A wife’s eulogy to her late husband who lived with frontotemporal dementia.
This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.
My late husband, Ken, was 69 years old when he passed away from a long battle with frontotemporal dementia in September 2022. We were married for nearly 25 years.
I am 71 years old and a retired early-childhood public school teacher. In fact, I retired to stay home with Ken before his diagnosis because his behaviour was getting him in trouble with the law.
I point out symptoms from 10 years ago, but in hindsight, there were subtle signs of frontotemporal degeneration earlier.
Ken’s two sons were pre-teens when they came to live with me and my two pre-teen daughters. But before eight years had gone by, all four children basically hated him and left the house after high school, never to come back. I have a very good relationship with each, but we would meet elsewhere, and they repeatedly told me to get rid of him.
Ken held an international business broker's license in 2000 but lost his job and could not hold another because of his drinking. He went to several alcohol rehab facilities. Each one would call me to tell me he was sober but still not cognitively coherent.
I was even investigated for elder abuse because I “allowed” him to walk off and get lost in the dark. At that time, he was still able to do all his daily living activities. I was following Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-Anon) practices by letting the alcoholic be held accountable for their actions. That backfired.
Until his diagnosis in 2018, I was angry and resentful that my intellectual husband would not stop drinking.
But because of my 40 years with early child development, I could also see how Ken was stepping backwards down the development ladder. That turned out to be a Godsent gift, as I understood, and I was able to let go of the anger.
The people who came to Ken's funeral were mostly people who have witnessed my decline over the last five years: my Al-Anon friends, my church family and former co-teachers. These people filled the church with love.
Photo courtesy of Canva.
There were many people who were there for Ken's son, too. Ken’s two sisters and his brother brought their families to the funeral. They were aware of Ken's decline but live in South Florida and hadn't seen him in three years. But they have been very grateful for my caregiving of their brother. They even stood in my defense when my motives were attacked by estate lawyers.
Most people still carried an attitude that if he had just stopped drinking, he would still be alive. I could have written for my Al-Anon friends and explained how much that program saved my sanity. I could have written a testimony to how my spiritual life grew and how God took over for me and for Ken in the last year of his life. I could have written about how hard adult children have to work to overcome the damage done to them growing up in a house with a neurologically ill, mentally ill or alcohol parent.
But the people at his funeral did not need to know just how hard the difficult days were. So, I wrote this eulogy for the people who never really knew the old Ken, or they grew up during the years of alcohol abuse.
Why I Married Him: Ken’s eulogy
We are here to remember my husband, Ken. Many of you are here because you have been supporting us on our journey these past several years. I thank you for that.
These past few years have been so hard, perhaps you are wondering why I stuck with it. Some days I have wondered that myself.
But I’ll tell you — I’ll tell you about the wonderful man I fell in love with 30 years ago, the man I married 25 years ago this Oct. 14th.
Thirty years ago, I was an emotional trainwreck, having just escaped from an abusive marriage — very gun shy, very fragile. Ken and I met because I was dragged to an after-work drinks and dinner party about an hour away from my city. But I was left without a ride back, lost. Ken, who only just met me, drove me home in the middle of the night then turned around and took himself an hour back to his house. Nice guy — so we started to talk.
"Ken's love language was gifting ... instead of flowers for Valentine's Day, I got a rose garden."
Ken was interested in what I had to say. He listened — really listened. He wanted to know why I thought that way, and I wanted to know why he thought the way he did. We didn’t always agree, but that was OK. He was very intelligent, and I ate it up. We clicked.
We had different views about money. I made just enough to pay my bills and feed my kids. I was well satisfied. Ken wanted more — and made more — not to amass a fortune, but to gift to those he loved.
Ken’s love language was gifting. He wanted to know what I wanted, and he tried his best to gift it to me. He gave me a canoe, a car and a kitchen. But I didn’t want things, so instead of flowers for Valentine’s Day, I got a rose garden.
I like to travel, so we travelled all over — not to be there, but to get there. We climbed to the top of the Mayan temples in the Mexican jungles, drove to the top of Pikes Peak, hauled the kids and the tents to Yellowstone and hiked to every waterfall in every state park we could find. We checked off my bucket list watching fireworks in Washington, DC on the 4th of July and gymnastics at the Atlantic Olympics. He allowed me to read every single brown historical marker between Florida and Minnesota.
Claudia and Ken
When I mentioned I liked butterflies, Ken planted every Florida-native butterfly plant into our yard.
He paid attention to my likes and tried his best to gift them to me. Even in the end, when he wasn’t sure who I was, he would find and pick the very flower he had planted and bring it inside to give it to me because he knew what I liked.
Ken had been taught that men do not show their emotions, so he hid his. But I knew, and I loved him for it.
He truly loved the kids. Ken felt that his responsibility to the next generation was to gift them from his fountain of knowledge. He wanted them to excel, and he knew exactly how they could do it. A 97 per cent was always met with, “How could it have been 100 per cent?” A game that was won or an excellent meet was met with, “If you had done this instead of that ….”
His well-intended gifts were rejected and resented because all they ever heard was, “You are not good enough.” But he loved each one of them. He bragged to others about how awesome each child was. He just never told them to their face.
"He believed that to feel was a weakness. Still, he felt deeply and carried so much buried in his heart."
He didn’t understand feelings. He believed that to feel was a weakness. Still, he felt deeply and carried so much buried in his heart. He never felt he was good enough. He hid that from the world, disguised with arrogance and stupid jokes, so you could never know he was less than perfect. Ken felt he had to be the smartest man in the room.
We loved to geocache because it fed our shared desire to be outside and to do puzzles, using our intellect and camaraderie while also having a bit of healthy competition. I think in pictures so that I can read the map and follow a probable path, while Ken thought with numbers, using distance and degrees on the compass. We never kept score, but we each loved to be the first to find the cache.
That was the man I fell in love with. That was the man I married.
Then one day in 2012, I realized I was the only one finding the caches. Ken was starting to make irrational decisions and stupid mistakes. I choose to believe he began to use alcohol to soften the pain of his fuzzy brain. It didn’t help.
By 2015, even he knew he was drinking too much. Sadly, drunk or sober, his understanding and his behaviour became bizarre.
In 2018, he was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD), a rare, progressive and terminal brain disorder. FTD first affects the ability to relate to others — basically ruining relationships. Next, FTD steals the ability to organize, process and follow through with ideas or projects. This was not the man I married. He was a loose cannon, with paranoia and hallucinations.
Photo courtesy of Canva.
FTD stole Ken one bit at a time. The man I married was gone. In his place was a scared little boy, getting younger every day.
On difficult days it was hard to remember why I was married to Ken. But then he would gift me a shiny piece of asphalt, a treasure, and look at me with those frightened eyes hoping I would accept it.
And there was the man who still loved me.
He is with his maker now. He is finally whole again — all the little bits and pieces put back together. Thank you, God, for the man I married. Thank you, God, for gifting to me Ken.
Claudia Seitz-Ricklick, 71, is a retired public school teacher who lives in Florida. She was the primary care partner to her late husband, Ken, who lived with frontotemporal dementia. The two were married for nearly 25 years before Ken passed away in September 2022.