Providing comfort in a time of confusion
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Providing comfort in a time of confusion

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Vicky Willis remembers what her husband can’t.

She remembers the first time they met and how it felt like love at first sight.

She remembers the life they built together and the birth of their two daughters.

She remembers the day her world fell apart when her husband was diagnosed with dementia. That’s a memory she wishes she could forget.


A 46-year-old captain in the Canadian Armed Forces (reserves), Vicky’s husband Jeff was in the prime of his life when his coworkers started noticing strange behaviour at work. Cpt. Willis started to miss meetings and forgot how to use a computer.

One year later, he was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia; a degenerative disease that shrinks an area of the brain that affects personality, behaviour and language.

“I didn’t believe anything was wrong. I thought it was just stress,” Vicky confesses. “Why would someone like him have this sort of disease? It didn’t make sense.

“There’s no family history anywhere (of dementia). I kept thinking it’s stress because he’s healthy. He kept his mind and body active.”

The year was 2010 and Vicky was only 46 when she received news from the doctor that her husband would never be the same man she married; the man who graduated from RMC with a master’s degree in Military History and served as an artillery officer for 25 years with the regular forces.

“We had just moved into our new house when Jeff was diagnosed,” she confirms.

It was around that time when the wandering started.

“It was just not like him to lose track of time,” she admits.

Not long after the move, Jeff wandered away on two family trips.

“Those two trips were times that brought to light that there was something seriously wrong with him,” she concludes. “That was very scary.”

Vicky cared for her husband for four years before finding a safe place at Carveth Care Centre, a retirement and long-term-care home in the heart of Gananoque.

Vicky carries her love to him every day.

“I want to keep as positive as possible,” she notes. “I’m very sad this happened. I have my moments of sadness and loneliness, but I’m not angry. You have to look for the good in something.”

But with the good, comes the bad.

“There’s still stress because even though he’s in a safe and comfortable place and everyone is wonderful here, it doesn’t feel right for him to be here,” Vicky says quietly from a family room in the centre.

“It does ease my mind to know he’s in Carveth with people who seem to care a lot about him.”

But the unspoken words that she misses him hang in the air around her.

Remembered as a kind and gentle person, Vicky knows the disease could have presented differently in Jeff who could have turned violent.

“Thank goodness that (gentleness) didn’t change,” she says.

What has changed in Jeff is his inability to talk in sentences, memory loss and anti-social behaviour.

Vicky carries memories for both of them when she takes his hand to walk the halls of his new home.

“I think he does recognize me,” she says with a smile. “I think he sees me and there’s a glint in his eye and he knows who I am… I don’t know, it might be wishful thinking.”

Caught in a state of limbo for the past 14 months while her daughters pursue their careers and her husband battles dementia, Vicky has started to look to her own future.

This fall, she started a one-year course at St. Lawrence College for Health Information Management. She is also participated in a family trip to China in June.

“I do feel my life has been on hold,” she says about the years she spent as the primary caregiver to the husband she loves. “Now that he’s in a safe place, life can go on.”

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