I spend my days evaluating my memory. When I can’t grasp words, I worry. Sometimes I know what I want to say, but it gets lost in translation. My brother is one of the original researchers and founders of MARS Memory Health Network. When I get really scared, I call him, or, my likely, send him a text asking him to test my memory. Generally, he calls me back and reassures me. I’m forty-five. My lost words are probably caused by stress, doing too many things on too little sleep. I don’t have early-onset Alzheimers, but I live in fear of it. My grandmother endured Alzheimers. We all did. What’s left is the memory of the beautiful woman that she was, and the sadness we felt when her memory was stolen from her, and eventually, when she was taken from us.
My grandmother, Rose Cohen, died on the morning my son Jake was born. I see her in him, is his more quiet moments, when he reaches out to just be sweet and close. Rose was a giving woman who didn’t ask for much out of life, and never for anything in return for what she might do for others. When her ability to remember left her, she handled it with grace. I’m not sure I did, however. She reminded me of a small child, at that time. She could pull memories of when my father as younger, mistaking my own son for him, and not remembering who I was. Alzheimers is an unfair competitor, much like cancer and other silent diseases. It steals the parts that makes its victims independent, leaving them wondering who those around them are, and I have to wonder if it leaves them feeling lonely. I sure hope not.
I live in fear of that silent memory thief, of when he will arrive and how much of me he will take. I don’t worry for my own sake, but rather for the sake of my children who will then have to deal with me and my inability to process and remember. Fear can stop you, or it can drive you. I let my fear drive me. There is so much that I want to accomplish before I am unable—if I am ever unable. Yes, I realize that a car accident could happen tomorrow and change my life, but somehow this is a bigger, darker villain. I wonder, does fear drive you to accomplish more, help others while you are able, and enjoy every moment of the day, or does it stagnate you, leave you waiting for the moment it will strike?
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Originally writeen for Stephen Woodfin