Having passed away in 2016 following a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's Disease, Gene Wilder's widow Karen penned a heartbreaking essay about the effect the disease had on her husband and those who are forgotten most often by the disease - the caregivers who help those with Alzheimer's.
In an lengthy essay for ABC News, she states that the signs of the disease were small at first, but noticeable. "Always the kindest, most tender man (if a fly landed on him, he waited for the fly to leave), suddenly I saw Gene lashing out at our grandson... His perception of objects and their distance from him became so faulty that on a bike ride together, he thought we were going to crash into some trees many feet away from us. Once, at a party with friends, when the subject of Young Frankenstein came up, he couldn’t think of the name of the movie and had to act it out instead."
As she points out, compared to other diseases, "even some cancers, this one offers not even a shred of hope for survival. The synapses of his brain were getting tangled and the result would be a steady and terrible progression of losses -- memory of course, but also motor control, to the point where eventually his body would simply forget how to swallow or breathe."
She goes on, explaining that she was "in the bed next to him when he took his last breaths. By that point, it had been days since he’d spoken. But on that last night, he looked me straight in the eye and said, three times over, 'I trust you.'... I am grateful that Gene never forgot who I was. But many caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are less fortunate."
"It is a strange, sad irony that so often, in the territory of a disease that robs an individual of memory, caregivers are often the forgotten. Without them, those with Alzheimer’s could not get through the day, or die -- as my husband did -- with dignity, surrounded by love."
You can read Karen Wilder's full essay here.