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Snapshots of Dementia: Surprise!

Posted by on May 25, 2020 in Dementia, Uncategorized | 38 comments

Tom and Marti at his surprise party, March 11, 2016

When Tom turned 60 in March of 2016, our family threw him a major surprise party. I wanted to make it special because I’d never really held a big party for him before, and his father died at age 59 of a massive heart attack so we all saw this as a milestone birthday.

The evening included family, friends, food and (no surprise to anyone who knows Tom, a longtime professional trumpet player and worship pastor) a music theme complete with vinyl records lining one wall, note-shaped balloons atop black-and-white balloon towers and a musical staff where friends could write their own notes on (you guessed it) notes!

I would never have pulled off such an incredible party without huge help from all of our children (forever kudos to our daughter Kristen, party planner and decorate extraordinaire). We scheduled it two weeks before his actual birthday because our two youngest daughters, both still in college, had spring break on successive weeks, and the weekend in between was the only time we could guarantee they could both attend.

However, I could have pulled off the surprise element on my own. Even then, Tom’s mind did not hold onto dates and events. For at least a year before this, I had begun to wonder what might be happening with him.

That night, I only needed one small lie to get him to the nearby church venue. “Remember? It’s David’s (a mutual friend’s) birthday, and they’re having a surprise party for him. I asked you, and you said we should go.”

Of course, no one had invited us to this nonexistent party, and we had never discussed anything about going to the church. But I knew he would think he’d just forgotten one more conversation. Everything happened exactly as I thought, and we walked into the fellowship hall as scheduled.

What happened next gave the party a personal subtext I’ll never forget. As we stood at the door with all our children along with many friends calling out, “Surprise,” I watched Tom turn and stare. Turn and stare. Stare some more. He looked at me.

“These people don’t even know David,” he said at last.

I stood on tiptoe, gave him a hug and whispered, “This party’s for you, baby. It’s your surprise party!”

Only then did the understanding come over his face. But for the next 10 minutes or so, he still seemed in shock.

Later, he said he was so surprised that he couldn’t process it all. And I don’t doubt that a bit. But what I also believe was that his brain was already showing definite signs of decline, signs that still didn’t show up on an MRI he had close to a year later.

And I knew my quick-witted husband. I knew he had consistently been the first person with a witty retort and the last person to need help evaluating a situation and making a rapid assessment.

The video one of our daughters took of us entering the room captured the reason for my concern. After watching it once or twice, I couldn’t look at it again. It only served to remind me of what I feared might be true but hoped and prayed was not.

Of course, a one-time event like this doesn’t mean someone has dementia. But it did mean I moved into a watch-and-see mode.

I only wish I hadn’t stayed there as long as I did.

If you have a friend or loved one with dementia, what were some of the first symptoms you noticed? Did a significant event like Tom’s surprise party trigger special watchfulness for you? Feel free to share your comments. Your story matters.


  1. How my heart aches for you at that moment of realization, my friend.

    • As mine did for you at various points in your journey. Hugs!

      • WOW!!!! So hard to have to come to realization but the loss of memory is so gradual so I could see how you might not of recognized it until that moment. Also many times the one with dementia realizes they are losing their memory and can disguise it initially. Thanks for sharing Marti!

        • It’s a journey. Even then I spent a long time going back and forth about it. More on that later. Thank you for reading!

  2. You know him better than anyone else, and you hurt over this more than anyone.
    My prayers are with you.

    • Thank you so much. We miss our CO times together!

  3. I’ll always remember Tom when our group from Birchman came to stucco your building! He was so much fun and was really in his element when he was in front of the group playing for us. That’s when I got to know my husband and we started dating shortly thereafter and eventually married and had a family. Such fond memories of that trip. My prayers are with you and your kids as you face the difficult days ahead.

    • It was so much fun for us to have our BBC friends sharing in our ministry there in New Mexico. But I didn’t realize that trip helped bring you and Wynn together. Thank you for sharing and for praying!

  4. Dearest Pink…what beautiful way to live 1 Corinthians 1, although not a path you’d choose, one you so graciously walk & reach a loving hand out to comfort others along the way.

    I continue to pray faithfully for you from afar.

    Love you deeply,

    • And I continue to be so grateful for those prayers. My own prayer is 1 Cor. 1 as well (and of course).

      with love from


  5. Martha I am sorry that your family is going through this but as we know God has a plan. You are a shining light and helping people understand the journey. My prayers are always with you and your family my friend .

    • And I am always grateful for your prayers and love as well as the many ways God uses you to bless others. Hugs!

  6. Prayers.

  7. I remember your tentativeness at that time. Concerned, wondering if you were seeing what you thought you were seeing…so difficult. <3

    • Exactly. Believe it or not, I still feel that way sometimes. Love back!

  8. God bless you…how is Tom now, if you do not mind me asking…you have probably heard this but have you researched into natural ways to help? I have seen so many articles….I pray that your faith in Christ…will carry you through your journey..please keep us updated. I had a great uncle who has Alzheimers.(spelling). It was sad to watch and I wished that I had been involved enough to do research of my own….Again, may God bless you, always

    • I don’t mind you asking, but it’s an answer that will no doubt come through as these posts continue. Basically he is midstage right now, still capable of doing many things but not of living on his own. He can no longer hold down a job, drive, or play his trumpet for more than very short songs. Yes, I have read about multiple treatments and “cures” and have had many sent to me. The short answer is that his brain is damaged with pieces missing. So any potential cure or medicine would have to include restoration of what has been lost. I believe God can do that should He so choose but am honestly not seeking either natural or medical cures, just to care for him as best I can with whatever time the Lord gives us. Thank you for caring, and I’m so sorry about your uncle. I agree; it is very difficult to watch.

  9. I am so sorry. My husband was on his way to dementia but the Lord took him home before it made a big difference in his life.

    • Aww, I’m so sorry you had to experience any of that. Blessings!

  10. I love that you’re letting us go through this with you.

    • Thank you, my friend. And thanks for reading!

  11. Dear Marti. Thank you so much for sharing these. Your transparency is a blessing. My heart aches for you both. But I am also blessed to once again watch you walk in our Lord’s grace so beautifully and humbly. Love you Elida

    • Thank you for your love and always-encouragement! Love you as well!

  12. I remember Larry’s brother coming for a visit to Florida from Ohio. He was still able to carry on a conversation but he would write down things on a pocket tablet like what he wanted to order at a restaurant after looking at a menu. He also started doing different things. He followed me into the bedroom and helped me make my bed one day and he wanted to help clean up things. That was not what a veterinarian brother in law would have done before. As the disease progressed he was obsessed with vacuuming their home and washing dishes and cleaning the sink. His conversations were few and that was not him. Alloways can really talk. I think we all knew early that he was losing a part of his personality but we did not want to accept it. We keep you and Tom in our prayers and we all hope the Lord will decide to restore Tom’s health.

    • As strange as it was for you to experience, this all sounds normal to me for someone with dementia now. I definitely did not understand all the extras that come along as part of the package. We are always grateful for your prayers!

    • Marti, my Sister-in-Christ, thank you for sharing this part of your and Tom’s life journey. Your willingness to be transparent will be of help and comfort to many.
      We’re further along on our journey with our Aunt, but your wait-and-see comment resonated with me. Living distance makes a difference as one doesn’t see the subtle day to day things. On the other hand one is struck at the changes when you connect.
      Thank God, we’re not on this journey alone. Praying for you, Tom and your family.

      • Thank you for your wisdom as always. I continue to pray for you and your family!

  13. Oh, Marti…I do so love you and Tom …well, all of you Piepers, actually – so very much! Your transparent sharing is a beautiful gift. Thank you and please know we are praying with you along this journey.

    • I have learned that my authentic walk is His gift to me to share with others. Ever grateful for your friendship and prayers!

  14. Marti, I know reliving these moments to share them is not easy. I know that every memory comes with what if i had acted sooner. what if…….
    I just want you to know that your heart and love for Tom is so evident in you words. Your heart that shares your doubts and wonderings is helping others so much. I pray that your words might help others see clearly what their loved one is experiencing and that your words might prompt early action.
    I love you Marti and am so thankful that your are choosing to write your thoughts.

    • You have my heart and my thoughts, Cathy. Thank you for your kind and caring words! Love always to you.

      • Hugs and prayers Marti, thank you for this post, I wish I had something like this with my dad…it is hard to read without crying…please allow yourself some private tears with God…I’m sure you are. As hard as it was to watch my dad slowly fall away, I learned to cherish the times he was back to himself and the laughter and memories we shared…I will always treasure those times…also the regrets of times I should have spent and didn’t…keeping you and your Family in my prayers!!!

        • There have been (and will be) lots of tears although I try to keep them away from Tom. I’m so thankful you have good memories of your dad even during that time. We are grateful to be hear near family to create more! Grateful for your prayers, so much.

  15. Marti, This blog is going to help so many people in so many ways. Thank you for being so open and transparent in your words and feelings about what you are going through. Tom is so blessed to have you as his best friend in life and I can’t imagine that he will ever fully forget that. Love and grace to both of you.

    • Thanks so much, Lisa. You’re a blessing in so many ways and I pray your words will be his reality.

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