.[/caption]

Tom Buxton still remembers the first time he laid eyes on Shirley, when she walked through the door at a mutual friend’s house. He remembers her pink sweater, her black skirt, and oh, her smile.

But now, Shirley can’t always remember who Tom is. He’s her husband of nearly 60 years, but Alzheimer’s disease has robbed them of the joy of growing older together.

“I’m probably never going to accept it. I keep seeing her like she was and keep expecting her to be that way,” Tom said.

Shirley has lived in the memory care neighborhood at Newton Presbyterian Manor since 2015.

Tom moved in with their daughter in Wichita when Shirley came here. Before that, they were still living in Woodward, Okla.—where they raised their family, where they used to have a collections business—until Shirley’s disease became too advanced for Tom to care for her on his own.

He kept thinking of the promise he made her father when they were married—just six months after they met, even though they had both said they weren’t looking to get married. Shirley’s father said, I know you love her, but take care of her. Keep her safe.

When Shirley’s memory began to slip, he kept his promise. He kept it when she had trouble navigating their house and when she was convinced her mother, who was deceased, was in the hospital. Then, one day, Shirley brought Tom the TV remote and asked him how to “use this phone.”

“I guess it is taking more of a toll on me than I thought. That was the thing that finally got through to me,” Tom said. “I was stubborn and proud enough that I was going to take care of her like I promised her dad. But I knew I wasn’t keeping her safe anymore. If something happened to me, I wouldn’t be able to take care of her.”

It may not be what he envisioned, but Tom tries to accept that he is still caring for Shirley. For most of their lives, though, they were together all day and night.

Now, even if Tom walks in and she thinks he’s her dad or a hometown friend, Shirley is still Tom’s world. Usually she does recognize him, eventually. He knows for sure when she gets mad at him, the way only a wife does with her husband.

Tom and Shirley kept her disease a secret for a long time. She didn’t want anyone to treat her differently. Eventually they told their daughter, who already knew something wasn’t right. “I felt relieved that someone else finally knew,” Tom said.

Their daughter immediately began researching memory care, and Newton Presbyterian Manor was their first choice. Shirley lived elsewhere temporarily until a space opened up here.

“We couldn’t have picked a better place. This proved to be good choice,” Tom said. “The thing that sets them apart is that they care about those people. They know Shirley.”

There’s nothing good about Alzheimer’s disease, Tom says. But as a Christian, he still feels compelled to see God’s hand in this experience, recalling Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

“The only thing that has helped me live through it is to have our family here. Even the great-grandkids. It kind of brightens the day when they come in to see Great Pawpaw,” he said. “And we have our moments together when she still knows me, and I’m thankful for that.

“You grab every tender moment you have.”

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