By Zirconia Alleyne
Remember the good days. It’s a simple principle that tends to get lost amongst busy work schedules and the daily demands of life. It’s a principle that may not be appreciated until the good days can no longer be remembered. For that reason alone, Jim Ezell documents the good days a little more closely.
Jim’s father, Bill Ezell, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006, almost a year after he couldn’t remember how to build.
“He was good with his hands,” Jim recalled. “He’d tell my mom, ‘I used to be able to do that,’ but he couldn’t.”
Bill and his wife, Mary, enjoyed woodworking together after retirement and would build little trinkets, like wooden angels, to give to their grandchildren.
Bill loved to escape to his shop in the backyard and piddle around with a project here or there. Losing his ability to build was the first sign that something was up.
After the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, his memory continued to dwindle.
“Dad woke up every morning wanting to go home,” Jim, who was his primary caretaker, said. “He lived in this house for 50 years, but every day he’d say, ‘I gotta get home.’”
Bill lived at his home until three weeks before he died July 9, 2012, from complications of a stroke. Jim said it was the stroke that took his father, not dementia.
“In a way we were blessed to not have to go through the very last stages of Alzheimer’s,” he said. But the effects of the disease were still hard to bear.
His father was his best friend, Jim said, even after he forgot he was his son.
“Everything dad did, I wanted to do,” he said.
Bill was a deputy sheriff for 30 years, so Jim became a police officer too. He joined the Shrine club and Jim did too. He even got a convertible Volkswagen, just like his dad.
When Bill ran for sheriff, he made Jim his campaign manager.
“I sucked at it,” Jim laughed. “But I really thought he was going to win.”
There was no question that when his dad’s memory began to slip away that he and his six siblings would be right by his side.
The brothers and sisters took turns staying over with their dad at night; however, Jim’s younger sister, JoAnn Darnell, said all her siblings would agree that Jim put his whole life on hold to be their father’s sole caretaker.
“He was totally devoted to daddy day and night and never would toot his own horn,” she said. “He is one of the most selfless people I know, and I’m so proud to call him my big brother.”
Jim was honored as Caretaker of the Year in 2012, a few months before Bill died. His dad attended the banquet with him.
For Jim, the battle against Alzheimer’s didn’t end when his dad died. He still remains involved with the local Alzheimer’s Association, which advocates for more research and a cure for the disease.
Jim and the BEE team, which stands for his father’s initials, will participate in the annual Pennyrile Area Walk to End Alzheimer’s at 10 a.m. Sept. 13.
The walk will begin with a ceremony at 9:45 a.m. in front of the Christian County Justice Center. Registration starts at 9 a.m., and although there is no fee, participants are encouraged to donate.
Visit act.alz.org, click the Walk to End Alzheimer’s tab and search for “BEE team” or “Jim Ezell” to donate.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and research estimates that 16 million will have the terminal disease by 2050.
Data from the federally funded Framingham study showed that the prevalence of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s, is declining; however, the epidemic continues to increase because more people are living to an old age.
The information released in July stated that the decline could be attributed to the decrease in smoking, heart disease and strokes, which are all linked to dementia.
Sometimes Jim and his siblings wonder if they will develop Alzheimer’s. JoAnn said they’re trying to stay ahead of the disease as much as possible.
“We’re all eating a little healthier and working out more to try to do our part or at least prolong early onset,” she said.
One thing Alzheimer’s didn’t take away from the family is their fond memories of Bill.
Jim’s daughter, Dana Alder, still has a wooden angel he made for her, and Jim has hours of his father’s prayers recorded.
“When he’d start to pray, the words would come,” he said. “He didn’t have to use his brain to pray because his heart would take over.”
Janet Blanford, Jim’s sister, remembers her dad’s sense of humor. She wrote in an email about the time Bill forgot his middle name was Ewing. When Janet told him, “He cut his eyes at me and said, ‘Ewing? What kind of name is that?’ I nearly wrecked the car I was laughing so hard,” she said.
“He was such a kidder, always full of fun and life,” Jim beamed after reading the email. “When he got Alzheimer’s, things would happen accidentally, and we didn’t have any problem starting to laugh. Laughter is good medicine for anybody with anything.”
What: Pennyrile Area Walk to End Alzheimer’s
When: 10 a.m. Sept. 13, Registration starts at 9 a.m.
Where: Christian County Justice Center, downtown Hopkinsville
Contact: Elizabeth Betts at 502-451-4266