Damn You, Alzheimer’s!

I have sat in front of this blank, empty screen for half an hour wondering aloud where to begin. Then, I realized that the answer was staring me right in the face–the blank “paper” I look at is the perfect metaphor for what I want to write.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article on TOI (here) about our family’s battle with this dreaded illness which had begun to develop in my mother-in-law. In that article, I wrote the following words:

And as the disease progresses, I wonder: will she remember me next week; next month? Will she continue to think that Andy, my wife (of 32 years) and I just got married recently?

Well, the disease HAS progressed and I am no longer wondering what would happen, as I and my family see the deterioration all the time. While my mother-in-law “knows” I am important in her life and has a sense of recognizing me, my wife, etc., she is no longer always sure how we fit in to her life. She knows our names and then at times she does not. The disease has progressed and gotten worse over the years.

And as I sit there with her and look into her eyes, I wonder: What is going on in her mind? The seemingly constant state of confusion; her desire to “go home” (she is currently in rehab for a broken knee, and where–in her mind–exactly is “home”??); the range of her emotions from screaming and yelling (so not her character) to the point of being in a stupor.

Ma, what are you really thinking? What do you hope for? And, I know what *I* am thinking: DAMN YOU ALZHEIMER’S! You have robbed this most precious, gentle and docile soul of her mind, her life, her memories and her drive. You, yes YOU, Alzheimer’s I am speaking to you! The fact that you have affected such a significant percentage of the population with your dread illness and affects does NOT mitigate my feelings of animosity to what you have done to my beloved mother-in-law.

Yes, every single thing in this world comes from Hashem, as does this illness. We all accept that fact in our home. Yet, it does not make the pain any less, each time we are greeted with a blank stare or a look that says “I am not sure what is happening to me.”

This current situation becomes more difficult for the family than for the patient. It gets to the point where you do not know what is even the best thing for the patient anymore. Yet, as her children, you do what you think is best. You hold on to the memories and to the good times and attempt to make it through the more challenging ones.

Ma, I know you are no longer exactly sure who I am anymore. I am grateful that, at least. I see that glint in your eyes that says “you look familiar.”  There are times that I am not even sure what to pray for. But, perhaps in a more “global” sense, the one thing I can pray for is that the medical world finds a cure for this horrible disease. Alzheimer’s is the ONLY disease in the Top 10 Causes of Death in the USA that can not be prevented, cured or slowed.

Yes, damn you Alzheimer’s…may you be banished from Planet Earth speedily in our days!

(For further information about Alzheimer’s, one of the best sites you can visit is here )

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.