Essay: 'The Sad Goodbye,' by Former First Lady Laura Bush

When former first lady Laura Bush was campaigning with her husband for the governorship of Texas and raising her young twin girls, she was also taking care of her father, who had Alzheimer's disease. He died in 1995. As part of The Shriver Report on Alzheimer's, Bush shared the following essay about that struggle.

"For years I've been an advocate for health concerns like breast cancer and heart disease, because I believe lifelong good health begins with awareness. This truth has helped shape our fight against HIV/AIDS, heart disease and various cancers, but the same lesson can be applied to another leading cause of death in America -- Alzheimer's disease. Today it's estimated that 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and someone develops a new case every 70 seconds. And while nearly 11 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers to those affected by Alzheimer's, their stories often go untold. They're on the frontlines of fighting a disease that shows no reverence for a life well-lived. They see the slow fade of a once vibrant life. Their experiences can help raise awareness and spur research to find a cure, so we can build a future in which Alzheimer's no longer exists.

In writing my memoir, "Spoken From the Heart," I reflected on my own family's experience with Alzheimer's. What my mother noticed first was that my father could no longer fill out bank deposit slips. He would stare at the lines on the forms, a look of confusion washing over his face. So Mother began to make the deposits for him. We never got a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or a specific form of cognitive failing. But we saw his mind erode. Once, he asked our daughter Barbara to get him some "B & Bs." He meant M&Ms, but he kept saying "B & Bs." In her 10-year-old way, she understood him and came out of the grocery store with the brown bag of the bright candy just the same. When my mother took Daddy to the doctor, one of the questions on the cognition test was "Who is the president?" And my father couldn't remember President Clinton's name. Then the doctor asked, "Who was the last president?" And Daddy had no idea, even though it was my father-in-law, George H. W. Bush.

Mother quickly learned that caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer's requires constant sacrifice. One day, my father walked in the house, set his car keys on the table, and announced that he was not going to drive again. He quit forever that afternoon, and all the driving fell to my mother. For years Daddy had been the driver, taking Mother on Sunday drives to bird-watch. Now it was her responsibility. If she did not take him out, he would not leave the house. She resigned from her ladies bridge club and began to ferry my father around. She drove him to Midland's indoor mall, where they could walk undisturbed. She drove him to see his friends. But then he began to fall, and she was afraid to take him too far from home. Friends visited. They came to Daddy when he could no longer come to them. That is one of the luxuries of living a long time in a small town. Still, their world shrunk as Daddy became more and more housebound.

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