“There are several messages here … the biggest one for me is the lesson that every life, no matter how damaged, seemingly insignificant or lost, has value.” Thus sayeth Monument resident and Integrity Bank & Trust co-founder Randy Rush of his wife’s 11-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, a journey chronicled in the just-published “Loving Tami ― No Regrets.”
Randy’s 187-page walk through the crucible with Tami, produced with the indispensable help of Randy’s co-writer (and bridge buddy) Frances T. Pilch, is available via Amazon, Kindle, and Randy’s website, randyrush.net.
“It’s obviously a labor of love, and is meant as an encouragement for anyone whose faith and daily survival are being tested by any challenge involving a loved one,” says the Kansas-born Randy, who came to Colorado to join forces with his brother-in-law, Jim Wyss (president of Peoples National Bank before launching the Integrity project), in 2003.
“It’s the kind of spiritual, emotional and physical challenge nobody would ever choose to take on, but every day people are getting the unthinkable news that we got back in 2010.”
The first clues that things were not right with Tami came in 2009 when she began to experience difficulty in her job as registrar at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Colorado Springs. “It got our attention because she’d always loved her job and was very good at it,” explains Randy. “She’d just gotten an award for excellence in her position the year before, and she began having trouble with the details of her work. It was very frustrating, and we went about trying to figure out what was going on. What I discovered is that there’s no specific test for Alzheimer’s and you basically just have to eliminate everything else. You just don’t think this is possible for a 49-year-old, healthy woman.”
The diagnosis they dreaded came after a neuro-psychological evaluation (which tests cognition and memory) revealed impairment or serious impairment in several subsets of the study. “It was devastating, but there was nothing to do but move forward,” says Randy. “We had just become empty-nesters, and were moving into a new phase of our life together. This turned quickly from long-range dreams and plans to a bucket list that we needed to get going on.”
Facing the challenge head-on, Tami and Randy got into several support groups and did as much proactive mitigation of the condition as possible. “You can’t shake the knowledge that there’s no cure for this disease, but you can decide to make the most of every day and help others along the way whenever the opportunity arises,” says Randy. “That’s where the faith becomes such a huge difference-maker … we knew how bad this might get, but we also knew that we’d be together at the end of this journey.”
This life-altering development came during what was an already challenging time for the Rush/Wyss family professionally, as the recession of 2008-2010 was making things tough for just about everyone in the business world.
“It was an interesting time in that respect,” explains Randy, in reference to the story of a now-thriving enterprise whose very existence was threatened by the infamous Prebles Jumping Mouse.
“People around here know the havoc that this little rascal and the EPA caused back in the early 2000s, and we were among the ‘poster children’ for the situation. We couldn’t build on the property we had under contract at the corner of Highway 105 and Knollwood, so we had to put our plans for the Integrity Bank headquarters building on hold. We got hold of a smaller piece of property across the intersection, and set up shop in the double-wide that is now Loop Liquors next to Kum & Go. Another bank ended up buying our original lot and was given the go-ahead to build there, which was a real punch in the gut.”
Rolling up their collective sleeves, digging in and establishing a reputation in line with the company’s name, Randy, Jim and the Integrity team did nine years in the trailer before the “God works in mysterious ways” thing kicked in.
“In 2012, our banking neighbors across the way decided to shut down that location, conceding to the realities brought on by the recession,” Randy says. “We were able to buy the property at a great price, including a ready-to-go bank building that was way nicer than we’d have been able to afford to build. We couldn’t have seen things working out that way, but God did!”
Today, Integrity Bank & Trust has four branches around El Paso County along with its Wealth Management Office in the Northgate neighborhood. “We’ve been blessed in that regard, and I believe our commitment to true customer service and to the community has been rewarded,” says Randy, who retired from full-time banking in 2017 to tend to Tami. “But for us, what was in many ways a time of great success was brought into perspective by what we were dealing with at home.”
After several of what Randy calls “good years” with Tami, traveling, spending time with their four children (two each from the couple’s prior marriages) and working at savoring each moment, Tami’s condition deteriorated to the point of her needing more care than could be offered at home. “It was incredibly hard, but she was having seizures and falling and needed the kind of care even an in-home professional couldn’t provide.”
The last chapter, which would have been the toughest regardless, was rendered exponentially worse by the restrictions that these facilities were required to adopt in response to the coronavirus. “The five-and-one-half-month stretch when I couldn’t see or touch Tami was devastating, and I know that the lack of contact sped up her decline,” Randy says. “Trying to transmit hope and maintain connection through a pane of glass just doesn’t work. But we fought through and toward the end were able to experience in-person time together ― time which I absolutely cherish. She couldn’t speak or walk at this point, but her presence and personality shone through.”
In the wake of Tami’s passing in November came another case of strange celestial maneuvering connected to the virus. Randy said, “I played bridge with the state’s first coronavirus fatality back in February of last year, and was exposed as was everyone in our bridge club. But this book wouldn’t have happened if not for one of my bridge partners, with whom a bond had been formed through the adversity we shared during the pandemic. I was trying to write a memoir of Tami’s journey into eternity, but it just wasn’t coming together. Frances Pilch had plenty of writing and editing experience, and stepped up and said she’d help make it happen. And she did.”
He concludes, “I know it’s hard for an outsider to see the triumph here, but that is the message of the book. Throughout this 11-year ordeal, staying committed had rewards for both of us. We both found love that we didn’t know we had in us, and I held fast to the sanctity and value of her life to the end. No one is disposable.”
Charlie Searle has lived in Monument since 1994 and is active in a variety of pursuits in the Tri-Lakes area, as his tagline “Meat, Motors, Music, Media” attests. Contact Charlie at AlongTheDivide@pikespeaknewspapers.com.