The journey not expected
By Connie McDougall
As a veteran flight attendant who’s pretty much seen everything the human condition can throw at her, Shirley Purkey thought she could handle just about any situation. But when her husband, Craig, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago, she found her limit.
“When this came along, it really took me down. I was feeling lost. I didn’t know which way to turn or how it would progress,” she says. “My daughter lives in Greenwood and she said, ‘You know, I wish you and dad would get involved at the Greenwood Senior Center. It has so much going on.’ But I rejected it at first.”
Her daughter kept after her, asking her mother to give it a go. “I was still hesitant but I knew I needed support,” Shirley says. Then, one day, she did go in and talked with Carin Mack, MSW, who manages more than a dozen memory-care programs and services at the center. “There’s nothing else quite like it in our area,” says Carin about the center’s offerings. “We started in 2008 and just kept adding programs.”
Shirley connected with Carin immediately, saying the social worker is deeply committed to her work. “She cares about every person and is a wealth of information and resources. She checked in with me all the time. And still does.”
On Carin’s advice, Shirley began attending the Early-Stage Memory Loss Support Group at the center. “I realized I wasn’t alone,” Shirley says. “I was with others experiencing this, sharing our concerns. It gave me more confidence that yes, I can handle this.”
Her husband joined a ceramics class at the center that he enjoyed, and later, Carin connected him to Elderwise, a Northgate-area program that uses art to engage people struggling with dementia.
As the disease progressed, Shirley placed her husband into assisted living, but when it wasn’t working out, she decided to bring him home again. “I tried it, but I was just drained. Then I found a wonderful adult-family home with only four residents, close to where I live and he’s well taken care of.”
“My son, daughter and I take turns visiting him every day, take him for a car ride. He’s adjusted pretty well so I’m feeling more settled now,” although she admits there are still low points. “It hits me that I want my husband back. He was always really fit, and still is in good shape physically. Our son enjoyed many years of hiking and biking with his dad.”
Shirley now takes part in the Advanced Dementia Support Group at the senior center, and sees herself five years ago in people who are new to the group—lost and afraid. “I want to be available to them.”
She hopes neighbors will be available to support the many free senior services offered by the Greenwood Senior Center and Phinney Neighborhood Association at the 10th Annual Power of Community Virtual Fundraiser on October 14. “I encourage everyone to open their hearts and their wallets,” Shirley says. “It may be for the meal programs, or the support for people who have lost a spouse – there are many ways seniors are being connected and engaged. We have to support these services financially.”
She’ll be at the fundraiser, front and center. “I tell my daughter, I was so hesitant to join but I’ve come full circle. This is not a journey I want to be on, but here it is. We have to get support and give support,” says Shirley. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Many warm thanks to Shirley for sharing her and Craig’s story and for supporting the PNA, as well as her fellow group members.