Alzheimer’s: Inventing a Possibility


Year ago, our oldest son Scott and I attended a long weekend with the Landmark Education Forum. I was challenged to take up a personal issue that I was willing to share with a thousand or so people the next day. I couldn’t help but consider Alzheimer’s, the disease that had rocked our family.

I went home that night and wrote a letter to my mother, Edith Michelson. It was a letter I would share with the group–and perhaps my dad at a later time. I would not share it with her. I could not. Alzheimer’s disease had stolen so much of her past and life baggage. I share the letter below, written I believe, in 2004.

Dear Mom,

I am writing a letter you will probably never see, so in many ways what I write is self-serving. Still, I will try to share its essence with you this next week when we see you and Dad for dinner.

As you may remember, Scott and I are attending the Landmark Education Forum this weekend and I had come with the vague intent of coalescing courage to make a critical business move. That turned out to be what we might call an “inauthentic” motive–or perhaps was just an excuse to buy the enrollment ticket for something more needed.

As it turns out, much more is at stake.

You see, I have thought little of business the last two days and have thought much about you and how your past is irrecoverably peeling away. I am pained to see the bright, smart and witty woman I have called “Mother” lost so much of her past and life baggage. I can handle you losing your way, your purse, your keys, your jewelry, your ability to think or converse in an abstract way. It becomes a little more painful when you can no longer recall who is dead, who is alive–or even what you had for breakfast. It is tough,  especially for Dad, to handle your terror over people around whom you believe to be taking your possessions and rearranging your world.

Those are the hard times.

The good times are when I realize how you have mostly condensed your concerns into the need to know that your children and grandchildren are all right–and that you love us all so much.

Mom, I have so many questions and so many fears about Alzheimer’s and your disease. But I would like to invent a possibility for you: What if you just so tired in life, and so over-burdened with responsibility, that you designed a dis-ease that would allow or force others who love you to pick up the burdens and obligations you shouldered for so many years>

Is this your way of taking the past out of your present and future so you are only burdened with the NOW?

Is it you who is taking responsibility for your needs–or is it we who failed to see what needed to be done?

And finally, I’m not sure you are aware that I, your most astute student, have taken up your same racket and work hours. What I would like to invent, though, is a second possibility that I can take the past out of my present and future–but still retrieve it as needed or desired.  And I can’t help but wonder: Is it too late to extend that same wish for you. Probably so, at least in this lifetime.

Alzheimer’s is a thief–not only of memories, but dreams as well.