I'm walking to honor my father, Leo L. Verkuil, and his brothers, who were all victims of Alzheimers.
Daddy was an immigrant from Holland who arrived at Ellis Island around the age of 10. He was quite intelligent and successful; an inventor & engineer who held several patents during his lifetime. At 6'4", he was tall and lean. His appearance, outgoing personality, contagious smile and playful wink would bring a room to life! My earliest memories are his competitive nature for golf at the club on weekends and his passion for dancing the rumba, cha-cha, tango, etc. with my Mom and neighborhood couples in our living room to all the old big bands on an elaborate stereo system he built by hand. Such a zest for life!!
Alzheimers crept in slowly in his 60's when he was living alone. My sisters and I didn't understand the changes in the early stages. Our father who always dressed in a suit and who had a mind & a sense of humor as sharp as a tack begin to appear crumpled and confused. Sad moments like listening to him struggle through tears over the phone to try and explain that he needed "bread" from the grocery store but couldn't find the word..."white, square, empty...Oh honey, why can't I put my words together". Or phone calls from the local bank & coffee shops when he would show up without his shoes or worse... And then arriving after those phone calls and taking him to the emergency with him being the ever so gracious gentleman, only to realize he didn't recognize my sisters and me, telling the doctor we were such sweet & pretty little ladies to help him. And so excruciating to watch him struggle to hide the fact that he didn't know the answers to the doctor's questions; year, President, address, etc...
Daddy's struggle progressed and his quality of life declined quickly, yet somehow his body fought for 10 LONG years. There were so many different facilities, hospital admissions, ICU stays... Yet, there were moments when he would surprise us by picking up a putter like he was 32 years old again and putting a few golf balls into cup across the room, his face would light up with a smile and then that wink, like he had just been kidding us the whole time...except Alz is real, it was only a stolen moment. Or the Alz facility would host a social time for patients and he'd hear familiar music and hit the dance floor with a female resident. One sad/happy memory (because we must embrace every small moment we get) is when he was in ICU at one point and we called the nurses station to check on him during the day. A nurse said he was restless and babbling out of his head. When we got to the hospital, a pastor friend was there visiting with Daddy and the pastor shared that the two of them were having a nice chat in fluent Dutch...not babble, fluent Dutch! You learn to see the positive in these rare moments and smile through your tears. A momentary breakthrough in communication, priceless.
This disease didn't seem to have any method to its madness in Daddy's case. Why did this happen, what caused it, how long would this suffering continue....how long could his frail body and spirit continue to fight. Daddy left us unexpectedly one afternoon, but peacefully. We were Daddy's little girls and he was our hero, he fought Alzheimers long and hard.
I loved my father beyond words. I would have done anything to help improve his quality of life and help him feel safe in his darkest moments. Having said that, I don't want my children or grandchildren or any other people to experience the horrible sadness that this disease casts upon entire families.
Together, we can end Alzheimer's disease. If you are able to make a donation to advance the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer's Association, please know that your generosity is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much!
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