Dear Family and Friends,
My colleague, Danielle Waller, shared an article with me this morning (http://www.dailycal.org/2012/06/03/remembering-not-to-forget/) by Michelle Robinson of The Daily Californian that included this quote:
Human nature runs deep within every person, but it is only a part of the recipe that makes up a personality. It is the experiences, and the lessons learned along the way, that truly define an individual. Without the recollection of past memories, we are reduced to young children who lack the wisdom gained from experience.
Robins was lamenting her grandfather’s deterioration from Alzheimer’s. She raised in her article what I believe is an insightful question:
What is a person, if not his experiences and memories?
Robinson pondered this question as the Alzheimer’s progressed, and she wrote that she found herself distancing herself from the man she used to feel so close to, commenting:
Without the groundwork of our shared experiences, there was no glue to maintain our connection.
I dwelled on the mutual not-knowing, how neither of us recognized the other any longer. I thought that all there was to our relationship were the memories we shared.
That lost connection made his passing particularly hard for her. I get that. Not being able to say goodbye is one of the hardest parts of death. Indeed, my memories of saying goodbye to my Dad over the course of his nine-month battle with cancer is filled with sweet moments that can make me laugh out loud and then tear up at a moment’s notice. We connected over and over, talking through experiences and concerns in a way that we never had before, notwithstanding that I had felt very close to my Dad while growing up. This was a new level of connection, and I’m so grateful for that.
As I read Robinson’s article and thought about my mother-in-law, however, I thought about how often I dwell on the lack of connection I have with Mom. Whereas my Dad’s dying days brought new closeness, Mom’s bring distance. It’s especially hard, because she lives seven hours away, so we can’t see her very often.
I often think about the fact that we don’t receive her letters or phone calls any more. And that she can’t read or understand mine.
I am saddened by the knowledge that she and Dad no longer stop by on their way to some fascinating Elder Hostel, or during their latest meandering road trip to see as many children and grandchildren in a single trip as possible. And that we can’t visit her and Dad during their annual trip to her beloved California to escape the Wisconsin winters.
Robinson said in her article that she began to focus on her own sweet and poignant memories of her grandfather, and that helped her say goodbye. That’s true…our memories of our beloved ones with Alzheimer’s do help us. But, as heartbreaking as it was to lose my Dad so early in my own life, I lost my “second mother” a lot earlier.
That’s why I fight for a cure. That’s why I’m chairing the 2012 Louisville Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Have you registered your team yet? Please visit www.alz.org/walk to do so.