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Neighborhood news

Alzheimer's rewrites ending of this love story

Published January 26, 2007


Connie Lesko calls the relationship between her mom and dad a wonderful love story.

Paul and Eloise Bledsoe met as teens in their native West Virginia, growing up during the Great Depression and treasuring all they had, including each other. Paul always showed affection toward his wife, kissing her, hugging her, pinching her. Eloise always playfully resisted.

It was supposed to be that way forever.

Connie is one of their four children, and they gathered wonderful memories as Paul sought a better life for his family. They first moved to Ohio and then to Fort Myers, where he worked as a welder.

Today, those memories are more difficult to grasp.

When they celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2001, the Bledsoes were blessed to be living out their golden years in rural North Florida. Paul sold his welding shop and their home in Fort Myers, and they moved to tiny Chipley to be near their son Rodney and his Christmas tree farm.

Paul loved the chance to bond with Rodney, an Air Force retiree. He helped with the farm animals and cultivated a large garden. Eloise did a lot of canning, quilting, cooking and baking. They attended a little Methodist church and involved themselves with the local council on aging.

"They came from the country, and they returned to the country," Connie said. "It was slow paced, and it was wonderful."

Connie never envisioned her parents living their final years in an assisted living facility in Sun City Center.

But the children started to notice their parents were having difficulty handling daily tasks: doing laundry, preparing meals, keeping the house clean.

"The things they had always taken a great deal of pride in just became overwhelming tasks," said Connie, former executive director of the Riverview Chamber of Commerce.

Alzheimer's disease was slowly and gradually taking away the Bledsoes' ability to function. Rodney and his wife, Elsie, gave up a year of their lives caring for Paul and Eloise, literally living with them day and night.

Paul, unaware of why his son was spending so much time with him, once said, "Rodney and Elsie got a pretty good deal going here. They're sleeping in my bed, eating my food. They live here."

Eventually, the kids moved the parents into the Plaza West Nursing Facility. Connie and her siblings had only a few days to pack up everything that meant anything to their parents and move them to Sun City Center.

The kids did all they could to make the room seem like home. Pictures adorn the wall. One of Eloise's quilts hangs in the right corner.

Now, there is no night and day for her parents, Connie says. Every hour is the same. Where she once saw warmth in their eyes, now there is only fear and confusion.

"My sister Cindy in Fort Myers says what hurts the most is that you have them in body, but they're really gone," Connie said. "The essence of their life is gone already.

"I just look into their eyes and think, 'Why?' They don't deserve this. You know what I say to friends who lose a parent to a heart attack? I say, 'There are worse things than death, and one of those things is Alzheimer's.' "

The impact is felt by all. The sisters - Connie, Cindy and Ruth, who lives in Bradenton - operate as a team and coordinate visits. Every day, the first thought is their parents. The facility provides physical care, but emotional needs fall to the kids.

Paul, 86, likes to get a haircut. Eloise, 83, enjoys wearing red dresses. The children bake the cakes their parents used to love. Sometimes they talk about old times, though reminiscing can bring a smile or a vacant expression.

"I miss calling her for advice or crying on her shoulder," says Connie, fighting back tears. "I had a job interview, and I would love to come in and share with my parents and tell them I'm on the brink of maybe an opportunity of a lifetime, but we don't even do that any more because it doesn't even matter.

"What matters is just getting through the day."

What helps Connie get through the day is her involvement with the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center. She is playing a role in organizing the center's inaugural fundraising dinner at the Wyndham Westshore on Feb. 6.

She doesn't want to see other families endure the same difficulties, and she worries about Alzheimer's patients who don't have caring children. Her heart leapt for joy when she learned of the center, and she finds the research inspiring.

"I certainly don't have deep pockets, I'm not that well connected, but I just thought if I could further this cause, I'm there," Connie said. "What's going on there knocks my socks off, and it gives me hope for me and my kids.

"I want a cure. I think it's out there."



Byrd Center dinner

What: Celebrating A Lifetime Of Memories, the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center inaugural dinner

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6

Where: Wyndham Westshore, 4860 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa

Keynote speaker: Michael Reagan

Ticket information: (813) 866-1610, ext. 4126


[Last modified January 25, 2007, 08:51:56]

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