Kenyon Morgan saved me from the misery of my first professional job. Six months out of graduate school I was working for a large Oklahoma City firm, the only period of my life I was truly bored. Kenyon had recently hung out his single and needed someone put together the building projects he’d won. I quit the slow, steady ladder, and dove into doing everything: design, detailing, spec writing, on-site supervision; both learning as we went.
Kenyon and his vivacious wife Kay had three young girls, upbeat attitudes and the perfect mix of professional integrity and urban cool. After I moved to Boston we stayed in touch; we last met in 2011. Since that time, life threw Kay and Kenyon a curve. In February 2014 Kay slipped on ice. Soon thereafter she started to forget things. By summer she was diagnosed with progressive memory loss.
Kenyon built an addition to their house, downsized his practice, and moved a small staff on-site so he could be near both Kay and his work. He hired someone to oversee the household. He hired a friend to take Kay swimming three days a week. Their church group stepped in to include Kay in activities. “We are fortunate to have the resources so Kay can remain at home. But some things I cannot hire out. There’s a fine line between personal chores, like picking out clothes, that I still want to do, and what others can do.”
The same week Kay was diagnosed, Kenyon’s sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. “The two diseases are so different. Everyone talks about cancer; everyone is involved in the treatment. Dementia is still secret.”
From the start, Kenyon has balanced caring for Kay with taking care of himself. When she received the diagnosis, he began going to a caregiving counselor. The neurologist prescribed eleva, a mild anti-depressant, to counter Key’s frustration. They use holistic creams. These treatments seem slight compared to the magnitude of the condition. “The last drug the FDA approved for Alzheimer’s was in 2000. I don’t think there’s a pharmaceutical solution to this.” Kenyon has been following UCLA studies that focus on a combination of exercise, spirituality and topicals to counter memory loss. He would like Kay to participate, but acknowledges she is not a good candidate. “She hates taking these tests. Those are her worst days. I can’t subject her to them.”
Kay still recognizes many people, and her frustration is self-directed rather than outward. Kenyon encourages her to interact with others, but she prefers him. “I am her security She likes me. She always wants to be with me, but I need breaks.” He also realizes the importance of making Kay feel important. “I tell her I need her. And it’s true.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“Things have changed so much since I was a kid, what can tomorrow be like for my grandchildren? It’s more about family and friends and how do we get technology to work for us instead of against us. I think of my son-in-law Josh, who’s a product manager at Google developing apps for India. What are they for? It really only matters if it leads to a better life. I look at our Presidential election and I wonder what technology and God has wrought. In the end, people, families, friends are important. The spiritual is important. How do we reinforce that and also develop the power of the individual? How do we inspire people to develop solutions instead of stirring discontent?
“I feel so blessed to sit down, at age 70, and design a building. I have a talent in which I make a difference. It’s what I was doing when I was six years old. Now I’m 70 and still get satisfaction, and it will get built. I wish everyone had that.
“I am stuck as a caregiver, and architecture gives me relief. It is my satisfaction and my diversion.”