September 1, 2014

Paying a visit to the Pfenders

Jul 16

Main Photo
Elaine Pfender wearing one of her many hats. Photo by Emily Petsko/Observer-Reporter

Weeks had passed since I had last seen Fred and Elaine Pfender, so I was nervous for our first visit after their story went public.

The article, part of our ongoing Alzheimer's series, told a deeply personal story of love and unwavering devotion. Fred and Elaine have known each other from birth and have been married 45 years. Now, Fred is watching the woman he loves change daily as she lives with the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

It hasn't been easy for Fred, but he's handled it remarkably well, and with a great deal of empathy and compassion for Elaine. When I paid a surprise visit to Fred and Elaine at Senior LIFE in North Franklin Township last week, Fred's face immediately lit up.

My reporter's anxiety subsided when Fred told me he loved the article. He said he had to purchase more copies of the newspaper because so many people requested one. And so many people cried.

It's a strange thing for reporters to learn that they made readers cry with an emotional story. I just felt humbled and honored that Fred was willing to let me tell his story.

As for Elaine, she was still her same spunky self, but she somehow seemed distant. Perhaps it was because it was later in the afternoon than our usual meeting time, and Fred tells me Elaine keeps waking up earlier and earlier each morning. Sometimes, he takes her for walks during the day just to wear her out so she doesn't wander.

Fred and Elaine just started going to Senior LIFE, an adult day care center, five times a week instead of three. Fred said Elaine's decline is becoming more noticeable, and he wants her to have all the care she can get.

As for Elaine, she was content with flaunting her new ball cap that a friend gave her. That must make 51 hats in her collection now.

Elaine, always the center of attention, flashed me an ornery smile when I asked to take her picture.

I wonder how much longer I'll get to see that smile. I hope it lasts, for Fred's sake.

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The Observer-Reporter's latest staff series will feature Alzheimer's and dementia. Each month, we will concentrate on different aspects of the disease, from what it is, who is affected, resources, and more. This powerful series will go on for the conceivable future.