For the first time since our friend Pat died, I forgot this past Christmas to make a donation in his memory to the Alzheimer’s Association.
After Nancy reminded me a couple of times, I took care of the donation last week. Better late than never, and I made a note to remember to get it done before Christmas this coming year. We don’t give a huge amount, but I like it that the donation gives us a chance to write a short message to Pat’s family, assuring Juanita and the kids that their friends haven’t forgotten a good father, faithful husband and gentle man.
Pat, if he could have heard the story of my memory lapse, would have gotten a laugh out of it. He loved to laugh, and he especially loved to laugh at silly things that might have been a bit embarrassing but that were never really hurtful. See, Pat was one of those people with a kind heart and quirky memory. He could recall people and incidents from his childhood days in Kennebec. Sometimes he just couldn’t quite get a name or a date to come up without some puzzling and pondering.
I told this story once, but it came to mind again when I realized I’d forgotten to make the Alzheimer Association donation. Not so long after Pat received his diagnosis, as he and his spouse were beginning to share the sad news with friends, the couple visited us. Pat and I sat in our living room sharing, as we so often did, stories of the characters in the Lyman County part of South Dakota where we both grew up. At one point, he fumbled with a fact that was just out of his reach. He shook his head in frustration and said, something like “Gosh, it’s really tough to tell a story with this, um, with this,’’ and he paused. I swallowed and said softly, “Alzheimer’s?’’ He laughed out loud and nodded his head. “What a thing to forget, huh?’’
Indeed, what a thing to forget. I laughed along with him, but what I really wanted to do was cry, which is what I’ve wanted to do every time I’ve remembered that moment in the decade since Pat left us. He was so darned accepting of what lay ahead. He remained a jolly man, poking a little fun at himself, even as he knew that the very things that made him such a remarkable human were slowly, gradually, steadily disappearing.
It’s an insidious thing, Alzheimer’s, a vicious thief that steals the very being, even as for the longest time it leaves the physical person seemingly untouched.
We had a neighbor a while back who, each time we met on the street in the early stages of her disease, would tell us her name and how many children she had. The time came when she passed us with barely a nod. Eventually, she and her husband sold their retirement dream home and moved to another state to be nearer family and care facilities.
Music superstar Glen Campbell died a few years ago from complications of Alzheimer’s. Before he did, he left a song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.’’ It’s a terribly sad song that recognizes the time would come when he would no longer remember even his love for his wife and children.
As Campbell’s illness progressed, he did a final tour, accompanied by a couple of his children who watched over him when he had lapses on stage and on the road. After the tour, his daughter Ashley wrote and recorded a song that has lyrics including these: “Now I have to ask you to sing for me, and I have to show you the words to sing. You’re standing right in front of me and slipping away.’’
The refrain goes, “Daddy, don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering.’’ How a daughter manages to sing that song about her father without breaking down, I’ll never know.
Although, when I think of our friend Pat and when I feel like crying, I find myself smiling as I remember the guy we knew. He isn’t entirely gone as long as we remember.