My old friend was late for lunch …
It was the summer of 2014 and Ed and I had made arrangements to meet at a restaurant on Edmonton’s south-side.
Once or twice a year we did this. It was our time to catch up on where we were with our lives, the scoop on who got married, split up, croaked — and the latest on friends who’d run off to some faraway land. The usual.
For 10, 20, then 30-minutes, I waited. No Eddie. Where was he? What happened? I tried phoning him but there was no answer …
Ed never did show up and so I ate alone.
It was so uncharacteristic of my former soccer teammate from Campbellton, New Brunswick not to keep his word — nor to call and say he couldn’t make it. The man had too much class to deliberately communicate with silence.
A mystery, for sure.
Perhaps something had come up. Had Ed been in an accident? Or had he simply forgotten about our date because there was too much on his mind? The possibilities kept ping-ponging in my head.
Unknown to me, Eddie’s brain was being attacked by a dreadful, slow-moving disease …When I finally contacted Ed a few days later, I didn’t bring up that he’d been a no-show. Neither did he, strange enough. It was as though he wasn’t even aware. Weird.
We rescheduled — but incredibly, the same thing happened! Ed was again a no-show. Wow! What were the chances of that happening?
What’s going on here?, I wondered. Did I not get the dates right?
Was I losing my mind?
Don’t mean to sound insensitive, but Ed was losing his. The man was facing what health workers would call a ‘degeneration of brain function.’ It was irreversible. And things would only get worse, not better.
Eddie also wasn’t returning my phone calls, and that wasn’t like him either.
I finally reached him on the phone and asked point-blank, “What the hell is going on with you?” Ed said he was sorry … although his apology came without an explanation. Clue #3. I let it go and we set yet another date.
This time, Ed kept his word. He showed up, right on time.
MEET EDDIE …
It was a great get-together — finally! We spent time at a family restaurant just up the street from where he lived. Ed and I shared a few jokes [some of them clean] and reminisced about how cool it was to grow up in the Maritimes.
We were both fond of our teenage years in Campbellton, especially playing indoor soccer for the Speed Demons. Ed had been a forward on our second line. He had a hard shot and played with a lot of heart.
The Speed Demons were the league ‘powerhouse,’ capturing more than their share of championships. How exciting that was for us kids, holding the league trophy high, our names in the local paper and all that. It was self-esteem building at a most impressionable time in our lives.
It gave us the feeling that Campbellton was a place where everybody was somebody, and we were part of that.
I could not fathom how memories as powerful as those could ever slip away. But as I was about to discover, sometimes they do …
Ed and I spoke with deep appreciation about the care and guidance from our coach, local radio announcer Don Hume. At the time, we had no idea but belonging to the Speed Demons would be a glue that would hold us together.
Our luncheon date seemed like 20-minutes — but it was much longer, probably close to two hours.Eddie also played basketball for the Campbellton High School team. Check out this photo:
Let’s move ahead half a century …
Ed had just retired from his job with the purchasing department at the City of Edmonton where he’d been for decades. He worked in an office tower close to the Law Courts Building downtown where my radio station, 630 CHED, had a small news bureau.
We occasionally ran into each other in the spacious lobby of the courthouse. Ed had a quick wit, sometimes introducing me to strangers … “Have you met my father? …”
It was good clean fun and the line always brought smiles.
FADED MEMORIES …
Ed and I spent many hours at his small apartment in the downtown area, near Jasper Avenue and 124th Street. We chatted non-stop at his kitchen table, enjoying — of all things –pop, juice and potato chips and going on about the ‘good old days.’
I’m told that those getting on in age have a tendency to do that.
Ed had moved into his apartment a couple of years earlier after his marriage went south. I could tell he missed his two children [now adults] — and his ex. That’s right. Although the two had their differences, Eddie never put down his former wife, not in front of me anyway. Nice to see that.
It appeared as though Ed had moved into the apartment just days previous. That’s because some moving boxes remained stacked, unopened and covered with dust.
Only his small kitchen seemed to be set up.
It was never easy to leave Eddie’s place. “I’ve gotta get a move on,” I’d say. Ed always pleaded, “Don’t go … you’re in no rush.” My friend wanted company.
Ed longed to go on about the past but, oddly enough, he didn’t talk much about the future. There were no dreams of retiring to Florida, to a cabin in the woods … or running off to Australia with a hot model. None of that.
Was it a sign of aging … or was it something more sinister? It’s convenient to give Ed’s medical challenges technical descriptors such as ‘dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s Disease.’ Labels aside, the poor fellow was simply forgetting so much, so fast. There was no getting around it. The man was having cognitive issues.
Ed began spending more time with his sister-in-law whose husband, Ed’s older brother, had passed away at the age of 75 following a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. The lady — a quick wit in her own right — was far more than a relative. She was a loving caregiver. An angel.
ON THE MOVE …
It wasn’t long before Ed moved to a special care facility smack in the centre of a new, upscale neighbourhood in North Edmonton. There, he could come and go and have visitors. I was one.
The fact that Ed was now living in that ‘special home’ made me want to see him more … take him out for drives, hang out and pig out at a Mary Brown’s restaurant, that sort of thing.
Here’s a :17 video of Ed in the Edmonton subdivision of Lewis Estates in the west end of Edmonton, where I live. He’s walking my half-Yorkshire terrier, Timbit.
To view in better definition, Click ‘SHARE’ [top right], then ‘ORIGINAL’ or ‘MP4.’
Everyone at the care facility loved Ed, especially the female staff he vowed to marry one day. “But I’m married,” they pleaded. “Really? Haven’t you had enough of that guy …?”
On Ed’s wrist was a bulky, watch-like thingy — a GPS tracker. The staff could determine Ed’s whereabouts ‘in real time’ simply by watching a computer screen. Imagine that. And I thought electric typewriters and carbon paper were amazing.
As good as the care there was, Ed longed to be back at his old apartment. And I could see why. Some of the ‘residents’ in his new digs were near zombies, right out of it. Sorry, but the politically-correct term isn’t coming to me right now.
I felt Ed didn’t belong in that place and I know he saw things the same way. He often asked, “Why the f— am I here? Get me out of this f—ing place!” My friend was becoming very frustrated.
His new home was a bit like a clean prison with friendly guards who spoke in foreign accents. Staff hawkeyed everyone who came and went. Doors were locked electronically. Surveillance cameras were everywhere — except in the bedrooms and bathrooms, and even that I wasn’t sure about.
I dropped by now and then to take Ed for a drive; sometimes for a meal, other times to my home in the west-end, to a park … or to take my drone for a spin. He enjoyed listening to pop music as we drove, rapidly tapping on the dash to the beat of a song that grabbed him.
Ed loved music. He could have been a DJ.
MEETING AN NHL HALL OF FAMER …
I once brought Ed out to meet his hockey idol, Glenn Hall, a long-retired goaltender who played for many years in the National Hockey League, suiting up for three teams: the Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues.
Glenn lived alone on a farm just outside of town.
The two hit it off. We plunked ourselves down on big leather chairs in Glenn’s living room. The man the hockey world knows as ‘Mr. Goalie’ also treated us to a beer. Ahhh. Nothing like a cold brew on a warm summer day.
Ed suddenly pounced to his feet and announced, “Glenn,” looking his way to get his attention, “… this is how you stopped those pucks!” He then jumped around like a jackrabbit on speed, pretending to kick out shots.
It was quite a display.
Glenn looked my way, shook his head and smiled. Bet he hadn’t seen a goalie clinic in his living room before.I followed Glenn to the kitchen. “My bud has dementia,” I whispered. “I figured that,” he said, adding, “Stan also has dementia …”
Stan Mikita had been a star forward with the Black Hawks in the 1960s. Stan and Glenn were more than teammates. Glenn was best man at #21’s wedding.
Oh. This is important. As we made our way down Glenn’s winding, paved driveway Ed remarked that Mr. Goalie was one of the greats. I agreed. I also remarked that we all have greatness in us but most don’t realize it.
OFF TO THE ROCKIES …
Ed and I took off to the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful day in June 2016. That was a fun trip.
We drove here and there, even built a small campfire near the Athabasca River with the beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background. The sun was shining bright, the fire crackling and Ed was at peace.
So was I.
[There are more Rocky photos at the end of the post …]
THINGS GOT WORSE …
As Ed’s disease progressed, the peace he so enjoyed in the Rockies was replaced with confusion and anger.
His condition worsened and he was moved to a new location — a newly-built senior’s complex in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton.
Here, Eddie shared a locked ward with about two dozen men, all older than him. Hell, Ed was only 68 and there he was, in a dementia unit. Like that makes sense …
His neighbours were a helicopter pilot, a police officer, an engineer, a truck driver, and so on. They were white, black and in between. Alzheimer’s Disease does not discriminate.Ed and I continued to meet. We went for drives [and shopping at Costco, nearby] … although his new residence had more rigid procedures in place. For example, Ed now had to be signed in and out. Staff also wanted to know who I was, my cell number, where I was taking him and when I’d be back.
As friendly and professional as the staff was, Ed still didn’t like this new place …
When we returned from an outing, pulling up in the parking lot, Eddie always asked the same question: “Who are we visiting?” And I said, “No one, Ed. This is your home now …”
Eddie pleaded for me to drive him to his apartment downtown.
When I left his unit, Ed always trailed behind to the keyed-entry door, asking to leave. It was heartbreaking to hear the electronic ‘click’ sound of the heavy door closing, glance over my shoulder and see Ed standing there. You have no idea.
Ed may have been losing his mind, but not his feelings.
The modern complex had everything one could ask for … dedicated staff, nourishing meals, a clean room, nice view, terrific facilities, movies, and bus trips. To top it off, old friends and family members dropped in to see patients from time to time.
I think Ed got more visitors than anyone.
Ed spoke highly of a young, pretty woman who came to visit him. He showed me her photograph. “Christ,” I said, “Ed, that’s your daughter!”
Eddie also vowed to marry the woman who faithfully came to visit him every Thursday. That was his former wife. “She still loves you,” I remarked. Ed’s response: “What’s her name? …”
One day I asked him, “Do you know my name?” “Zeke!” he quickly announced in an attempt to throw me off because, truth is, he wasn’t sure who I was …
Ed was good at hiding the fact he had cognitive issues. It’s my guess many Alzheimer’s patients play that game, at least in the beginning. If I ever end up like that, guess I’ll be doing that too.
On most days, Eddie remembered who I was … with a little help. “Hello,” I’d say, with a handshake. “Byron here.” “BYRON CHRISTOPHER!” he shouted to let me know he hadn’t forgotten.
“And how is Donnie Hume?,” Eddie added, “… I haven’t seen him in a while.” Ed always brought up our coach’s name. “Does he still work at the Post Office?” Don retired decades ago.
THE SPEED DEMONS
A special book with more than 200 photographs paid tribute to the Speed Demon Soccer Club and Ed had a copy of it on a table in his room, right beside a window.
The hard-cover publication was always on display.We often sat on the edge of his bed slowly going through the book, page after page.
“That’s Allan,” Ed said, pointing to a black and white photo of his younger brother who had left Campbellton and settled in Ontario. “He came to see me the other day.”
“Ed,” I countered, “Allan died a long time ago …”
“What’s this fellow’s name?” I asked, pointing to someone standing alongside Ed in a high school graduation photo. I could see the wheels were slowly turning in his head. “Let me think,” he said, “hang on … hang on” … [buying time]. He then began to go through the alphabet. “‘A’ … ‘B’ … BRIAN!”
Eddie was quick to remember players who’d scored a bunch of goals. Brian, Art, Ray and, Bob were some of the players that come to mind. All forwards, of course.The feisty forward on our second line began naming just about every player in those old team photos. But as time went on, Ed knew fewer and fewer of them … until his old teammates had transformed into mysteries, faces without names. While in Ed’s unit at the senior centre, I occasionally pulled out my cell phone and made calls to some former teammates. They were tickled just to hear his voice. Those calls became a memorial lifeline, if you will, to what had been a very special time in Ed’s life.
“I want to know something,” he’d say to whoever was on the other end. To get their attention, he’d pause. “… Are you naked?”
As the months passed, I could see that Ed’s memory was getting worse.
“Here’s a photo of goaltender Glenn Hall,” I said, pointing to an autographed snapshot on top of his dresser. “Where’d you get that?” I queried. Ed responded, “I was just talking to him the other day … he wanted some tips on how to play goal.”
Not true. Glenn, who hung up his skates in the early 1970s, turned 86 in November 2017.
Ed had been a valuable soccer team player. You won’t find his name among the top scorers … but when it came to team leadership, Eddie was our unofficial captain. He kept everyone loose. Rough up a smaller player on the boards and expect to get implanted on the boards on the next shift. That was Eddie. He stood up for his mates.
Ed stood up in life, period. I recall how dismayed he was that some City of Edmonton contracts were [in his opinion] not above board. He couldn’t get over that politics could be at play. Dementia or not, Ed and ‘monkey-business’ were just not compatible. Not playing by the rules wasn’t the way Eddie was brought up and that’s not how he lived his life.
In this day and age when people are trained like rats to adore the system and ‘play the game,’ Ed didn’t. He remained a rebel hero who hadn’t sold out. Ya gotta like that.
Even though Ed’s memory was going, his heart was strong — especially for causes and ‘doing the right thing.’ He once asked what I was up to. “I’m working on a story on Bobby Steeves.” Steeves is the mentally-challenged man in Campbellton who was tormented without mercy over the years … because he was simple and gay. “That’s bullshit how people treated him,” retorted Ed. What jerks …”
I’d been warned that those suffering from Alzheimer’s could easily become — how does one put this tastefully? — sexually aroused. Sure enough. Ed and I were in his fourth-floor unit at the senior’s complex, looking out the window, when he spotted two young women on the sidewalk below. “See those girls?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he went on to say that one of the girls was crazy over him — and that they’d actually gone on a few dates.
It was all BS, of course. But not to Eddie.
“Ed,” I remarked, “you’re a worse pervert than me!” I was joking. Okay, maybe half-joking. But Eddie wasn’t.
I went along with his tall tales. We all did. It was the right thing to do.
Ed often apologized for not remembering things. “I think I’m losing my mind,” he once said. The only retort I could think of was, “I hope not … if that happens you’ll be appointed to the Canadian Senate.”
DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER’S
Is there a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s? The experts say there is. They say dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. According to the website alzheimers.net, it’s a term often used to describe the cognitive decline of aging.
This is how some in the medical community see it: When someone is diagnosed with dementia, they’re being diagnosed with a set of symptoms. It’s like when somebody has a sore throat. Their throat is sore but it’s not known what’s causing the problem. It could be a number of things: allergies, strep throat, or a common cold. Similarly, when someone has dementia they’re experiencing symptoms without knowing what the actual problem is.
It’s believed that Alzheimer’s Disease causes as many as 50 to 70% of all dementia cases.
A big difference between the two is that Alzheimer’s is not reversible. It is degenerative and — so far — there’s no cure.
Notes around Ed’s unit at the senior’s centre in St. Albert remind him of his son’s name, the names of his daughter and grandchildren. Spread out on a table are photographs from camping trips, ski trips, sky-diving … and his treasured book on the soccer club in Campbellton.
It’s a collection of souvenirs and signs of the life he lived, assembled by family members.
I spotted some things in Ed’s room that weren’t so pleasant. There’s that hole in the drywall, about knee-level. “What the hell happened here?” I asked, pointing to the foot-size puncture.
“Don’t know how that got there,” he replied, very matter of fact. I don’t think he was bullshitting me. Ed had no short-term memory. Zip. He couldn’t tell me who visited him yesterday but he could recall details of a soccer game half a century ago.
MY RECENT VISITS
It’s now at a point where Eddie doesn’t remember me at all …
When I visited him on Sunday evening, December 3, 2017, he didn’t look my way when I walked into the dining hall. My old friend was having dinner [‘supper’ to Maritimers] at a table with three men.
Ed wore two baseball caps, one on top of the other — another sign that something wasn’t right with him.
I waited 20 minutes, then joined Eddie at his table, pulling up a chair and punching his left shoulder. It’s my way of saying hello at times. “How are things, Ed?”
“Want to head down to your room when you’ve finished eating?” “No.” A retired police officer, sitting to Ed’s right, interjected, “How do you know this man, Ed?” Again, no response. Some might describe Ed’s behaviour as catatonic-like; he was certainly not engaged that day.
I explained that Eddie and I grew up in a small town in northern New Brunswick …
I punched Ed’s shoulder a second time. “Don Hume says hello.” Eddie finally spoke. “Who’s he?” Wow. Clue #300.
Thirty minutes later, I was on my way home and walking down the hallway that led to the locked door. This time Ed didn’t follow. I glanced back and he was still at the table with his friends. Eddie seemed to be off in another world, and I guess he was.
About a week later, I went around to see Ed again. He seemed a bit more ‘with it’ … but still not engaged.
We plunked ourselves down in big chairs in a visitor’s room at the end of the hall. We chatted for half an hour or so.
“How are you feeling, Ed?” “Stupid,” he replied.
And I replied, “You’re not stupid, buddy. Your memory is slipping — but it’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can.” I reminded Eddie that more people loved him than he’ll ever know.
Ed said nothing. He may have been trying to let that sink in, I really couldn’t tell.
“Do you know my name?” I asked. Ed looked out the window, waited a couple of seconds, then simply said, “No.”
The chairs were comfortable; the topic not so much …
“Do you remember the town where you were born?” “No — and it’s for a reason,” he said, sitting up straight to make a point. “Some people went this way,” he said, motioning with his hands, “and some people went that way …”
I could see that Ed was uneasy, but how could he not be? His hard drive was being deleted by a slow-moving disease … and there wasn’t a damn thing anybody could do about it.
“Do you know what I do for a living?” I asked. “No.” “I’m a journalist. I report the news and write stories …” “Wow,” he said. Suddenly I had Eddie’s attention. “I’ve just done a blog story on you, Ed.” He looked my way and smiled. “That’s nice. Thank you …”
In time, Ed will forget me, his family and everyone he’s ever known. I’m told he will eventually forget how to do basic, essential things such as swallowing. His body will start shutting down, like curtains drawn at a theatre.
You may wonder why I continue to visit Ed when he doesn’t know who I am. It’s because I know who he is.
I’ll then get a call from a family member who’ll tell me that my dear friend is safely on the Other Side. That’s when Ed’s memory will return and, I’m told, he’ll be more alive than any of us.
There’s a happy ending to this story after all.
Here’s a short video clip of Ed on a pedestrian bridge over the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. The man sure likes to whistle — and loves to dance.
This was taken on June 15, 2016, when Ed was living in his first group home, the one in North Edmonton.
To view the clip in high definition, click on ‘SHARE’ [top right], then click on either ORIGINAL or MP4. Please wait for it to load. It runs 18 seconds.
In closing, this reflective piece from country singer Allan Jackson … ‘The Older I Get’ … [available on iTunes]. Runs 3:50.
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The cool cover Image [the three trees with diminishing leaf coverage] courtesy of Activebeat.