Nancy Reagan's 'Long Goodbye'

ByABC News

N E W   Y O R K, Sept. 7, 2000 -- Nancy Reagan says the “extraordinary life”she’s led with former President Reagan, who suffers fromAlzheimer’s disease, makes it hard to cope with the progression ofhis illness.

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

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

‘Long, Long Goodbye’

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

She has been chief caregiver for her husband, and rarely travelsfarther than the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum inSimi Valley.

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

“We’ve had an extraordinary life ... but the other side of thecoin is that it makes it harder. There are so many memories that Ican no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comesright down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, andyou 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 ofAlzheimer’s, Mrs. Reagan says. But she does look back to the ridingaccident her husband had in 1989, a few months after he leftoffice. While vacationing at a ranch in Mexico the former presidentwas thrown from his horse and suffered a concussion and a subduralhematoma.

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

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

“People who were supposedly under his command were off doingthings 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 andadvise him,” Mrs. Reagan writes.

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

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

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