Janet Sheridan: A common fear
July 22, 2011
After his retirement, my husband commented, "Since retiring, I feel I'm 12 again with few responsibilities, but I have money, a car and a steady girlfriend."
Well said, Joel.
He also wrote the following description of his professional years:
"Years 1-7: My mind was sharp as a tack; I didn't need to record tasks to complete or appointments to keep because I remembered everything.
"Years 8-15: I began writing brief reminders on a calendar — a circled date or a scribbled abbreviation.
A quick glance first thing in the morning allowed me to show up all day in the right place at the right time with the right materials.
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"Years 16-25: My written notes became more specific.
I used phrases rather than words to record places, times, purposes, participants, and my responsibilities. These detailed clues worked, though sometimes I didn't read carefully and went to a meeting wondering who would be there, why we were gathering, and if I was in charge.
"Years 25-38: To have any chance of remembering what was going on, I started writing sentences, sometimes paragraphs, on my calendar.
Still, I often received phone calls from colleagues asking where I was, and the calls just confused me.
"Retirement years: I don't care what's going on."
I enjoyed Joel's description of his increasing forgetfulness, but I also realized I've experienced similar slippage.
I forget items of importance, yet trivial details appear spontaneously, eager to frolic with me for hours.
Recently, I incessantly pondered "A pint, a pound, the world round."
Throughout a long life, I have never once needed that weighty information. So why did it stalk me for the better part of a day?
At odd moments and with no motivation, I sing every word of Little Bunny FuFu who hopped through the forest bonking field mice on the head.
I could demonstrate the accompanying gestures if anyone asked. But I can't remember my cell phone number.
I can describe in detail the members of the Bob Evans Band of Renown, who played at my junior prom, but can't find my car in a parking lot.
A recent AARP article advised readers not to worry about Alzheimer's if they forget someone's name or a book title; but if they put their mittens in the refrigerator, it might be time to see a doctor.
The article didn't comfort me: I recently found a potato masher in my sock drawer. I must have been distracted — perhaps wondering if a pint weighed a pound.
Or maybe Joel put it there.
The truth is I fear Alzheimer's. What if I fall prey to it? What if Joel does? And if we do, what form will it take?
My friend's mother lives a joyful life in an Alzheimer's care center. She greets family members cheerfully — "How ya doing, kiddo?" — even though she has no idea who they are.
She lives in the moment: during art class, she daubs shades of green on her canvas and praises the efforts of others; at the center's annual party, she dances the night away; always she sings.
In contrast, a beloved, strong and energetic relative lived her last five years in bed, cowering in fear when her children entered the room, clutching her covers, and asking tremulously, "Who are you? What do you want?"
I know which version of the illness we would each choose, should we have to.
My prayer is that we experience neither.