Nancy Reagan's 'Long Goodbye'

Nancy Reagan says the “extraordinary life” she’s led with former President Reagan, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, makes it hard to cope with the progression of his illness.

She also believes the condition accelerated after he fell off a horse and injured his head in 1989.

Mrs. Reagan’s comments appear in the final section of I Love You, Ronnie, a collection of romantic letters written by Ronald Reagan to Nancy, whom he married in 1952. Published by Random House, the book goes on sale today.

‘Long, Long Goodbye’

Reagan, now 89, has rarely appeared in public since announcing in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s, the degenerative brain disease that afflicts 4 million Americans. Mrs. Reagan calls Alzheimer’s “a truly long, long goodbye.”

She has been chief caregiver for her husband, and rarely travels farther than the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

“You know that it’s a progressive disease and that there’s no place to go but down, no light at the end of the tunnel. You get tired and frustrated, because you have no control and you feel helpless,” she writes.

“We’ve had an extraordinary life ... but the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder. There are so many memories that I can no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other, and go—and love; just love.”

Thrown From Horse

Until he was diagnosed in 1994, there were no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Mrs. Reagan says. But she does look back to the riding accident her husband had in 1989, a few months after he left office. While vacationing at a ranch in Mexico the former president was thrown from his horse and suffered a concussion and a subdural hematoma.

“I’ve always had the feeling that the severe blow to his head in 1989 hastened the onset of Ronnie’s Alzheimer’s. The doctors think so, too,” she writes.

While the book is primarily about the Reagans’ marriage, Nancy Reagan does refer to the Iran-Contra scandal, which shadowed much of her husband’s second term as president. The secret scheme to divert money to anti-government rebels in Nicaragua led to televised congressional hearings. White House aide Oliver North and several others were indicted on charges related to the scandal and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan was forced to resign.

“People who were supposedly under his command were off doing things he knew nothing about, and no one ever saw fit to tell him. He was badly served by the people who were supposed to aid and advise him,” Mrs. Reagan writes.

Politics, meanwhile, rarely come up in the letters she compiled. Often childlike and highly sentimental, they begin shortly before the Reagans’ marriage and conclude with her husband’s 1994 statement about having Alzheimer’s.

“If I ache, it’s because we are apart and yet that can’t be because you are inside and a part of me, so we really aren’t apart at all,” he wrote to his wife in 1963. “Yet I ache but wouldn’t be without the ache, because that would mean being without you and that I can’t be because I love you.”