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I've Lost My Best Friend to Dementia

Linda is a wife, mother, author, quilter, gardener...and most of all a loving friend.

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It really is the long, long goodbye.

— Nancy Reagan

He was the new hire; a transfer in from our Alaska office. But before I tell you about “him,” allow me to give a bit of background on where we were working.

In 1970 I was hired to work in the Washington State Office of a branch of the Federal Government. The stated mission of that agency was “….to partner with State, local, tribal, and other Federal agencies in our area to monitor, assess, conduct targeted research, and deliver information on a wide range of water resources and conditions including streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and water use and availability.” That’s a boring way of saying that we were a team of engineers, hydrologists, geologists, and chemists working together on water science.

Now, back to the story. In the early 1980s, there was no Zoom, no online chats — there was barely even the internet. The Subdistrict Chief for our area was retiring, so top management in our District Office reached out to the Alaska District Office for what seemed to be a well-qualified candidate. After several phone interviews, Bill was chosen to be the new Subdistrict Chief. He had outstanding recommendations, he sounded good, and he was hired. The first face-to-face would be at the weekly Monday morning meeting; as a member of management, I was part of the team that would greet him.

Did I say that he sounded good? OMG, when I walked into the conference room, my jaw dropped.

He was breathtakingly gorgeous, Hollywood-star gorgeous. Black hair, flashing dark brown eyes, a perfect nose, and a chiseled chin. Our eyes locked, and it was (almost) instant love.

Am I revealing the story of how my husband and I met at work? No. I was already married, and so was he. However, before you begin to raise your eyebrows, thinking this is a story about an illicit affair let me ease your fears (and stop your thoughts of lust).

Bill’s predecessor had been a sweet, elderly gentleman who was perfectly content to simply stick with “business as usual.” He wasn’t looking for work, and simply managed on a day-to-day basis a small network of less than 100 gaging stations. The work of he and his team brought in roughly $200,000 annually to our District operations.

Well, that didn’t suit Bill at all. He was young — eager to please his superiors and deeply concerned with the environment. The status quo wasn’t good enough. So, he began to negotiate with existing customers and did his darndest to find new ones. That’s where our paths crossed. I was the administrative person who would sit in on the meetings and assist with the negotiations, prepare the contracts, provide quarterly progress reports to the customers, and prepare the quarterly billings.

Bill was definitely a force to be reckoned with. He was bold and aggressive (and at times a bit cavalier), but within 3 years he increased the size of the program from around $200K to $3.5 million dollars. Not a bad return on investment, right?

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We worked side-by-side on an almost daily basis but, as you know, office mates can’t help but share a bit of their personal side with each other. Bill and I were so much alike. We were both Washington natives, aligned politically, and spiritually, and were in love with our families.

We became like brother and sister. We worked out at the gym together, celebrated birthdays, and even helped each other move. We shared each other’s burdens and blessings — the loss of parents and siblings, the birth of two daughters (mine), and a divorce (his).

Wow, that was difficult! I advised him as best I could through the rocky road of dating and eventual remarriage. In fact, I was the best “person” at his wedding, wept at the funeral for their silent-birth daughter, and was the Godmother for their son two years later.

Our families bonded and intertwined.

But then, one day life as we and they knew it began to unravel.

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer's is growing — and growing fast. More than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's.

An estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's in 2022. Seventy-three percent are age 75 or older.12.7 million people are projected to have Alzheimer's dementia by the year 2050. --Alzheimer's Association

The keys to the car. Where were they? Bill, his wife, and young son probed every nook and cranny and left no stone unturned. That was the first problem. And then more…. More forgetfulness, lapses, confusion.

(By the way, about 6 months later the car keys were found in the bottom of a golf bag.) But, by that time it was evident that this strong, intelligent, kind, funny, and loving friend was becoming…less. Bill was no longer Bill.

That was 4 years ago. I visited when I could, talked on the phone often, and then damned COVID stepped in. We could no longer see each other, but we could still converse.

But then, we couldn’t. Well, I would try, but Bill would become fixated on a “problem,” and steering him onto a more positive topic became more and more difficult. If you have ever known someone with dementia, especially Alzheimer’s, you know what I’m talking about.

I called him last week. He was cordial (always the caring gentleman), but I knew. I could hear it in his voice. He no longer knows who I am.

I’ve lost my best friend.

© 2022 Linda Lum

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