26 Jan Never Forgotten, Always Present
This week we are pleased to feature a post from one of the newer members of the Memory Ball team – Lisa Callaghan. Lisa and her family have first-hand experience with the significant impact that early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can have on a person and their loved ones. We are thrilled to have Lisa involved in Memory Ball this year and thank her for sharing her story with us (and for the reference to The Notebook, for all of us diehard Ryan Gosling fans #AmIRight).
The Notebook is well known as one of the greatest romantic movies of all time. This romantic classic is centered around a husband supporting his wife with Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout the film, the viewer is exposed to the emotional struggles a spouse faces as an Alzheimer’s caregiver and companion, and more importantly, their devotion to their afflicted partner. The love expressed in the film is a true example of the continuous commitment of caregivers to remember the person as an individual; opposed to the disease.
Growing up, I witnessed the dedication of a loved one’s caregiver when my uncle Mark was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 38. As the disease progressed, my aunt Cathy gradually took on more and more responsibilities for him. At the time of his diagnosis, I was in elementary school, and did not know what Alzheimer’s disease was. My parents explained to me that uncle Marks brain was filling up with “plaque”, slowly removing parts of his memory. Shortly after hearing of his diagnosis, my uncle asked me at Christmas dinner: “When is your birthday again, Lise?” Understanding that his memory was fading, I thought to myself: My parents told me that this would start happening…Later that night, I told my aunt Cathy about our conversation. She explained to me that even without Alzheimer’s, my uncle probably would not have remembered my birthday and that my other two uncles and father always rely on their spouses to remember the birthdays of all the nieces and nephews! For the first time, I realized that a person does not become their disease.
Watching my uncle suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and watching my beloved aunt bravely care for him, confirmed to me that no one should be defined by their disease. Although it might be difficult to recognize in the moment, all those with Alzheimer’s will always be, at their core, their true, unique self. Loving caregivers, such as my aunt and the spouse in The Notebook, forever remember the person before the disease.