Some seemingly unconnected events occur this weekend...
The White House Correspondent's Annual Dinner will be broadcast live tonight. MSNBC is starting coverage at 9PM Eastern Time. C-Span is supposed to be covering it, but my local guide is being vague about it. It'll be shown on C-Span online beginning about 8PM ET.
Click here for the official WHCA site. Wanda Sykes is the entertainer this year which should be interesting since she "came out" last year and fought to defeat Prop 8 in California. The WHCA site has links to access C-Span's coverage of previous years. Recent past entertainers have included Craig Ferguson, Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black and Al Franken. Although Colbert was famously funny, it was the first time I'd ever seen him nervous and sweaty.
Sunday is Mother's Day! If you are not spending the day with your mother and/or your children, then I hope you celebrate the day with complete joy, focusing on good family memories. Mothers are special, no matter what your specific relationship with yours was. HAPPY MOM's DAY!!!
On Sunday night, HBO will begin The Alzheimer's Project , a 4-part documentary by Maria Kennedy Shriver. Maria's father, 93-yr old Sargent Shriver, suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. He no longer recognizes her or remembers that he was the first director of the Peace Corps. In fact, he no longer knows what the Peace Corps , established by JFK in 1961, is. In addition to Alzheimer's impact on families, the program will explore the medical and scientific aspects of the disease.
photo: mom and dad in the 1980's...
Now you might think this strange, but I think Mother's Day is the perfect day to begin watching The Alzheimer's Project! My own mother was afflicted with Alzheimer's and died 11-yrs ago at the age of 68. A once vivacious, personable and humorously gifted woman, still youthful and vigorous at the onset, she suffered excrutiatingly frustrating mental decay for years, losing every part of her personality by the time of her death.
At the beginning of her decline, my mom would say things like, "my mind, I can feel it going." At first she got angry, then she forgot to get angry. The family attempted to joke with her about her forgetfulness until one day it became obvious that she didn't even know what she had forgotten. Her once wide world contracted to her house and yard with my father and brother providing daily care. Even then, she managed to wander away late one night, wearing only a thin nightgown, after my dad had fallen asleep watching TV on the couch. He searched everywhere in the house and yard for her, walked around his neighborhood waving a flashlight calling her name and had just decided to call the police when he saw a spectral figure gliding toward him down the middle of the road. Yup, it was my mom wandering around the dark neighborhood, her thin white nightgown blowing in the breeze! She had no idea where she was or how she got there. In fact, as he guided her toward safety, she asked my dad what HE was doing out in the street! After that incident, he installed childproof doorlocks that her alzheimer-brain could never figure out.
Most of our final family get-togethers revolved around mom asking the same questions over and over (and over) for hours (and hours and hours)! We were advised to answer her as if every time she asked was the first time. This was supposed to help keep her from getting too anxious. Anxiety is a rarely-mentioned side effect of Alzheimer's. On some level, her brain was still able to worry over things. She did this with a vengeance, having panic attacks that lasted forever since she lived totally in the present moment. Her being unable to sit still or sleep normally was a real challenge to family home care. Afterall, when are the care-givers supposed to sleep or even just go shopping and take care of everyday things when the patient requires round-the-clock vigilence?
Toward the end, when she didn't recognize most of us, my mom was talking to pictures in magazines as if they were her friends. She couldn't go to the bathroom by herself because she was afraid of the "old woman in there" (glimpsing herself in the mirror). She thought my brother was her daughter. She thought her husband was her father. She thought her granddaughter was her sister. But she always recognized her tabby cat!
During her final death coma, mom became verbal for a moment and announced, "I don't want it!" -- I have no idea if she meant Death or Pain or what. She then looked right at me and asked, "Are you real?" ... Those were her last clear words. Such metaphysical questions from a person whose mind has turned to mush!
Although she technically died of ovarian cancer (without realizing she was even ill), my mom's mind was already dead. If it hadn't been for the cancer, she was otherwise so physically healthy, she would've shortly reached the total vegetable stage. For families who don't have the resources of Maria Kennedy Shriver or Nancy Reagan, that stage brings heartwrenching problems for which there are no real solutions. I do hope The Alzheimer's Project program on HBO will be addressing these.
Many baby boomers have been in denial about Alzheimer's for decades. Until you go through it with a family member or close friend, it's hard to imagine how awful it is. It is NOT just a case of cute forgetfulness. As the baby boomers age, we are looking at 1 in 8 of us being affected. While we all hope for a medical break-through, until then, we live with the real possibility that we or our loved ones will become prey to this mind-destroying disease. I wonder if many people have the same attitude as I do ... that once you've seen what Alzheimer's does and without any real way to combat it, it reinforces why we as a society need to provide more meaningful end-of-life alternatives ?!?
And so it is, on Mother's Day I find myself thinking about her a lot ... sometimes it's like my mom is still here when she isn't here ... which is fitting because for her last years it was like she wasn't here even though she was. I can still visualize and hear her laughing -- she always laughed with her whole body. Maybe that's why I'm so looking forward the White House Correspondent's Annual Dinner tonight! I want to hear people laughing ...
****OMG, big PS ... I just realized in that pic, my mom is the same age I am now! Yet she was still vibrant and happy, totally oblivious of the mental deterioration that would take hold of her brain in a couple more years. If you click to enlarge the pic, you'll see what I mean. Scarier than my dad's leisure suit?****