Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Bill Foggle

Born in January 1934, William (Bill) Foggle grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. He attended Dartmouth College and joined the Army upon graduation. After the Army, Bill returned to Springfield, got married, and joined his father Jacob (Jack) in the family furniture business.

Jack grew up in Pinsk, Poland where his father was a ship chandler and operated a ferry on the Pina River. One year before Hitler invaded Poland, Jacob and one brother escaped. First to Argentina, and then to Massachusetts. Bill told me, “When the Holocaust hit, he lost his parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. Nobody survived.”

Despite this incredible loss, or perhaps because of it, Jack was very charitable and deeply involved in Jewish affairs. Jack taught Bill to maintain his faith and contribute to his community. When asked to define what that means to him, Bill replied, “Love of my country. Love of my family. Love of my faith.” He continued, “It’s giving ... being part of a community. It’s sharing common goals and interests.”

Bill’s wife Lynn told me, “Bill was an activist, community dynamo, political supporter, and a strong believer in philanthropy. We entertained six different candidates for President at our home and are big supporters of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.“

“How did you find out you have dementia?” I asked Bill. He paused and said, “You could tell. Things were slowing down.” When asked if he had a sense of regret or fear, he replied, “No. I take life as it is and accept it. Work around it if I have to. I tried to beat it. If there are things you can’t control, you can’t do anything about, then go to the next.” Smiling, Lynn added, “Bill’s such an optimist. Each time someone calls to ask how he’s doing he replies, 'I’m getting better!'”

I asked Bill what advice he would offer newly diagnosed families and he replied, “I think it’s a responsibility to somehow let it out. But I understand why people who have this do not. I think that’s an important part for me. I have accepted what I have. There is nothing that’s going to change it. Or change it back. Or improve it. I’m very sad about it. But is it better than being dead? Because that’s the alternative. … I’d rather stick around!” 

Lynn added, “A concerned friend suggested that I consider taking an anti-depressant. I said I’m not depressed. I’m incredibly sad. This is a stinking ending to what was a great marriage.” After a long breath, “It’s just sad. I swear on a stack of bibles that I’m not depressed. I’m just incredibly sad that this is the ending. I used to see us, in my mind’s eye, walking off holding hands into the sunset. And it’s different. It’s not the ending I dreamed of.”

When Lynn walked out of earshot, Bill told me “I’m really not afraid of what will be. But I’m sad about it. I’m going to try and fight through.”

At that moment their grandson Ethan arrived for a visit and the atmosphere was transformed as if a beautiful sunrise had illuminated the room. Warm embraces, smiles and laughter filled the kitchen. Conversation about family, fond memories, and gentle prodding about job prospects ensued. Bill and Ethan were eager to watch football together. As I lingered by the door, I turned one last time to see the wheel of life turn – undiminished by dementia. An unbroken legacy of love of community, family, and faith.