Not long ago we moved back to a shoreline village where we had lived happily for many years. We have reunited with many old friends and neighbors, who, somewhat to our astonishment, are still in residence. Admittedly, we are all getting (much) older, but most of us are managing reasonably well. However, one of our closest friends from that earlier time is struggling with Alzheimer’s. He is now in his mid-seventies. A graduate of an Ivy League university and law school, he had a distinguished career as a lawyer and eventually a judge. Back in the day, we played a lot of basketball together. He was always very active in the community, in politics, and in his church. His children and ours were close in age, and he served for many years as the scoutmaster and mentor for our son.
Our friend is out walking around the village nearly every day and sometimes I join him. He is tall and thin, and walks at a pace that I can’t quite manage because of a bum knee. On our walks he keeps a sharp eye out for litter, which he picks up and deposits in the town-issued garbage or recycling containers along the way. “It’s one thing I can still do,” he told me with a wry smile. Our conversations are usually pretty one-sided. He understands what I say to him, and he gets my jokes, but he usually can’t retrieve the words he wants to use in response. “You know I have Alzheimer’s,” he has asked me on several different occasions. I once asked how he was diagnosed. He said he had experienced some disturbing symptoms and went for tests. The tests were conclusive. “That was a bad day,” he told me.
He is on a battery of medicines and a strict diet, and his wife is a stalwart support and aid. His daughter lives nearby and he is still very much connected to his church. He seems solidly anchored in his community, but he doesn’t pretend the disease is anything other than bewildering and frustrating. I am humbled by his bravery and by his family’s courage and determination to care for him.