"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Sunday, October 17, 2010


My mother-in-law used to tell a charming joke about four old Jewish ladies sitting around a table playing Mahjong and complaining about their health. One was losing her eyesight, another her hearing, the third her stamina. The fourth, more fortunate woman, spoke up and proclaimed nothing was majorly wrong with her - knock on wood - then she promptly responded, "Who's there?" I always loved hearing that joke and found it amusing. She tapped-her-own-fist-on-the-table and thought it was someone-at-the-door. How cute is that when an old fart starts losing her mind? At least it's not cancer!

There is a lot about getting old I can accept. Developing aches and pains from doing less and less, and getting out of bed in the morning more slowly, not a problem. The thinning hair and waning eyesight, the muffin top and oh-so-touchy digestive system, all a part of life that no one over 50 can dispute. Not that anyone cares, but I still see the bright side. I'm not hating my wrinkles; I still have my dimples. I only make it to the gym semi-annually; GAP jeans still come in my size. There's a pair of reading glasses in every corner of my house and in my car; I can still read the GARMIN when I go Geocaching. See? I'm not so far gone. I haven't started wearing Velcro shoes that look like blocks of wood and polyester pants with elastic waistbands.

It is when I come across a credit card in my swimsuit drawer or find our checkbook in the freezer that makes my blood run cold. It recently took me two weeks to find the concert tickets I had tucked in my passport, and I nearly burned the house down by leaving my flatiron plugged in all day. That's when I get scared. That's when I want to pick up a gun and point it straight in the eye of that universal terrorist Old Age and his SOB sidekick AD. Don't misunderstand, I've been losing my car keys since I was 16 and walking upstairs while forgetting the reason since college. I'm talking about the hard facts - the ugly truth - that my father's disease is very likely rooted in my own precious DNA, and growing old might not be so charming after all.

I remember vividly the day my father was officially diagnosed with AD at the University of Chicago hospital in September of 2004. He had undergone five days of extensive cognitive testing a few weeks before, and our family gathered together and travelled by train from Crystal Lake to hear the results. Before his appointment, we went to lunch at the Russian Tea Time, our favorite downtown restaurant, and I remember feeling truly and utterly happy. Sure. My dad was getting lost a lot, obsessing over trivial things, and he could not name five fruits or draw a clock anymore, but, here we were - facing this day together - no matter the outcome.

The appointment was lengthy, the air stifling, the magazines outdated, the wallpaper hideous, the doctor soft-spoken, the diagnosis shocking, the questions unending, the fear undeniable, the result devastating, the train ride home silent, the tears just beginning.

ALZHEIMER'S made the cover of TIME this month. My copy is gathering dust on the coffee table. There's a Maria Shriver TV special on WOMEN AND AD this week. I'll be tivo-ing it because I'm too terrified to watch. I know there is a way to test my predisposition toward any of the diseases that might eat my lungs, my joints, my liver, my brain, and my heart. Right now, I'm just trying to get through the hell of AD with a family member. When I start thinking about the possibility of it happening to me, and my own daughter dealing with that, I have to stop myself. I cannot go there. Not now. Not yet. So until then, I'm thankful there's nothing majorly wrong with me. Knock-on-wood.

1 comment:

  1. For the record, even those of us without an officially-diagnosed-with-AD family member struggle with the exact same fear. Mine stems from how I'd laugh away my memory lapses with a carefree, "Oh, I've got brain disease!", long before I became a believer (in more ways than one!) in that we get what we declare over ourselves. Now when that fear strikes I counter with my belief that "God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a SOUND MIND"!!! (2 Timothy 1:7, emphasis mine).

    By the way, I have so missed your posts!!! While your subject is horrible, your writing is beautiful, and you remain my favorite blogger. So glad you're also my friend. Love you, and thanks for sharing!!!