Monday, April 23, 2012

Steve And Janie

This is a story about my friends, Steve and Janie.

When Janie was a teenager, my mother was one of her Sunday School leaders. When I became a teenager, Janie was one of my leaders and I babysat for Janie and Steve’s kids.

I was teaching myself to play my brother’s guitar back then - a generic solid body with a small amplifier my dad had picked up at a garage sale. I practiced every day after school and on weekends and played till my fingers bled. I watched my friends who played for our church and they gave me tips and let me play their acoustic guitars sometimes. Steve was one of those friends.

One night when I went to babysit Steve and Janie’s kids, Steve said I could play his guitar after the kids were in bed. Steve had a nice little Yamaha classical and those nylon strings were so much easier on my fingers than the steel strings of that electric guitar. I told him I was saving my babysitting money so I could buy one of my own. He said he didn’t play his guitar very often so he wanted me to take it home and borrow it for a while. I was ecstatic. I played Steve’s guitar for about six months until I got a guitar of my own.

Thousands of people have heard me play guitar for Sunday Schools and church services, summer camps and student meetings plus a few weddings thrown in for good measure. I even wrote a few songs of my own and recently found some old friends on Facebook who remembered them. It’s not that I was ever that good at it. I was just willing and available.

Sometimes, when nothing else can calm my inner storm I take out my guitar and spend a few minutes playing an old familiar song about God’s love and grace. It’s like taking a deep breath, spiritually. I can’t imagine not being able to do that. Without Steve’s confidence in me and the loan of his guitar at just the right time I might have given up and never learned to play.

My friend, Steve, has Alzheimer’s Disease.  He was diagnosed when he was 60 years old. He’s only 64 now but he can’t live with his family anymore. He doesn’t always recognize them when they visit him in the nursing home where he lives. Caregivers there are trained to deal with Alzheimer’s patients when they become aggressive but Steve is especially challenging. After teaching martial arts for over 30 years he is quite adept at defending himself. He can’t understand that they’re trying to take care of him.

Steve and his son, Jay, used to teach eight martial arts classes a night on two mats in one of the largest Karate schools in the state of Texas. Steve shared with his students the things that were important to him. He quoted scripture, told Bible stories and often brought his guitar for a jam session with the kids at the end of the evening.

Because of Steve’s ADHD, it wasn’t unusual for him to ask for Janie’s help finding his keys or other things he’d lost. During routine check-ups his doctor would say, “Oh, does Janie think you have Alzheimer’s again?”

But then Steve began to lose track of details on the job. When he had to ask Janie for directions to the dentist they’d been seeing for years she was worried. When Steve panicked at the thought of Janie going out of town for a couple of days she canceled her trip and called the doctor the next day.

Steve knew what he was facing when he got his diagnosis. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s years before. More is known about the disease now and Steve was able take medication to help slow the onset of symptoms. That helped for about a year. The younger the patient when diagnosed, the faster the disease progresses. Steve can no longer speak in complete sentences.

I remember Steve as young, handsome, energetic, talented, a loving father, a faithful friend. When Janie found me on Facebook recently and told me about Steve’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis my heart broke for Steve, Janie, and their family.

If you look at Janie’s Facebook page, you see her smiling face and photos of her children and grandchildren.  And every now and then you can read comments about her family’s experience with Alzheimer’s and encouraging words from her friends who have gone down this road with their own loved ones.

“It’s not just being forgetful," Janie says. “It robs them of their personality and their passion.” Steve stopped playing the guitar. Then he stopped karate.  Because of their experience with Steve’s mother, Janie knew that it would be hard. “But it’s different when it’s your spouse. The person you’ve confided in and looked to for support is not there anymore.”

It was about two years ago when Janie realized she’d have to quit her job and stay home with Steve full time. She got a call from the Sheriff’s department while she was at work. Steve had wandered down the road from their house and knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask for help getting back home. Three days later, it happened again.

Janie had always considered herself to be a private person, but the stress of taking care of Steve took its toll. She kept telling herself, “It’s not Steve, it’s the disease. It’s not Steve, it’s the disease….” She finally started confiding in friends at church, letting them encourage and pray for her. She says, “You have to give yourself permission to be frustrated.” She felt guilty when she moved Steve to the nursing home, even though she knew she couldn’t care for him herself anymore. He was far enough away that she couldn’t visit him every day so she turned her attention back to her own life. She started taking better care of herself and found a new awareness of God’s leadership in her life. Janie recommends that caregivers find an Alzheimer’s support group and seek out resources like the book, The 36 Hour Day, a wonderful resource for caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

They call it the “Silver Tsunami”. More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. One in eight people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately our health care system will be faced with a lot more Steves and Janies in the coming years. I urge you to read this article about the impact this will have on our health care system:

The 2012 Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum is underway in DC this week. Over 700 representatives from all 50 states have gathered to urge our government to take action on Alzheimer’s issues. As we approach the elections in the fall I hope you will consider candidates who will work to find solutions for those who cannot help themselves.

Alzheimer’s has taken Steve not just from his family. It’s taken my old friend from me. Over the years I’ve been delighted to reconnect with friends from the church of my childhood, whether online or in person. I talked with Janie recently, catching up on the news of family and mutual friends. I was comforted by her memories of my mother, when she was young and strong, thinking of all the young people she encouraged, like Janie. I am so glad we’ve renewed our connection.

But I can’t talk to Steve anymore. The Steve I once knew is gone. I can’t tell him about all the years I played my guitar because he loaned me his. This disease robs the world of all that Steve might have continued to do to be a blessing to his friends. It has robbed Janie of her closest friend and encourager with whom she has shared the past 48 years. Jay and Shannon will tell their children about their grandfather but Steve can’t be there for their ball games, karate matches, graduations or weddings.

Some leave us slowly, their strength fading even as their memories and personalities persist. Some leave us suddenly and unexpectedly, with no chance to say goodbye. In both circumstances we mourn the passing of those who are no longer with us.

Janie is mourning her husband and best friend, Steve, the man she visits as often as she can, whose care she entrusts to trained professionals. It is difficult for him to speak now but sometimes he’ll look at her and say “I love you.” But the Steve she knew is gone.

If there is a Steve in your life, my heart goes out to you. If there is a Janie in your life, I pray you’ll offer your support and prayers. And if you have something to give, please make a donation to help fight this terrible disease through research, support programs and services.

Thank you, Janie, for the use of your photos.


  1. Donna, that was a beautiful tribute.It's a heartbreaking thing to watch.The words really flowed in this blog. Well done.

  2. The worst kind of identity theft. You told the Alzheimer story (and Steve and Janie's) so well. Hopefully soon there will be a cure or prevention.

  3. This is beautifully written... and I think Mrs. Beam's response hit's the nail on the head "the worst kind of identity theft."

  4. Donna, thanks so much for this lovely article. I know this amazing family. My heart has been broken for everyone involved. My family has been touched by Alzheimer's as well. Devastating.

  5. As a dear friend of Janie's (more like sisters),and knowing this wonderful family has been such a blessing to me for years.You have portrayed them beautifully, truthfully, and gently. Thank you

  6. Knowing this wonderful family and being a close friend (more like sisters)of Janie's, I appreciate your truths, and sweet expressions of them and their circumstances.

  7. Alzheimer's will touch each and every one of us at some time. And your piece touched us, too. Empathy and our ability to care and love means we will always feel touched - sometimes by good things and sometimes by bad things. Thanks for this touching tribute and for the ways we can share with each other.

  8. What a beautiful article by your good friend! Thank you for writing about Steve and Janie! Yes, Steve was and is a very special person and much loved. Janie is a gem and my cousin, along with her sister Glenda, who I dearly love, and feel are truly my sisters. Janie has been such a faithful and loving wife - when we promise God to love and cherish in good times and bad, we can look at her example and know that she has kept her word to the Lord God. The wedding picture reminds all of us about the promise we make at our weddings. I love the picture of Steve in the rocker! He is in our hearts and prayers for ever. Lavon

  9. Donna Lynch Biasatti4/26/2012 4:01 PM

    Donna - I remember Steve and Janie - I also babysat for them a few times. Every now and then I look at old FBOC directories and when I see their picture - I have asked my mother if she knew where and how they were. She didn't - so I just had to wonder. Although I hate what they are going through - I am thankful that I know them. Thanks for your update and I enjoy reading your blogs....reminds me of good times - many years ago - at FBOC.

    Donna Lynch Biasatti

    1. Thank you, Donna! I was looking through one of those directories myself just yesterday. I'm glad we can be there for each other on Facebook now. And I love knowing you read my blog. Lots of good memories of FBOC... and softball games!

  10. We are human, and to ask why bad things, bad diseases, happen to good people, is only natural. And you know me, to say it's God's will is complete and utter bullsh*t. God wouldn't do this to your friend and his family. God is love, and there is nothing loving about a disease such as this that robs you of your dignity, your memories, and your humanity. God does, however, provide us with that infinite grace to guide us through the dark times. You are a good friend, Donna, another excellent example of grace, and I thank you for writing about Steve and Janie. I will keep them in my prayers of peace and serenity, and I will donate so that others may find some comfort in the future.

  11. This is a wonderful column. My mother and Janie are first cousins. Some of my younger years were spent growing up the Shannon and JT.. Steve was my first karate instructor. It is my prayer that one day, with all our intelligence, God will help us find a cure for this disease. It breaks my heart that Steve is this way and Janie has to grieve for someone that hasn't gone home. I cannot imagine what she has gone through. Thank you for adding more to my memories with this story.

  12. That was so beautiful~ We were friends since elementary days, and just reconnected on Facebook several years ago to learn about Steve and what Janie was going through. When I heard the news, my heart was broken. It is a horrible devastating disease. My Mother was diagnosed with it in the beginning stages at the age of 80, and developed lung cancer, We lost her when she was 84. to the cancer. I will continue praying for sweet Janie and her beautiful family~