Janet McKee was heartbroken when she realized a couple years ago that she was losing the love of her life to dementia. After being married to Mark McKee for 40 years, she still treasures the memory of their wedding day in Nebraska in 1978.
“We just loved each other so deeply," she said. "It was pure joy.”
But there was sadness afoot decades later, when she learned that the now 61-year-old would be entering the severe stages of advanced dementia. Well aware that the severe progressive disease had already afflicted his mom, who died at just 59 years of age, as well as his siblings, one of whom has already died at age 47, she specifically chose to not have children to avoid passing on the disease again.
But she knew she could never avoid Mark himself.
“I loved Mark more than I hated the disease,” she said. “Mark and I were soul mates from day one.”
But as his illness progressed, it became clear that she had lost the husband he once was, and she had to change her own identity from a schoolteacher to Mark's caretaker.
So she retreated to her wedding dress, to recall happier times. While surfing the Internet, she found a genius way to repurpose it during the time of need. She got the idea from Elaine Penkava of Colorado, who prided herself on making quilts from wedding gowns. And that was exactly what Janet realized she needed.
“I’m going to think about you two, think about this dress and when I begin cutting into this dress, it will speak to me," Elaine told her, after agreeing to take on the project.
And when Janet picked it up, it spoke to her, too.
“It’s waiting to offer me what I need at my point of loss,” she said.
Her husband continues to battle with dementia, so she doesn't know when she will say her final goodbyes to her soulmate. But in the meantime, she knows her memory will be nearby for her to hold when the time comes. In the meantime, it still serves an invaluable purpose.
“It’s a physical reminder,” she said, “of having been blessed.”
We couldn't think of a more beautiful reminder of just that. We're keeping you and your whole family in our thoughts and prayers during this tough time.