Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Sadie Shippa

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Sadie was born in 1939 in Orange, Massachusetts. One of nine, she grew up on the family farm milking cows and sharing chores with her siblings. She met her future husband Bob when she was 15 and he was 16. Bob's father had died when he was a freshman in high school and he had to quit school and get a job working at the farm to earn a living and take care of his mother and sister. Bob and Sadie married a few years later and had over 60 years together. Bob told me, “Everyone probably thought we were so square. We didn’t drink. We didn’t gamble. We always did everything together. She would help me cut wood. I would help her with the cooking. It was always 50/50 with the two of us.”

I met Bob after Sadie had been living in a full-time care center for about a year. After 60 years, their relationship had evolved into something very different. The love and commitment were ever-present - but their defining way of embracing life 50/50 was no longer possible. Bob visited Sadie every day – some days more than once - but always in the morning when she was most likely to be alert and talkative. As her dementia progressed, they both struggled to recognize the each other, the shared memories, the challenges and the  triumphs.