The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 21, 2013

Sad closure for a favorite story


The Mankato Free Press

---- — By the time I met Judy Roe, it was already too late.

I met her at a dinner table at Pathstone Living, an assisted-living and nursing home facility near Sibley Park in Mankato. I’d been invited by her husband, Jim Roe. I’d been interviewing Roe for a lengthy feature story about his life and the disease that had come to figure so prominently in their marriage: Lewy body dementia. But by the time I came into her life, she’d already progressed to a point where she was unlikely to remember me or our meeting.

Readers of The Free Press might remember her story. After all, Judy Roe had the kind of story that isn’t easily forgotten. Why? Her disease was characterized by the kind of hallucinations that might make you wonder if instead she was experimenting with recreational drugs.

She’d see rhinos walking down the street, or a band playing in her living room. One minute she’d be fine, the next she see a room full of people and wonder aloud how she was going to manage to feed them all. It’s the kind of thing you might laugh about. But there was nothing funny about the toll Lewy body dementia took on Judy and her husband, Jim.

When I opened my paper Monday and turned to page B2, I saw the face I’d sort of been expecting to see for a while but was hoping I wouldn’t. Judy Roe died over the weekend. And all I could think about was Jim.

When you do the kind of long-form, narrative feature story that I did on Jim and Judy, you get to know a guy pretty well. I sat with Jim for many hours, painstakingly going over every bit of the journey he’d been on as he cared for a spouse with such a demanding, infuriating disease. And what I learned about Jim is this: Judy — who grew up in my childhood neighborhood and went to my high school, St. Paul Johnson — was one lucky woman.

I remember very well one moment Jim and I shared while sitting in his kitchen. He was telling me about a time when Judy sort of called him out on a few instances when he’d gotten impatient with her. In fairness to him, it was getting tough. She was spending less time being the wife he’d known since he was 17 and more time struggling to get a hold on reality. The hallucinations were becoming more frequent, and he was doing all he could to maintain some semblance of their normal life, yet still do everything in his power to be everything for her.

Still, her comment rattled him. But that’s the kind of guy Jim Roe is.

In the days and weeks following the publication of that two-part series in March, I’ve had a lot of people stop me at the grocery store or coffee shop and tell me how much they admire Jim. People who were a member of his congregation when he was pastor at Belgrade Avenue Methodist Church, his friends, even people who’d never heard of him. His courage and devotion to his wife and her care, they all say, was inspiring and extraordinary.

His story is one that doesn’t get told much in today’s media: the story of the caregiving spouse. It’s a lot easier to tell a story about someone suffering from an illness than it is to turn the lens to the side a little to see the ones who are providing support, the ones who are often giving up a lot so that their spouse may suffer a little less.

Not that Jim would ever say he gave anything up. I’m quite certain that, if you asked Jim today, he’d tell you that spending a life with Judy made him the luckiest guy on earth.

Robb Murray is a Free Press staff writer. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com.