“Now it’s my turn” – a son’s view of being his dad’s caregiver

Tim Glennie wears many hats in a busy life. He’s managing partner of a company. He’s a community volunteer. He’s a husband. He’s a dad to three kids. He’s a family caregiver.

But this year is different. It’s Tim’s first year celebrating Father’s Day without his beloved dad, William (aka Bill, Barnacle Bill) Glennie, who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease late last year at age 86. It took 12 years for Alzheimer’s to run its course. Over that time, Tim learned a lot about the disease. He developed an understanding of the toll it takes on caregivers. And he learned about himself.

“I always looked at it as ‘my parents took care of me when I was young and now it is my turn,’” said Glennie, managing partner of BridgeView IT, a Denver-based staffing solutions firm. “I did deal with guilt if I felt I was not with him enough, but I learned that once he could no longer retain memories, that the visits were really for me. I had to make sure the visits were meaningful to me.”

As his dad’s dementia progressed, Tim helped move his parents to Denver so that he could provide more support to his mother. He called the Alzheimer’s Association free 24-hour Helpline to get assistance in finding good housing options for his dad as well as support for his mom.

“The people (at the Alzheimer’s Association) care so much,” said Tim. In fact, the process inspired him so thoroughly that he earned a spot on the Colorado Chapter’s board of directors, and he currently chairs the planning committee for the Denver Walk to End Alzheimer’s – the sixth-largest Alzheimer’s Walk in the nation.

Looking back on a challenging time

While a dozen years with Alzheimer’s disease stripped Bill Glennie of his memories, son Tim enjoys vivid recollections of his dad, both before the disease’s arrival and up until the very end.

“My favorite memory of my dad…he taught us to work and to work hard,” said Tim. “We learned the ideals that he wanted to pass on like the expectation of work for money and inspection of quality before we got paid. He was clear about what he wanted, but then he was generous in praise of our hard work.”

Tim also learned an important lesson about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects people differently – not just those with the diagnosis, but caregivers as well.

“I did have a family member who was reluctant to accept that dad had Alzheimer’s,” said Tim. “They would hold out hope that things might get better, maybe by changing medications or trying new techniques to stimulate the memory.”

As Tim observed his dad progress through Alzheimer’s, he came to the painful realization that the father he knew would never return.

“I had to mourn that the person I knew and loved was not himself, and he no longer knew who I was nor could he make new memories,” said Tim. “It is a painful step, but one that was helpful in me coming to peace with things after my dad passed away.”

Finding joy in the tragedy

But even in the latest stages of the disease, Tim and his family were able to find joy in their interactions with father and grandfather Bill. “One of the last times my family was around my dad was on his 86th birthday,” recalled Tim. “We brought doughnuts and coffee and he asked ‘why all the fuss.’ We told him it was his birthday. Dad asked how old he was and we said ’86.’ He laughed and said ‘I’m old.’ As those of you with a loved one with Alzheimer’s can appreciate, we got to enjoy this same question a few more times. And it never got old.”

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