Friday, March 26, 2010

Alzheimer's: Bowling me over with memories

I have a permanent date on my calendar, and it takes a mighty big invitation to make me break it. The gathering at the local Alzheimer's Association office on the fourth Thursday of the month at 4 p.m. is very high on my life's priority list because I spend that 90 minutes with folks I have come to love, those who have Alzheimer's or dementia and their caregivers.

It's informal and fun, this monthly session in which we play games, talk and mostly laugh. Sometimes we go around the circle and answer questions that stir memories and prompt giggles and grins. This week it was indoor bowling, and I helped out as a pin girl, straightening and replacing those big white statues with the big red bow-ties and rolling the ball back to the next bowler.

I definitely exercised my body and mind as I laughed and cheered with everyone else and learned not to groan too loudly when there was a gutter ball. The Alzheimer's staff coordinator said we needed to form a bowling team and get shirts and everything. Now that would be a beautiful sight to see.

As I watched the ball roll over and over, I thought of a couple who would have loved today's activity and probably have laughed the loudest, Molly, my dear friend who recently passed away, and her husband Joe, who has Alzheimer's. I remember the story she told me about their first date. Joe invited her out to a bowling banquet, and it wasn't until Joe kept racking up award after award that Molly realized that he was one of the best bowlers in town, if not the region.

Ah, what a girl does for love! She knew nothing about bowling and immediately enlisted the help of family and friends to teach her the game. And she learned her lessons well, as a teacher often does. Did he ask her to marry him because she acquired this new skill? I think it was probably more than that, but she made this sacrifice to please the man she loved.

And she continued to do that throughout their married life, more than 40 years, to love, honor and cherish the man who loved, honored and cherished her. It was that same devotion that carried her as an Alzheimer's caregiver for several years until her body simply wore out. Talk about sacrifice. There's none greater.

Part of me wants to weep in sadness for missing my friend, but a bigger part of me suddenly laughs as I swear I can hear the big pins crashing in heaven as Molly continues to perfect her technique … as she patiently awaits Joe to join her when Alzheimer's is done with him.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear President Obama and Congress … a word about Alzheimer's and more

Dear President Obama and Congress,

I wanted to let you know that I'm going to be in Washington, D.C., in a few days as part of the Alzheimer's Advocacy Forum sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association. I'll be there to champion the need for more awareness, research and funding to combat what is being forecast as a "silver tsunami" as the wave of Alzheimer's reaches into more and more American families.

I understand you all have a lot on your plate, and everybody is always wanting something from you. There are many important needs and causes in our country and society, many of which I support, because we are a nation of diverse needs. After all, each of us is a unique human being.

However, this is one "cause" you cannot afford to ignore. Alzheimer's is bankrupting our families financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Whatever direction our families go, so goes our nation.

Caregiving as a whole is depleting the energy and soul of millions of families, whether tending to the intense daily needs of loved ones with Alzheimer's, stroke and brain injury survivors, and individuals with other catastrophic injuries and illnesses. I've talked to many individuals and families, I've witnessed their struggles and successes, I've cried with them.

I watched the ordeal of caregiving steal the health and life of my dear friend Molly, a devoted and loving caregiver to her husband Joe, who has Alzheimer's and still doesn't understand that this damned disease basically took her life before it takes his. It's been almost two months since she left us, and all I wanted today was to hear her voice answer the phone with laughter and say "Hello Munchkin!"

What am I asking of you, our nation's leaders? Don't cry for me. Put more thought into this country's priorities. Consider more carefully how you spend our money. If you'd only stop wasting precious dollars on politics, political egos and favors, unnecessary trips, meaningless projects, special interests, inflated and useless jobs, corruption and greed, pompous and arrogant attitudes … and I don't have the time, space or patience to continue the list that grows longer every day with waste … just imagine the possibilities and hope that will stand proudly and glow even brighter in the limelight.

As the waves of this "silver tsunami" continue to escalate, you have the chance NOW to commit the necessary funds and best scientific minds in the world to battle this horrific disease. And what we will learn about the brain and body in the process will save far more lives in the future, including our fighting men and women when they suffer a brain injury in protecting this nation.

Am I selfish for asking you for common sense, commitment and compassion? No. I won't apologize for wanting a better world, and an end to the curse of Alzheimer's and other injuries and illnesses that break our hearts and spirit every day.

Remember, this is YOUR family's future, too.

Monica Vest Wheeler