The other evening, my husband and I were driving together. It’s rare these days to have a moment of privacy so I took the opportunity to ask him how he was doing. At first he gave me the standard, “Fine” answer but I dug deeper. With all that’s coming at us with Mom in rehab and trying to keep Dad safe on his own, work and the daily situations of life like car repair, I wanted to know what was really on his heart.
“No,” I said. “How are you really doing? How are you handling all that’s coming at you right now?”
He looked ahead and sighed. “I feel as if I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion and there’s nothing I can do to stop it,” he said.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I reached over for his hand. There was nothing I could say. It was an apt description of watching a parent succumb to Alzheimer’s.
Meanwhile, across town, a friend of mine was coming home after being at the hospital all day with her mother. She was exhausted, developing a sore throat and deeply discouraged. Her mother had driven into a tree in the parking lot of her apartment complex. She had a broken nose, the front end of the car was a mess but she had no recollection of the accident. She doesn’t understand why everyone keeps telling her her memory isn’t good, nor why they want her to stop driving.
In yet another part of town, a niece was trying to spend time recollecting with her confused uncle who had severely broken a hip after a fall and would pass away a couple days later, leaving a wife who also has dementia.
And on it goes. I could tell you about an aunt who lives in Texas and was found in Oklahoma after driving for a day and a half, forgetting where she was going, or the woman who left her apartment in Ohio on foot, trying to find her house in Chicago. She hadn’t lived there in over fifty years. Currently, there are over 5 million people in America with Alzheimer’s and each of them have a story. Their story, in turn, ripples out to touch others. Millions of people are involved with either developing this disease or caring for someone with it.
Dementia is taking a huge toll on individuals, families, communities and the nation. And yet, a chronic underinvestment in Alzheimer’s research persists. If you are interested in advocating for more funding for a disease that none of us is safe from, please consider writing your representative. You can go to https://act.alz.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1295 to fill out a form urging action.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.