Bobbye Maggio endured an eight-year journey as her husband battled dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But endurance is not her full story – faith made it more.
Maggio, a longtime Bay St. Louis resident, recently shared her experiences and struggles.
“I met Henry in New Orleans in my senior year in nursing school and he was a junior in medical school,” Bobbye said. “We married when I graduated and then life began.”
Henry Maggio’s story of accomplishments is long and admirable. Degrees in pharmacy, medicine and psychiatry meant he had impacted thousands of lives. His drive and intellect were attributes looked up to, which made his descent into dementia especially sorrowful for the people who knew him.
“He was 77 years old before he had to ride in the back of a police car,” Bobbye recalled. “The ride came as a result of his wandering away in the middle of the night. It took almost three hours to find him. Then, there he was smiling, flashlight in hand, getting out of the patrol car.
“He was fully dressed, a slim man, in his polo shirt and jeans, looking absolutely normal and trying to explain where he had been. In his hand, he held an appointment card for his next visit to the dentist. Being a person who was hardly ever late, he wanted to make sure that he did not miss his appointment.”
Only one in four people with Alzheimer’s disease have been diagnosed, according to studies.
“The disease of dementia does not rush in with a marching band and balloons. Rather, it comes in as (poet Carl) Sandburg would say, ‘on little cat feet.’ Oh, there are sideways glimpses as the disease begins to bubble up from time to time, glimpses that a person can blame on the aging process or dismiss as ‘senior moments’ until the truth crashes in with absolute clarity and you can’t deny it anymore,” she said.
It was a speech – out of context and inappropriate – that Henry gave at a reunion for the Loyola pharmacy’s Class of 1957 that spurred Bobbye to attend Henry’s next physical exam and demand tests to be run. A month after a battery of exams, Bobbye’s suspicions were confirmed.
“I dreaded the diagnosis so much that my mind immediately, involuntarily, wondered what other terminal diagnosis might be better. Dementia is a long, steady march of decline and suffering for the patient and his or her loved ones. It is a cross no one would choose, but we, of course, do not get to choose – God is in charge.”
Bobbye is a convert to Catholicism, a decision she made at the age of 15 growing up in Jackson. She smiles as she tells of her spiritual growth over her 58-year marriage to Henry.
“That was just a beautiful season in my life of Henry and I working together with Bible studies and men’s groups and church groups and youth retreats and speaking at Catholic Youth Organization conventions. Henry did tremendous work with his faith and his practice and God just used us and that was a beautiful season, and then the decade of the disaster started in my life.”
“The day I was in my little house and I had to put bicycle chains on my door with padlocks from the inside because Henry ran away, I was having a little pity party saying, ‘Oh, here I am in my 70s, just distraught, and I’m trapped in this little house with a husband that cannot make a sentence.’ ”
“Then the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I want you to look around and I want you to begin to see this little enclosed space that I put you in as an enclosed garden where I can speak to your heart and where you can learn things about yourself I need to reveal to you, and you can learn more about me that you need to know. I want you to not complain, not to have your little pity parties because everybody else is getting to go and do and be.’ ”
Bobbye said she realizes that the main lesson of that is that trial comes to everybody.
“Pain comes to everybody but He’s taught me, you’re not alone. You cannot be abandoned. So, I’m beginning to walk in a different light as far as Henry being gone now and I have time and I’m beginning to get back into things I think He wants me to do.
“I do try to do things in the community but by and large my push, my passion is trying to say to somebody, ‘I’m on the way to the Father’s house. Come and go with me.’”
Nearly a decade of endurance is behind Bobbye now and the hope is the sorrowful memories will fade and the memories of the man who accomplished so much in his life will remain strong and treasured.
Bobbye relates tenderly and with pride, “When he passed last year I can’t tell you how many people came out of the woodwork to say, ‘You don’t know me but I just want you to know your husband saved my life.’ ”
This month’s Gem is a picture of the deep love, commitment and persistence the disease exposes in those who – like Bobbye – endure the season but are never alone.
If you would like to share a story from your life or would like to nominate someone to be a “Gem,” e-mail Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org.