I was inspired. I felt the call. I had a responsibility/burden to tell my story. Prompted by the response of a semi-celebrity to the symptoms of his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease, I wanted to tell of my dad’s response to the same horrific reality. I wanted to tell how an honorable man dealt with that tragedy. I had high hopes of paying tribute to Dad, coming to grips with my feelings about losing Mom, and setting this guy straight. This quest began about two years ago.
I told Dad about my plans and then went away for a couple of days to begin this journey. I wrote down every detail I could remember, from the warning signs in the early 90s that I denied, to Mom’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age fifty-eight, to the day Dad and I moved her to the assisted living facility, to nearly eight years of nursing homes, and to her death in early 2004. Page after page of half-memories, bits of conversations, and word pictures of the mundane-made-difficult because of her dementia were recorded in my journal.
I loaded my Kindle with memoirs written by Alzheimer’s victims and their families. I studied the Bible and various philosophies to validate my beliefs about the transcendence of the soul and the endurance of a vow. The author mentioned above felt that because his wife didn’t remember their marriage vows, he was not obligated to honor them. He named his book after his wife, but it was really all about him and his “needs.” Knowing the kind of man my dad is and how he took care of Mom, this dismissal of the marriage vow was an offense.
I bought a digital tape recorder to document the conversations I planned to have with my family. I even bought a voice-to-text device that would record and transcribe phone conversations. I sent e-mails to those who knew and loved Mom, telling them about my project and asking them to send me their recollections of her.
I expected to be flooded with memories from those who received my request; I expected to turn those pages of my own memories and those hours of research into a heart-felt memoir. None of my expectations were met. I received only two responses to my request— “I’ll have to think about that,” and “This would be hard.” My handwritten thoughts remained random, disorganized, and unused. I was disappointed with the silence from those around me, but much more so with myself. This was too personal, too great a task, and too painful to resurrect.
I discovered that I had misunderstood the call. What I thought was a commission to write a thought-provoking (and rather self-righteous) book, was actually an invitation for me to confront my own fears of developing Alzheimer’s. I’m still working on that. And I still miss Mom. I am very much like her in many ways. But the memories of that time in our lives don’t paralyze me any longer, and my respect for Dad couldn’t be higher. He is a truly honorable man.