In sickness and in health

Sharon Simpson | Menno Place
Abbotsford, B.C.
Bill and Ena Van Dam take a walk on the Menno Place campus. (Menno Place photo by Karen Baillie)

When Bill and Ena married, it was the obvious next step for two best friends. Working together as teachers, they saw their love blossom. After retirement, Bill and Ena headed to China to bring their teaching skills to a new set of students.

It was in China that Bill began to notice a decline in Ena’s memory. She retired from teaching and they began an adjustment in their marriage as dementia became a third partner in their day-to-day life. Practical and prepared, Bill took the steps to move to Menno Place, a campus-of-care for seniors in Abbotsford, anticipating that one day he would no longer be able to care for his wife without assistance. 

It was at Menno Place that Bill and Ena’s life opened up to new friendships and new supports. Other men who were providing care for their wives became a community of support for Bill, as he kept his wedding vow “to love you . . . in sickness and in health.”

The spiritual life at Menno Place became a source of spiritual care for Bill, including the weekly prayer time with the staff leadership. Within a few years, Bill made the difficult decision for Ena to move into Menno Home in residential care. It was there that caregivers, housekeepers and others became an expanded circle of support for Bill and Ena.

Each day, Bill walked from his apartment suite to visit Ena in her home in residential care. He was the key advocate and voice for Ena in order to ensure that she was cared for in the personal way that made her happy. Bill experienced the transitions through Ena’s care as a thoughtful, engaged husband.

As dementia is a terminal diagnosis, Bill was prepared for her stages of decline. When she became palliative, Bill began his final vigil with Ena. Many of his friends who work at Menno Place joined him in his loving goodbye.

Bill reflects with tenderness and joy on the 25 years that Ena lived with dementia. He made hard decisions, supported her, accepted the course of her illness, advocated for her choices, and found a depth of friendship and care at every stage of her journey.

He says of his decision to move to a campus of care, “Menno Place is not just a good place to live, it’s a really special place to die.”  

Further reading:
The gifts of grey hair
An indoor yard sale says a lot about St. Clair O'Connor
Making every day matter
Learning from her elders

Bill and Ena Van Dam take a walk on the Menno Place campus. (Menno Place photo by Karen Baillie)

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