The story of the life of a couple both taken by Alzheimer’s Disease
By Wendy Williams, WTSB
When you are a pastor, chances are you may be called upon to preach your own parent’s funeral. For a Smithfield minister, it was one funeral for both parents.
Wilson’s Mills Baptist Church Pastor Billie Lawson Jr. lost both his parents three days apart. His dad, on June 19; his mom, just three days later, on June 22.
Lawson’s parents were residents of Agape Senior Assisted Living Center in Laurens, S. C. where they both suffered from Alzheimer’s. Pastor Billie Lawson Jr. preached his parents’ funeral at Union Baptist Church Cemetery on Thursday, June 25.
“Although we thought mom would be the first to go, it was dad that passed away first, but we knew that it would not be long before mom joined him.” Lawson Jr. explained as he shared his parents’ life story.
The Korean War, nor Alzheimer’s could keep Billie Eugene Lawson and Willie Fay Benjamin from meeting and sharing a life together til death they did part.
After returning from the Korean War, Billie Lawson Sr. didn’t know that a joy ride and a whistle would lead him to his future bride.
Lawson was riding up and down the hills of Enoree, SC when he heard a whistle. He decided to investigate where the whistling was coming from. As he approached the culprit of the whistle he saw Willie Fay Benjamin who would become his future bride sitting on the front porch. The rest is history, or Happily Ever After.
The two married on February 1, 1958 after dating only six months. They made a home in the “Honeymoon Hotel” on Graham Street in Enoree, S.C.
The two began their life together welcoming two boys to complete their family. The loving couple raised their family on Mrs. Lawson’s family farm in Maddens Station, SC beginning in 1962. Both parents worked.
“We were what you might call the ‘early daycare’ kids,” Rev. Lawson said as he described his life and upbringing.
Mr. Lawson, Sr. worked in the mill and worked for Maxwell Brother’s Furniture, Life of Virginia, Patterson Ford, and W. R. Grace. He retired in 1992.
Mrs. Lawson worked for 30 years for Lauren’s Glass. The glass company made mayonnaise jars, Pepsi bottles, and other glass bottle containers. “Momma and daddy made a hobby out of collecting soda bottles,” Lawson Jr. said. Mrs. Lawson also worked for the Lauren’s District 55 School System during her career.
You could hear the love and respect in his voice as Rev. Lawson, talked about mom and dad and the life they gave him and his brother. “My parents were simple country people. They were good neighbors, just salt of the earth people.”
He described his parents as friends to all those in the community and great parents to their children. “They raised us right. Daddy was the disciplinarian, mom was not,” he said. He went on to say, with a chuckle, mom just couldn’t discipline us because we would give her ‘”that look.” The family of four had a great, simple, happy life always together.
Billie and Willie Lawson did everything together. When you saw one, you would see the other. Life was happy for the couple as time passed by. With time, came age, and the unexplainable disease of Alzheimer’s struck the couple somewhat simultaneously.
“They got it just about at the same time,” Rev. Lawson explained. “While still at home, dad seemed to be a little worse off than mom. Once they went to the assisted living care, she went down faster.”
They remained in the same room together until the staff at the care center suggested that Mr. Lawson be moved to his own room so he could get more rest. Not being able to rest was physically taking more of a toll on him than the disease itself.
During the day they were always sat next to each other.
Although in a separate room at night, the two didn’t recognize that they were ever a part.
Having their parents in two separate rooms was making it hard on the family to be in two places at one time. Rev. Lawson requested that his parents be once again be placed in the same room.
The couple was back together, side-by-side. Their beds were placed against each other. Like a magnet Billie and Willie’s found each others hands. With the progression of the disease and the declining health they both were enduring it’s like they still knew each other was there.
“It was like the Holy Spirit placed their hands together,” Lawson Jr. said as he described that moment. “It is a time I will never forget,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Billie Lawson was called home to be with the Lord. Three days later, his bride of 57 years joined him in glory. The two began an eternal life together after a great earthly life was lived.
“We are still working on a cure for this terrible disease,” Rev. Lawson said. “It is a sad disease, but there is research and studies going on now,” he so passionately described. “Alzheimer’s is a disease that can affect anyone, young or old. It is a plaque on the brain. There are drugs that, if started early enough, can slow it down, but nothing has stopped it. The cause of the disease can be environmental, one’s activity or lack of, or even the food one eats.”
There are 83 different kinds of Alzheimer’s which makes it hard to diagnose. According to Lawson, some of the signs can be hording things, buying something over and over again. “My mom would buy 5 pounds of sugar and take to the neighbors. She did this daily,” he said.
Rev. Lawson talked a lot about research, awareness, and possibly some day a cure. Alzheimer’s takes a lot away. The Lawson couple’s minds were taken, but their connection and love endured together til the end.