Fort Kent ~A day in the life of Butch Thibodeau, from Sinclair, Maine, may seem like any other at first glance, however, he will tell you with emotion that the life he and his beloved wife, Bev, had planned, will never become reality; Bev was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013.
Born an only child in Lewiston, Maine, Raymond Thibodeau and his family relocated to the St. John Valley when Raymond, or Butch as he prefers to be called, was in the fourth grade. He lived with his uncle for a year while his parents made arrangements to find work and a place to live in Northern Maine. He first met Bev at the Acadia School in the eighth grade and they have now been married for fifty four years. Butch and Bev were married when he returned from the military and together they raised a family of four daughters. They lived and worked in Madawaska, the first eight years, and then moved to Sinclair, where they eventually opened a restaurant called Bev’s Country Kitchen, noted for its excellent local cuisine.
Very active members of their community, the couple worked hard, and enjoyed the important things in life while raising their beautiful daughters. It was not until 2012, when Butch began to notice subtle changes in his wife. He said, “People would call me at home and they would ask Bev to give me a message. They would later ask me why I had not returned their call and when I asked her about it, her response was very matter of fact that she had relayed the message to me about the caller.” He said it was then that he decided to talk with his daughters about whether they noticed anything different when interacting with their Mom. For example, he recalls it was the time of year around Thanksgiving when the family traditionally gathered for the holiday meal at the family home. Bev, who was accustomed to cooking in the restaurant, remembering every detail for every customer, had forgotten two of the main dishes she had made for the holiday meal in the refrigerator. After a family discussion, they decided it was time to seek medical advice. They visited Bev’s primary care doctor, who after examination and assessment, determined she was exhibiting the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Thibodeau said his wife did not understand then, and still does not believe now, that there is anything wrong with her. The family decided to seek a second opinion, which resulted in the same diagnosis. Without any known family history for any type of dementia, the family was uncertain as to what would happen next, and how rapidly the symptoms would progress.
With a deep commitment to his wife’s well-being, Butch set out to learn as much as he could about the disease, what to expect and how to manage it. He has taken online courses, watched videos, read books and signed up for digital newsletters in an effort to be prepared for what’s to come. He said, “It helped me to learn how to work with her in the later stages.” He also joined Northern Maine Medical Center’s (NMMC) Alzheimer’s Support Group which meets on a monthly basis. He said the group is helpful but encourages more people to participate so there would be more meaningful sharing and support within the group. He said his goal for Bev is “to make her happy every day.” He is also very passionate about being a voice to inform the public of the importance of understanding how the disease can affect a person and an entire family, as well as the importance of seeking assistance early in the process.
In recent months, a typical day in Butch’s life includes managing all of the household chores and ensuring his wife has everything she needs to keep her as active as possible, safe and happy. He and their family dog, Tucker, wake her each morning to start her day, otherwise, according to Butch, she would stay in bed all day, unusual for a woman who used to walk eight miles each day. Her favorite things are watching television, especially “Texas Ranger” reruns, though to Bev, each episode is as if she is watching it for the first time. She also loves Elvis Presley and Butch has gathered all of his music for her on an iPod so she can listen to it any time she chooses. As he described their life together, he paused for a moment and said, with tears in his eyes, “I’m losing my best friend. I look at her sometimes and I know it’s not going to get better. It’s depressing because it is an incurable disease. We had our life all planned and now that has changed forever.” He said when his wife was first diagnosed, they kept the facts from her but he said, “After a while, I felt we were cheating her and that she needed to know the truth.” He dares not leave her alone anymore and he is grateful for the help of his daughters and friends without whom he says he could not manage. As the disease progresses, communicating with Bev has required different approaches. He admits that this is difficult at times because “I’m human and sometimes I react. Even though they may ask you the same thing three or four times in a short period of time, you have to answer as if it is the first time they ask.” He said he has taken the phrase, don’t you remember, out of his vocabulary. He encourages her to stay active as much as possible; she is able to perform tasks such as dry the dishes, however, when she puts them away, they are always in a different place. He said he does not try to correct her and deals with finding the dishes later. With a slight grin on his face, he said the short term memory loss has one positive side to it-when they have a disagreement, Bev never remembers it longer than thirty seconds.
Previously an influential and active member of his community, serving on various boards locally and County wide, he has made the decision to step down from the responsibilities to concentrate on caring for his wife. He has taken it upon himself to be the voice in raising the public’s awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
Butch and his family plan to participate again this year in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s which is being held at Riverside Park in Fort Kent, on September 23rd; due to the progression of her disease, Bev is unable to walk in the event but he will be joined by some of his daughters. Butch’s personal goal for this year is to raise $3,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. The message from this caregiver to the public is to be receptive to learning about the disease, to be unafraid about speaking about it amongst family and friends and to seek assistance at the first sign of memory loss. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every sixty seconds someone in the United States develops the disease and it kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. To learn more about the early detection of Alzheimer’s Dementia the public is invited to attend a free class at NMMC on September 13, 2017 call 207-834-1686. For comprehensive information about the disease or to sponsor Butch in his goal to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, go to www.alz.org and donate to his team –Bev’s Special.
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