TERRY CURTIS

This is for Terry – Aloha!

by Sheryl Wilde

“At our church, the first Sunday of every month, we’d have a testimony meeting,” says Skip Curtis, Marine Colonel and father of Olive House resident, Terry. “Members of the congregation could go up on the stand and bear their testimony. Terry was famous for going up any chance he could get, and starting off with, ‘Brothers and sisters, aloha!’ What’s been touching to us is – of course Terry’s not with us now, he’s at Mountain Shadows – but often at our meetings on Sunday, those that knew him best will get up and say, ‘This is for Terry — Aloha!’

“Terry doesn’t even recognize who we are anymore. He’s deep into Alzheimer’s now. He’ll look at us like something’s familiar sometimes. But it’s not like, “Hey, mom and dad!” It’s none of that anymore. That’s kind of the tough part.”

Adds Clista, Terry’s mother, “Terry was born with Downs Syndrome back in 1967, and they told us all these terrible things. When he was born, the doctor recommended we put Terry in a home, and we just couldn’t do it. He’s our child.”

In the years after his diagnosis, Terry proved the doctor’s wrong. Says Skip, “Terry participated in the Special Olympics. He threw the disc, did track and field, floor hockey, softball throw. He won gold medals. He did good. He had a condition that a lot of Down’s kids have with their hips. Instead of running straight, they kind of waddle a bit when they run. But he would run his heart out. He’d run his heart out.

“Terry graduated from Kilmer Center. He worked at the Officer’s Club in Hawaii. He was famous. He loved it. He had a great time. Then we moved to Japan, and that’s where he starred on television as the disabled employee of the Pacific for that year. He was just full of vim and vinegar.

“I was assigned to the NATO Defense College in Rome. At the end of our course, the whole class went to have an audience with the Pope, Pope John Paul II. At the end of his speech, the Pope called all the kids up around him. So all the kids went up and they took a picture. The pope had his hands right on Terry’s shoulders. Half of my family’s catholic, so they went nuts, “Oh he’s saved! He’s saved!”

“He also met Marie Osmond. We were in Las Vegas for a reunion with one of the squadrons I commanded. Well we went and bought the big tickets where you could go and meet them after the show and you sit right up front. We had a great experience, and the show, it was wonderful. Then after the show, you get in this line, and you get to meet them. So when we got up there, Marie put her arm around Terry and said, “Do you like older women?” Terry didn’t know what to say. He had his arms around her, hugging her. That was a big thing. That picture wound up being his cellphone background picture for many years.

“Then in 2005 he started having seizures. And then in 2012, we took him to the neurologist and that was when we got the diagnosis of the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“By the middle of 2016, he was already having a really difficult time even walking. He was leaning badly. Then in August of 2016, he had a series of seizures over a period of days that were very severe, and that was really the end of his walking unassisted.

“By middle of 2017, we had caregivers coming into the home. We had hospice come in. We didn’t know how long Terry would live. We initially said, “Well we’ve got to care for him at home,” but I wound up having a series of heart procedures and implants, and I could not help Clista care for him. I couldn’t handle him in the shower anymore, and he was unable to bathe himself.

“We made the decision to look for a place that could care for him and found Mountain Shadows. He moved in in July 2018 and has been there ever since.”

“We’ve learned a lot from Terry – patience, patience. And a forgiving nature,” adds Clista. “I think he’s also taught other people about gentleness and love and kindness – and unconditional love. That’s Terry.

“I think the first 11 years of his life, we did have trouble coping. When we joined the Church of Latter-Day Saints, that brought a whole new attitude toward his handicap, and to the importance of family.”

Adds Skip, “When Terry was about 18 years old, he received a patriarchal blessing. In our church, we believe this patriarchal blessing is a pronouncement from the Heavenly Father on what the pattern is to be for your life. In that blessing, the patriarch told Terry that he’s here on this earth for a special reason, and his coming to earth was a special thing. I think that helped us realize how blessed we were to have him in our home.

“Souls like Terry were sent to this earth with what we would call a handicap, but which God would look at as a blessing. The blessing was that he was put into a family that would take care of him and make sure that he’s protected. That’s what we did. We tried our best.

“When you’re a parent of a Down’s kid, you know they can die at any time. A lot of Terry’s friends passed away from heart conditions and other things. We’re just grateful that he lived to grow up.”

“Some may look at Mountain Shadows clients and feel very sad that their bodies are not straight,” says Clista. “Their bodies aren’t letting them do things most of us can do. But we know based on Terry’s experience, that they’re in a good place. I guess you could say we look at people with handicaps differently than most people do.

“We look at them for the potential they have now and when they leave this world. Their bodies, like our bodies, will be fixed. We’ve often said we’ll be excited for the day that we get to see Terry and be able to talk to him normally. He’ll be well. He’ll be perfect.”

Adds Skip, “Our religion helps us with the philosophy that you try to respect everyone as a child of God. We look at people, they’re all our brothers and sisters, and we treat them as we would want to be treated.”

“We feel that this is God’s plan and he will take of us,” says Clista. “He will not let us suffer more than we can handle, and he’s making us stronger. That’s sometimes a hard thing to understand, that some of these things that we think are challenges, are really for our good, our growth, because some of them are hard. God gave us Terry, trusting us to take care of him.”

“Some people don’t understand the relationship we really have with God,” says Skip. “God doesn’t punish us by giving us things. He is blessing us by giving us these challenges. Then our response to these challenges is to overcome them so we personally grow and benefit from them. We’re learning to be compassionate with someone else.

“Due to the effects of the Alzheimer’s, I think Terry’s in a position where his responsibility to interact with this world has ended. He’s completed his part of the plan. The responsibility has now shifted to us and to the caregivers at Mountain Shadows.”

“Terry is our son,” says Clista. “It’s hard because when we visit him, we’re not seeing the same person anymore. He’s no longer conversant. It’s hard to visit him at Olive House – seeing less of him. It’s hard. I guess there’s a part of me that remembers The Notebook movie, and we think there will be this moment of brightness or something like that … But we still know who he is. We know who he is.”

“My wish would be that all the other families understand what we understand. We understand why Terry’s here and why he came to this earth in the manner he did, with his handicap. I don’t think all parents realize that.

“I can’t say enough about how pleased I am about Mountain Shadows. They’re doing an outstanding job. We all have the same goal of making the best life for Terry, for making his experience, his end of life, as comfortable as possible. Mountain Shadows has saved our lives. They saved our lives. Absolutely. They’ve saved our lives.”

Author’s Note –

Terry left this world on July 2nd, 2019, a short time after this story was written.

We know he is well now. He’s perfect now. And with a body strong, and straight, and able, we know he walked through the gates of heaven, with arms open wide, and exclaimed joyfully,

“Brothers and sisters, aloha!”

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