87-year-old man carves cathedral for wife with Alzheimer's to evoke memories of their younger years
While many don't think about taking up a new hobby at the age of 87, Jerry LeSeige has discovered woodworking – on an incredible scale.
The Jacksonville, Florida, man created an elaborate, five-foot cathedral in his home after his wife, Joyce, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and breast cancer.
Not only has the cathedral helped him cope with the stress of her illness, but it has brought the couple together again, he told InsideEdition.com.
"I'm her primary caretaker and sometimes it can be very stressful and lonely every day and it was getting me down. I needed a hobby to take my mind off of her illness," he said.
So earlier this year, Jerry began working on the cathedral in the garage, while Joyce sat beside him and watched.
"Because my wife can no longer physically talk to me, it's hard for me to know what she's thinking," he said. "When she stares at me blankly, it can be the hardest thing in the world. But she watches me work on it every night and she touches the wood and kisses me and it makes me believe she knows what I've created for her."
"It gave us an activity to do every night together," he added.
She can no longer speak due to her illness, but Jerry hoped that building the cathedral would remind her of memories they shared together from Europe.
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While Jerry worked overseas as an air traffic controller, he and Joyce toured Europe together. Both were enchanted by cathedrals, especially their outer architecture and the artwork inside, so when Jerry saw a pattern online for a wooden cathedral he was immediately drawn to it.
"Each cathedral has a story and I guess you can say they created their own love affair with us. Even when we got back to the United States, my wife and I never stopped thinking about the cathedrals. My wife and I will never get to travel again, so I wanted to bring this cathedral to her so she could see it and remember our time together," Jerry said.
While Jerry got the initial inspiration to create a cathedral from a pattern, he built his masterpiece from his own vision. It now includes 10 different types of wood, LED lighting, glass windows and a dome with a working compass.
Jerry built the entire structure in just under 10 months. Every night he worked on it in his garage, devoting an average of two hours to it each night.
"At night when I go to bed I'm always thinking of the cathedral. I'm always thinking of it, I never stop thinking about it. When it was complete, I sat there for about an hour and kept looking at it with total satisfaction," he said.
The LeSiege's daughter Jill Thigpen had no idea the cathedral would be so detailed.
"We sort of knew what he was building, but I had no idea it would be on this level. I just saw a little here and there. When he told me he wanted it to be five feet tall, I said 'what, you can't build something that tall, how will you even be able to reach it?'" Jill Thigpen told InsideEdition.com.
The cathedral is now on a spinning stand in Jerry's kitchen. He thought about donating it to the church, but for now he can't part with it.
While this may have been Jerry's first major wood carving project, it certainly won't be his last. His next idea is to make wooden Halloween decorations for his granddaughter's Girl Scout troop.
As for the immediate future, Jerry's next step is to clean out the garage.
"I don't know for sure, but I think if she could talk my wife would say, 'darling that's beautiful I'm so happy you made something like that as a permanent memory of an amazing time we had together," he said.