Onward and Upward

By: Emily Wisner

Adam Baiers’s father and role model passed away on November 11, 2018. “I vividly recall the day I learned of my father’s diagnosis,” Adam said. “ It was May of 2008, and I was sitting on the couch when I received a call from my mother. As I hung up the phone, questions began to circulate. What does this mean?  How much time do we have? There was a lot of uncertainty, but I ultimately knew things would never be the same again for our family.” In the beginning, the most difficult part was not knowing how long it would take for things to get worse.

Adam looked up to his father from an early age. His father was a successful businessman and eventually became president of a manufacturing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sometimes he even let Adam sit in on his meetings. “I was probably fifteen years old and remember flying with him to Minneapolis for a lunch meeting,” Adam reminisced. “I got to see him in action. He was the best at what he did. He could talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable. And he could negotiate a business deal like no other.” Seeing his father lose this identity as the disease progressed was what Adam struggled with most.

Although Adam and his brothers would frequently travel to Grand Rapids to see their father, their mother was his primary caregiver. “Our mom was our hero,” Adam said. “The role of caregiver is a full-time job, and my mother took on that title without hesitation. She made it possible for my father to stay at home long after he should have been able to.” When his father eventually had to be moved to a memory care facility, Adam said, “She dedicated herself to him and made sure he received the dignity and respect he deserved up until the end.” 

“My parents had a loving marriage and were role models in so many ways,” said Adam. “It was definitely hard to see my mother losing her husband over the years. However, as the disease progressed and he became more confused, there was a calm about him when my mother was around.” Adam’s father lived with Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years. “Like many coping with a family member with Alzheimer’s, the journey was full of unknowns,” Adam said. 

From his father’s journey, Adam gained a new outlook on life: “I always had the reminder of time; what if we don’t have tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year? Over the years of living with my Dad’s diagnosis, it has made me realize how important each day is.” This realization led him down a path he never imagined.

“Six years ago, I couldn’t run a mile. I physically couldn’t do it,” said Adam. “I wouldn’t say that my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s was the reason I decided to get into shape. What I would say is that his progression made me realize how important each day is.” Since then, Adam has competed in dozens of triathlons including two full-distance races (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), one of which was the Ironman Wisconsin. Recently, he completed the Grand Rapids Triathlon for which he proudly wore his father’s initials, “RAB,” on his arm. “He was able to come to the events I competed in early on, and I know he would be proud to know I’ve kept it up,” he said.

“Each journey is different, and I’m sure the experience my family had is different from what others will go through,” Adam said. “In the end, I was fortunate to have a family where everyone did what they could to support one another. It’s a journey no one should have to take on alone. While he wasn’t the person I knew during those last years, I had someone to see, someone to talk to, and I still had my father. For me, I find great peace in that nothing was left unsaid. Nothing was left undone.”

“My father’s favorite phrase was ‘Onward and Upward,’” said Adam. “He’d always tell us this when we were going through a difficult or challenging time in life. I don’t think anything could be more fitting in dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s.”

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