Alzheimer's Disease: A Story of Love and Loss

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It was a truly brave decision. Rich and Sherry are pioneers, out on the frontier of this fight. And we need a lot more like them. Every Alzheimer's researcher I meet tells me the same, surprising thing: There is a desperate shortage of people willing to volunteer for clinical trials of drugs and other therapies for Alzheimer's.

Rich and Sherry are helping to make our dream -- a world without Alzheimer's -- come true.

One more thing. I want to tell you about my brother Jay.

I have nine brothers and sisters. Jay is our oldest brother, the firstborn. Jay was my mother's primary caregiver as she slipped into the shadows of Alzheimer's (my father having died many years ago now). You know what it means to care for someone with Alzheimer's—how exhausting, how frustrating, how stressful, how sorrowful it can be. It's hard work.

Jay is a very private man. He doesn't think of himself as a hero. But he's my hero. Jay gave me something in those long and difficult years, taught me something I'd like to share with you.

Among the many challenges caregivers face in the course of this disease is the loss of dignity Alzheimer's can bring to people. My mother needed everything done for her. And her oldest son -- her firstborn child -- with a tenderness and abiding respect that exceed my capacity to describe here -- did all that.

Sometimes, people are frightened or even repelled by people with Alzheimer's -- and it can be scary and disturbing. But for Jay, my mother was until the last, as she had been for each of her ten children from the first: She was beautiful. And isn't that something the world needs to remember about all the stricken, and the dying, and the forlorn and marginal among us?

Alzheimer's Caregivers: 'A Lesson in Love'

What Jay showed me -- what he lived -- was this: To love someone is to serve them. To work for them. To give of yourself to them. And what he lived -- what all of us in this community live every day -- goes far beyond Alzheimer's.

Think of Jay -- think of all the daughters and sons, wives and husbands, friends and nurses and medical personnel who are taking care of someone with Alzheimer's somewhere in the world right now -- think of all that tenderness and respect and service and love -- and imagine for a moment. Imagine that the wide world had as much solidarity and commitment as you find every day in every family facing an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Living with Alzheimer's, hard though it is, is a lesson in love. Here's what we know: We are all so dependent on one another. We are all caregivers. These are basic facts of human life -- facts perhaps forgotten too frequently in a society such as ours. We who have been touched by Alzheimer's just happen to know these facts a little more...acutely.

So while we fight for a world without Alzheimer's, we learn something true about life, we find a hidden gift, if you will, a grace in the midst of this terrible disease.

Even in the shadows, there is love.

The Alzheimer's Association needs volunteers to participate in the many clinical trials underway to treat and hopefully cure this disease. Click here to learn more about the clinical trials and what you can do to help.

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