by Jennifer Dice, Volunteer Storyteller
In 2019, Beverly Wilson and her husband Terry were enjoying a happy and active life together. The couple had been married for nearly 30 years, and Bev knew Terry as a kind and generous person – a gentleman with a calm demeanor and a great laugh. When Terry began to exhibit personality changes, Bev became worried and insisted that he visit his doctor. At the age of 75, Terry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At first, Bev imagined that caring for Terry would mostly consist of supporting his failing memory, but the disease progressed quickly, and Terry’s declining cognitive health clashed with his desire to remain independent – leading to a crisis point.
Though he had been told by his doctors that he shouldn’t be driving, Terry ignored them and continued to drive (although when he and Bev went anywhere together, she drove). On Labor Day, 2020, as Bev and other family members watched, he made an abrupt and dangerous turn in front of an RV – nearly causing a serious accident. He and Bev argued about the incident; Terry expressed a bitter anger – an indication that Alzheimer’s had begun to rob him of his lifelong calm and self-possession. A 27-year veteran police officer, he had always remained cool under pressure, and he never was known to raise his voice in anger. But, faced with losing his independence, he lashed out. Over the tumultuous days that followed, Terry became estranged from Bev, and his depression and erratic behavior increased. Eventually, he moved out, living with various family members, each for short periods of time.
On Christmas, 2020, Bev found the strength to invite Terry back home to care for him. That was when Terry told his family that he was no longer able to enjoy life and that he wanted to end the suffering by hastening his death. Without a 6-month terminal diagnosis, Terry was not eligible to access Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) under Washington State’s Death with Dignity Act. However, Terry did have the option to choose to voluntarily stop eating and drinking – a process known as VSED – which can be comfortable, peaceful, and empowering for seriously ill people with the support of family, friends, and caregivers. Terry and the family asked his doctor to support this decision by prescribing hospice care, including medications to relieve pain and reduce anxiety. The family met with the hospice team to explain Terry’s wishes, and when his son told Terry that VSED could proceed, Terry felt joy for the first time in many months. His face lit up with happiness; he had a peaceful night’s sleep, and the next day – although he’d always been shy to display his musical talent – he spent hours entertaining his family with songs on his guitar.
Terry continued to feel good about his decision – calm and confident, and he never wavered in his determination to die on his own terms. Bev says that Terry’s faith was one of the things that sustained him, along with the care and support he received from his family, especially his two sons. Terry died on January 20th, 2021.
In the years since Terry’s death, Bev has become an outspoken advocate for the right to make end-of-life choices, without shame or judgment. She would like to see MAID become legal for those with Alzheimer’s Disease. Bev says that she had mourned in advance, as the Terry she knew and loved began to disappear. She honors the memory of his bravery as he faced his last days. Terry changed her life, enriched, and inspired her, and it’s been a big loss. But she is also thankful for the grief – because, as she says: “We grieve because we love and because we were loved.”