True love of my life

Brenda Adams gives her husband, Garry, a kiss after feeding him. As a result of a head injury, Garry has progressive dementia that has confined to a wheelchair and left him unable to speak. While Garry is in the care of a hospice worker, Brenda finds time to trim the Christmas trees on their farm.
Brenda Adams gives her husband, Garry, a kiss after feeding him. As a result of a head injury, Garry has progressive dementia that has confined to a wheelchair and left him unable to speak. While Garry is in the care of a hospice worker, Brenda finds time to trim the Christmas trees on their farm.

YORK -- Every morning, Garry Adams is carried out of bed by his wife, Brenda. She spends an hour and a half dressing him, brushing his teeth and shaving his face.

For about 20 minutes, she exercises and stretches his body. Garry lies on the couple's bed motionless, while Brenda rotates his legs and upper thighs. Next are his arms. He's a little reluctant about letting her stretch one of them.

"You're pretty stiff this morning, Garry," said Brenda in a soft, soothing voice. "It's OK."

She stares deep into his eyes and smiles.

"Sometimes I see the old Garry," she said. "Then sometimes I see blank."

Garry, 66, has progressive dementia and his health has been declining. The man who could "fix anything" was diagnosed with dementia that resulted from a head injury, leaving him confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak.

For the past few years, Brenda has been caring for her husband of 38 years while also running the nearly 30-year-old family business, Adams Christmas Tree Farm in York.

Brenda hopes the farm will get the boost in tree sales the family has been needing during the York County Winter Wonderland on Saturday at the tree farm.

She hopes they can sell out of more than 1,000 trees ready for picking. The event is hosted by Hospice Care of South Carolina and Lake Wylie Retirement & Assisted Living.

"Our goal for York County Winter Wonderland is to encourage more families to come ... to purchase their Christmas tree and enjoy themselves," said Mary-Kate McManus, community relations director at Hospice Care of South Carolina.

Adams Christmas Tree Farm, off S.C. 324 south of York, began as Garry's vision. Brenda embraced it and the two were inseparable, working side by side planting, cutting, trimming and hauling trees around the farm.

But Garry was injured in 1993 while helping a neighbor with a bulldozer. A cable broke and struck Garry's upper body, including his chest, back and head.

No one knew about the accident until late that afternoon, when his family noticed marks across his body where Garry had been struck by the cable. Garry had been to the emergency room, but refused to stay overnight. He did not have any open wounds.

About two years after the accident, problems started to surface. Garry began suffering from fainting spells, short-term memory loss and severe headaches. He had a gut instinct that something was terribly wrong.

"Garry kept saying, 'There's something going on with my memory'," Brenda said. "I guess he could tell, because he couldn't remember stuff like he used to."

His memory had never been a problem before, she said. "He could read something and tell you 10 years later what it was. If there was something he wanted to learn how to do, he would do it himself. I could tell he was worried."

Their daughter Heather VanCamp, the youngest of four children, was worried, too. VanCamp described her father as a "very stern and gruff" man.

But she said he began to do things he would never have done, like hugging everyone and not responding immediately to questions. It was hard for VanCamp to watch the disease take over the man who "scared most of my boyfriends."

Brenda and Garry visited a doctor who discovered a broken temporal bone, part of the skull, and suggested surgery. Or he said the couple could wait, hoping the headaches would dissipate and the short-term memory loss would level out.

They waited a year, but the headaches, memory loss and fainting continued. Garry underwent a series of tests. An MRI showed that he'd had a closed head injury.

Garry wanted another opinion, so a neurologist did a series of neuropsychic tests, which showed that the injury had triggered early Alzheimer's disease.

It was a day Brenda will never forget.

"We just both sat there for a while, then we went out to the car and sat there and cried," Brenda said.

Garry was referred to Duke University Medical Center's neurology division. There, the couple learned in 1995 that Garry had progressive dementia.

Brenda said they were all in denial, including Garry.

"Garry was so angry," Brenda recalls. "You couldn't hardly be around him. We didn't realize we were not dealing with the real Garry any more."

VanCamp couldn't understand why this was happening to someone who'd always helped others. "I was angry about that a long time. How can this happen to good people?"

Brenda recalls when Garry would help neighbors, both in York and on farms in Mayville, Mich., where the couple had lived before moving to York County in 1980.

Farming was one of many outdoor hobbies that Garry enjoyed. In Michigan, the couple had raised beef cattle and grown grain crops like wheat, corn and oats.

The couple decided to move South after their 16-year-old son, Tim, was hit by a car and killed in 1977. Garry purchased 37 acres outside York and landed a job as an engineer and service manager for a plastic and rubber company in Charlotte.

Garry wanted to take on a new hobby and decided on growing and selling Christmas trees. Tim had worked part-time at a tree farm. Garry did research and visited some farms.

The first year Garry and Brenda, with his son, Greg, and Greg's wife, Rose, planted 2,500 trees by hand. The couple began selling trees such as Leyland cypress and others. They sold more than 1,000 a year and earned about $60,000, Brenda said.

"We had hoped to build it up for retirement, but that wasn't God's plan for us," she said.

After the accident, and during the onset of Garry's illness, they didn't plant any trees for five years. Brenda even thought about selling the family business, but she was convinced by family members to keep it going.

Over time, Garry's dementia began to worsen; he began repeating things over and over. And his health declined. He began using a wheelchair almost three years ago, and shortly after that, he stopped talking.

But even now, Brenda refuses to have Garry sleep in a hospital bed. They still sleep in the same bed, her arm draped around him during the night.

"He is the true love of my life," said Brenda, fighting away tears. "God gave me that love for him, and I think right now this is my purpose in life."

Brenda is responsible for getting Garry out of bed and dressing him. He sometimes moans when she brushes his teeth, but he remains calm for his daily shave. When Brenda finishes grooming and dressing Garry, she leans over and gently kisses his cheek before pushing him into the kitchen for breakfast. It's something he seems to enjoy.

No one knows how much time Garry has left, but Brenda has noticed the recent change in Garry's health.

"I can see the decline," said Brenda, referring to some bouts with pneumonia that Garry has suffered. "I'm just beginning to accept that it could be any time."

In September, Heather VanCamp moved back home with her husband, Joe, and two children, ages 6 and 10, so she could help her mother take care of her father.

A month before VanCamp moved back home, Brenda called for help from Hospice Care of South Carolina, something that she dreaded having to do. "I thought hospice meant the end," she said. "I wasn't ready to accept it."

But she soon learned that she could ask for help. A nurse from Hospice Care of South Carolina spends about an hour and a half with Garry Monday through Friday.

The visits involve checking Garry's blood pressure and sometimes feeding him. It gives Brenda time to work a little on the farm and to fulfill her job as cheerleading coach at Blessed Hope Baptist School in York.

"It has relieved a lot of stress," said Brenda about Hospice Care of South Carolina. ". . . It takes the pressure off my kids to keep them from going to the grocery store all the time, and I can go to pick up the grandkids from school."

But she refuses to stay away long. And she does not have any immediate plans to deviate from Garry's original plan to sell Christmas trees.

"The tree farm was our last dream together," said Brenda. "If God chooses to let me give this up, I know that God is going to put another purpose in my life."

What: Hospice Care of South Carolina and Lake Wylie Retirement & Assisted Living will host York County Winter Wonderland.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Adams Christmas Tree Farm, 1204 Cameron Road, York.

Details: Several free events will be offered, including a crafts table for kids to make ornaments, a marshmallow roasting fire pit, gift wrapping for items purchased at the event and face painting. Santa Claus, a petting zoo and pony rides will be available. More than 40 local vendors will sell gift items, food and Christmas trees in Santa's Village. Admission is free; parking is $1. For more details on Hospice Care of South Carolina, call Mary-Kate McManus at 367-1213.

Hospice & Community Care will host a community open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House and Hospice & Community Care campus, 2275 India Hook Road, Rock Hill. Tours of the Patrick House and community building will be offered. For more details on Hospice & Community Care, call 329-1500.