Gene Wilder’s widow Karen has written a moving essay about her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and the toll it takes on caregivers.
The Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory passed away in August, 2016 at the age of 83 following a long battle with the degenerative neurological disease.
Karen, who married Gene in 1991, a couple of years later after his comedienne wife Gilda Radner died, has now penned a moving essay for ABC News recalling the struggle of looking after an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
After recounting how they met, the first signs that something was wrong and the diagnosis, she wrote, “My husband took the news with grief, of course, but also astonishing grace. I watched his disintegration each moment of each day for six years… We still managed to have some good times and to laugh, even at the ravages of the disease that was killing him.
“But there’s another particularly cruel aspect to the disease of Alzheimer’s, because in addition to destroying – piece by piece – the one who’s stricken with it, it ravages the life of the person caring for its victims. In our case, I was that person.”
She then heaped praise on the Alzheimer’s Association for their help and support to caregivers, 40 per cent of which die before the sufferer due to the emotional and physical toll. To help them raise awareness, Karen has allowed them to use footage of Gene as Willy Wonka for their new campaign, the Pure Imagination Project, a name inspired by one of Wonka’s songs.
“Gene died fifteen months ago. I was in the bed next to him when he took his last breaths,” she wrote. “By that point, it had been days since he’d spoken. But on that last night, he looked me straight in the eye and said, three times over, ‘I trust you.’
“I am grateful that Gene never forgot who I was. But many caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are less fortunate… It is a strange, sad irony that so often, in the territory of a disease that robs an individual of memory, caregivers are often the forgotten. Without them, those with Alzheimer’s could not get through the day, or die – as my husband did – with dignity, surrounded by love.”