The following is a speech given by Vienna resident Bill Kays, April 29, at the 14th Annual Alzheimer's Public Policy Forum held at the Lincoln Memorial.
It is truly a great honor for me to be up here tonight to say a few words to such a wonderful and dedicated group of people.
Pearl, my beautiful wife of 45 years plus five years of courting, passed away in February. She waged a valiant 12-year battle with Alzheimer's. She is now in a far better world and receiving her hard-earned and richly deserved rest.
I consider myself one of the luckiest men alive today. How can I possibly say that? Well let me tell you. Pearl and I had a wonderful 30-plus years together before Alzheimer's reared its ugly head. We raised two great children — Todd and Amy. She was a perfect mother. We had such fun, and the Lord showered us with a gracious plenty. Pearl was the best companion and friend any man could ever want.
She overcame some setbacks in our married life. We lost our first child at birth. It was a devastating experience for a couple of newlyweds. The bright side of that was that I gave her a poodle, and that began her lifelong love of dogs. We were never without one from then on. I honestly believe that at times she loved those dogs more than me — I just couldn't compete with poodles and schnauzers.
Pearl had several health problems, but she always overcame them until the Alzheimer's hit her at age 60. I will never forget the day that she got in the car and said that she was going to the store only a few blocks away. Three hours later she had not returned. I was at my wits’ end and was about to panic. Then she pulled into the driveway and sat in the car. I walked over and said, "Where have you been, darling?" She looked out at me with tears streaming down her beautiful cheeks and said, "I've been lost." We went into the house, held each other, had a real good cry and decided that we needed help. Soon afterwards she was diagnosed.
Even then she put up a great fight. You know how Alzheimer's slowly takes away most of the victim's faculties, and Pearl was certainly no exception. There was one that it couldn't take from her though — the ability to smile. Right up to the end, she would always give everyone a big smile. Her smile was infectious. I can honestly say that I don't know a single person who got to know Pearl during her lifetime that did not comment on her beautiful smile and love her.
Love — that has always been a very key word in our family's vocabulary. To this day our family never ends telephone conversations with one another or with very close friends without saying "I love you." Pearl and I told each other "I love you" at least 10 times during each of my visits up to Royal Haven, where she was cared for. After she had lost most of her ability to communicate verbally, I was surprised at an incident related to me by one of her caregivers. She said that she was putting Pearl to bed one night, and Pearl was giving her a really hard time (giving her "down the river," as they say in Front Royal). When she had Pearl in bed, she leaned over and looked her in the eye and said, "Pearl, you really hurt my feelings." Pearl reached out and very gently took the caregiver's face in her hands and said, "I love you." These were the last words Pearl could say.
She seldom complained, even though her frustration with her gradual inability to remember, communicate and perform many tasks must have been so very difficult for her. But Alzheimer's was no match for her love of family and for the great people who cared for her.
During the six years I cared for Pearl at home alone and even during her years at Royal Haven, I never had to endure so many of the heartbreaking problems that I hear other spouses talk about in my support group. Pearl was a grateful patient right up to the very end.
Now do you see why I said in the beginning that I am one of the luckiest men alive?
If Pearl were here with me tonight, she would surely say, "I love each and every one of you for what you are doing for the millions out there like me."
I can't tell you what a great honor it has been to be here tonight. I pray that your efforts are successful here in Washington and back in your home states and that they find the cause, a successful prevention and a cure for Alzheimer's in the very near future.
Thank you, and may God bless all of you.