Patti Davis, MORE.com columnistby
In 1994, when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, we became the most famous family dealing with this disease. At that time it was shockingly new to release such a thing publicly. There was a shroud of secrecy and shame over it. It is, after all, an embarrassing illness, rife with unknowns. You simply can't predict what parts of a person will vanish, or what unexpected and awkward things they might say or do.
But my parents decided to tell the world, and my father wrote a heartbreakingly lovely letter to America. I had the salve of both friends and strangers offering my family prayers and sympathy. But because Alzheimer's was still not openly discussed, I had no one to talk to about suddenly becoming a daughter who was losing her father to this mysterious and relentless conqueror. Obviously, there had to be other people out there in the same situation, but I didn't know who they were.
My sister Maureen and I began talking more than we ever had before, but not long after our father's diagnosis, she was stricken with the melanoma that would ultimately kill her, so her own battle for life marked our conversations.
My brothers, on the other hand, maintained their stoicism, believing they could chart their way through the emotions by understanding the mechanics of the disease - how amyloid plaque formed in the brain, brittle and cruel, making synapses break like dry twigs. It was my first indication of how differently men and women process bad news. Our father was going to leave us in stages, disappear piece by piece, memory by memory and my sister, my mother and I just tried to keep from drowning in the emotions that overtook us.
"What's going to happen?" I asked my mother in those first early days.
"I don't know," she said.Click here to read the rest of the story on MORE.com.
Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.
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