When Alzheimer’s Becomes a Reality

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"Hope" with a purple ribbon in place of the "o"

Karla has held a unique and special place in my life since I was in the fifth grade. She was my history teacher that year. Her humor, candor, and compassion immediately drew me to her. I loved sitting in her class listening to her tell stories and explain difficult concepts with ease and intrigue. My dad was in the Army, so my family moved away from Fort Bragg after that school year. 

Almost twenty years later, my husband was stationed at Fort Bragg, and I applied for a position at the same school I attended in fourth and fifth grades. I remember feeling excited, but also nervous as I entered into my first meeting among all the other teachers and staff. 

I was called to introduce myself to the group. Once I finished talking, I heard a familiar voice from the back of the room. “I think I was your teacher!” Karla yelled from the back row of the room. As soon as I turned around and saw her face, I felt a wave of ease wash over me as I appreciated not only the familiarity of a known face, but also that she remembered me after all these years.

Karla was now the high school principal, and I would answer directly to her as a freshman English teacher. I was absolutely terrified my first day of teaching in the fall of 2018. Entering the building, I was sure everyone would see my hands trembling as I walked through the hallways. I slipped into the Teachers’ Lounge to check my box before walking up the stairs to my classroom. There in my box was a handwritten note from Karla with such encouraging words and her favorite Bible verse. That note would stay pinned to my bulletin board for the next two years of my teaching experience. Karla had been my teacher as a child, my boss as an adult, and is one of my closest friends from here to eternity.

During my second year of teaching, Karla’s husband, Mike, suffered from a sudden stroke. We were dumbfounded as a community and brokenhearted for our friend. Everyone at school knew Mike was always such a kind man, bringing Karla lunch at school or sending flowers to her while she was at work. Her stories of their life together were inspiring and demonstrated to me personally what the Bible means when it instructs believers how a husband and wife are to relate to one another. 

But as the days progressed, confusion of what was actually going on with Mike seemed to creep in. He had on-going side effects, continuing to last even after being discharged from the hospital. His speech was slurred, and he was forgetting small details. His personality slightly altered, he would do things that were not in his normal character. I watched as my friend seemed at a loss of what to do or how to help her husband. There were no clear answers, and it became an ever-present concern that was not easily “solved”. Would it ever be normal again? Would there be a clear-cut answer? 

After months of tests and evaluations, Mike was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s. The disease that attacks your brain, memory, and has no discovered cure. It steals precious memories and shortens time with our loved ones. (Another Military Mom Collective article about the impacts of Alzheimer’s can be read here.) But even after hearing such devastating news, Karla continued to pour into our high schoolers on a daily basis, invest in her friendships, and take care of her husband. Over the past three years, she has put aside any comfort of her own to do all that she can to keep him comfortable, as well as feel validated and loved.

As the days, weeks, and months have passed, Mike has now reached a point that he can no longer care for himself, nor can Karla do it on her own. She needs the support of professionals who specialize in Alzheimer’s care to provide what Mike needs as they navigate what lies ahead. 

As a friend, I have often asked myself….

What could I possibly do to help? 

Perhaps you know someone who has come face-to-face with Alzheimer’s disease, and you have asked yourself the same question. What can be done to encourage someone who is walking through such a devastating reality? We can commit to listen. We can commit to pray. We can commit to be a friend.

There has been a Go Fund Me page set up in honor of Karla and Mike. I would encourage you to read through their story, as well as the comments below. Sometimes all we have to offer is our time, but financial contributions are so very appreciated as well.

The unthinkable settled in on Mike and Karla’s home, yet she continued forward. Maybe she did so only because she must, but she did it with strength and authenticity. I was honored to be by her side during the early days of Mike’s diagnosis, and I continue to watch her labor by his side with love and faithfulness. The life they planned together looks completely different than they could have ever anticipated. Yet here she is. She remains steadfast by her husband’s side, believing that no matter how it may look, God is good.