There is a dear little old lady by the name of Erin (name changed for privacy) who loves me.
When I visit her, she looks at me blankly some days. Other days, she lights up and asks about the little one. And sometimes she asks if I've seen her mom today (I never met her mom, she was deceased years before I met Erin). I never know what the reaction will be. I never can be sure if she will call me by name or know we are related.
Erin knows, but there's this other person there when I visit, this person who makes sure Erin can't put my name with my face, who can't remember who I am, who has no clue why I'm there or why Erin is in a long-term care facility special unit.
This other person has a name too: Alzheimer. I picture Alzheimer as a devious old man who churns a person's memories into a cooking pot into which he tosses memories, facts, abilities, talents, emotions, and health. Somedays I think he naps and those are the days Erin can smile when I crack a joke or bring up a good memory. Then there are the days when Mr. Alzheimer turns the heat up on the burner and stirs the pot again and Erin looks at me blankly if she even opens her eyes, barely responsive.
I hate Mr. Alzheimer. I love Erin. I hate that he has taken over her body, her life, her existence. I love her. When Mr. Alzheimer started infiltrating her life, slow snake-like innuendos of forgetfulness, I passed it off as simple aging, a little bit of forgetfulness. Then came the days when I couldn't deny that this wasn't Erin at all. Mixed-up days that were irrational, Erin expressing concepts that she never ever would have condoned, becoming mean in spirit. This was not Erin, but who was this?
It took awhile to get fully acquainted with Mr. Alzheimer. He's sneaky, he's vicious, he's silent like cancer, until it's too late. He is good at isolating a person from the ones they love, making the division ever wider. I'm sure he's pleased every time he gains one more person in his entourage. From what I've seen of his infiltration where Erin now resides, he has tendrils that reach out to accost more than one person at a time.
And we, the friends and families, of dear ones like Erin cannot see Mr. Alzheimer. He is invisible, yet we know he is there, insidiously taking over lives, destroying minds, causing broken hearts as we watch those we love wither into shadows of their former selves.
My love story will not have a happy ending, my dear Erin will get to the point where she will not ever recognize me again, to the point where she will seem like a human being sitting there with no cognitive skills at all, to the point she will become forever isolated inside her mixed-up mind, forever alone with Mr. Alzheimer grinning away that he took one more from this life.
I encourage you, dear readers, to do all you can in the fight against this evil villain in our families' love stories. Learn more about Mr. Alzheimer at www.alz.org . Learn what you can do to identify the warning signs Mr. Alzheimer is moving in on those you love. Contribute funds for research. Contact your elected officials and encourage them to fund a national program to help end this sad epidemic and maybe, just maybe, prevent you from having a broken heart and a sad ending to your love story.