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An Alzheimer’s story, and a love story

May 1, 2013 

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    Find Sue Scoggins’ art and heartfelt musings at suescoggins.com.

Sue Scoggins speaks with the occasional laugh punctuating some sad stories. When her husband, Jerry, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which hit him around the age of 50, most all the stories were sad, and writing a journal made her even sadder, so she stopped.

But for three years now, with a short break, she has been keeping a journal of sorts through a blog, suescoggins.com, where she talks frankly about coping with the disease, which caused about as dramatic a life change as could be imagined for a couple then in young middle age.

They lived, 13 or 14 years ago when the illness hit, in North Raleigh, and the last of their three children was in college.

“Jerry was in international sales, he was a world traveler, and had gone quite high up the corporate ladder,” she said. “Then he started having trouble remembering the names of the kids’ friends. I thought he was a workaholic. I thought maybe it was attention deficit. We waited about a year, and he was at the airport going on an early flight to Miami, and I got a call. He had been sitting at the wrong gate for three hours.”

From there, things moved quickly, and the world traveling, all of it, came to an end with a diagnosis of 100 percent disability. “That,” Sue said, “was a show stopper.”

Today, her husband is in a care facility in New Bern, and Sue Scoggins is in Emerald Isle, where she paints and, once a week, blogs about experiences related to her husband’s illness, the high points and the low ones. The blog is amazingly candid, sometimes with light moments, sometimes with very sad ones.

Now, all the years after the first diagnosis, Jerry, who moved to the facility about two years ago, is in the very late stages of the disease. Most of the time, he is unresponsive, but occasionally music will seem to awaken something in him.

“The late stages can last years,” Sue said. “Jerry really is fine in his little world. I think the beginning and the moderate stages are very difficult on the person with Alzheimer’s. Jerry knew something was wrong. But now he’s unaware that he is ill. He’s in a wonderful facility, and he’s surrounded by people to care for him.

“You have to come to a point of acceptance that this is not going to change. You have to ... see the blessings that will come out of this.”

Blessings?

“I have seen so much goodness in people,” she said. “I see a lot of blessings from God, frankly. There are so many signs that he is where ne needed to be. Every now and then I teach art lessons over there, and I can see past the missing teeth and the missing brains and see that these were people who led very positive lives.”

Sue took up art when her husband became ill, out of interest and to earn income working from home. She includes samples on the blog. The art is colorful, bright, cheery, professional. The blog runs the gamut. She sometimes finds happiness in things that would seem achingly sad, such as a Valentine’s Day dinner at the place where Jerry now lives:

“He is to the point now, where he cannot feed himself. Even so, he liked his steak. He held my hand and it was truly romantic to be able to serve him in such a way. It makes me cry. ...because this is true love. To love and serve each other to the very end once all the superficial trappings have fallen off.

“It’s been so long for me,” she said, “that I’ve been able to accept it. It might make other people sad.”

She worries about a shortage of funding for Alzheimer’s research, about the fact that more people will have it as baby boomers age, about how people will cope. Though she doesn’t say it of herself, the fact is, the blog is helping others do just that.

“I did hear from someone in Australia,” Sue said. “She asked if I would be her mentor. She’s dealing with the early stages. It helps to have someone walk the journey ahead of you.”

As her own love story continues, Sue isn’t just walking the journey. Through the blog, she’s holding the hands of others as they move down a difficult path. There’s a lot of love in that, too.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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