About a year ago my Aunt and Uncle, Bonnie and Al, had a new journey introduced to them. The family had taken a well needed vacation together at the family cabin in the Shuswap; parents, siblings and their spouses, grandkids and cousins. But something felt off with Al.
He has always been a very strong, proud, passionate, social man who loved to be around people. His personality was flamboyant, and it was hard to miss him in a room where he quickly became the person you wanted to hang out with.
Leading up to that vacation, his usual demeanour shifted. He had been having seizures, headaches, mood swings, and trouble with balance. His memory began to sway, causing him to forget people he had known for years; forget their names, birthdays, relationship to him, and so on. Due to these problems, he had to leave behind the work that he had loved for years.
All of this caused alarm bells to ring in his wife and children. They saw that something wasn’t quite right, and they needed to figure out why. Al respected the love he had when his family voiced their concerns about the changes in his behaviour and cognitive abilities, and agreed to seek help from a medical professional after they returned home. They quickly lined up appointments to begin the investigation, and so began the countless visits to the BC coast to see doctors and specialists. At the beginning of this year, 2019, Al was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).
“Frontotemporal dementia (frontotemporal lobar degeneration) is an umbrella term for a diverse group of uncommon disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain — the areas generally associated with personality, behavior and language.
In frontotemporal dementia, portions of these lobes shrink (atrophy). Signs and symptoms vary, depending upon the portion of the brain affected.
Some people with frontotemporal dementia undergo dramatic changes in their personality and become socially inappropriate, impulsive or emotionally indifferent, while others lose the ability to use language.
Frontotemporal dementia is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer's disease. But frontotemporal dementia tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer's disease, generally between the ages of 40 and 45.”– Mayo Clinic
Their life flipped upside down, and since then, has become a journey of navigating their new reality of doctor’s visits and regulating medications. Suddenly what had been such a full and peaceful life, was now becoming chaotic and full of burdens. The realization that their large home was quickly becoming too much for the two of them to handle, hit hard. But as a result, they sold that home and moved into a smaller condo. It was the end of a beautiful era, and the start of a new one.
Al hasn’t let any of it keep him down. He’s much less exuberant as he once was, subdued by the troubles he’s had to deal with. But his devotion to God and his hope for the future still burns brightly within him. He’s been able to still take part in activities he enjoys, such as waterskiing. I would lie to you if I didn’t tear up when I saw a video they posted of him getting up on those waterskis with his family a few days ago. He may not experience victory as often as he once did, but he holds strong to the victory he knows he has in Christ, and that is most important.
What you will see here is two people ridiculously in love. They’ve been married for decades and have raised a beautiful family. They spent many years living in their big house on the east side of the Winfield valley in BC. That house was an amazing place where friends and family would come together at Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthday and anniversaries and celebrate everyone close to them. But that home wasn’t what created the feeling of togetherness there; it was the two of them.
This set was their last photoshoot together in their home, last Christmas when Cal and I were visiting them all. As you scroll down you'll see Al pointing off the balcony. "I want to remember the views," he had said to me. He'd point one place and say, "that's where I'd see the cows in the morning," and then he'd point in another spot and tell me what he always observed there. And then he brought us to the corner because he wanted the view of the lake visible in the images. He wanted to remember those views he had seen for so many years in that home.