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

Watching Mother look after Daddy, it was clear to me that caring for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's is a burden that cannot be carried alone. My mother was fortunate she was able to hire help. Friends and acquaintances would call with the name of someone who had assisted one of their relatives, and so she found a man to come in each morning to help Daddy bathe and dress, and she had other people who came through during the day to help.

I always felt bad that I wasn't able to pitch in more, especially in the last months of Daddy's life, because they fell during George's campaign for Governor. Looking back now, I see other things I wish we had done. Daddy always loved music. He loved Glenn Miller, Glen Campbell and Jerry Jeff Walker's "London Homesick Blues." I wish we had played more music for him during those last few years. Brain researchers say that songs are imprinted in our memories longer than many other things.

It wasn't until after Daddy was gone that we realized what a weight his illness had been. About a year after Daddy died Mother told me that she felt well again. She said she realized then how the constant vigilance of caregiving had left her feeling almost physically ill. As the burden of caring for Daddy was lifted and her own sense of well-being returned, Mother was able to focus on parts of her life that had been on hold. She began to tend to the house Daddy had built for her -- reupholstering the chairs, replacing the drapes, and fixing the myriad of things that had gone unrepaired while Daddy was in decline.

Alzheimer's and dementia in general are often called "the long good-bye," but to me they are "the sad good-bye." So often, as with our family, we don't say good-bye when we can. We don't recognize that moment when the person we love still knows enough, still comprehends enough to hear our words and answer them. We miss that moment, and it never comes again.

I'm grateful for ongoing efforts to bring about a future in which our children and grandchildren will not have to worry about missing that moment. Without action, it's expected that Alzheimer's will claim the lives of more than 16 million Americans by 2050, and someone will develop a new case every 33 seconds -- twice as often as today.

We've seen so much progress in our battle against strokes, cancers and heart disease. The same can be true for treating and curing Alzheimer's. Greater dialogue will lead to greater awareness. Purposeful investments can stimulate successful research. And together, we can help bring an end to heartbreaks caused by the sad good-bye."

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