Showing posts with label Alzheimer's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alzheimer's. Show all posts

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Going out in style

If you have to go -- and we all do -- you'd just as well go out in style.

Some things that force your departure from this mortal coil pretty much make that impossible.
I'm talking about you, Alzheimer's, you rat-bastard SOB. Way to go, taking people's dignity as you eat their minds and so much of what makes them them.

I know a little about this. I've seen it up close and too personal.

But I'll be damned if Glen Campbell isn't managing it -- going out in style, that is. Perhaps it's because the falls and hard knocks he's taken in his life left a lasting impression about the folly of denial.

If anything, the video for his latest song, "A Better Place," is a testimonial for grace . . . for counting your blessings while under the spell of a terrible curse.

I guess a punster might call this, the great guitarist and singer's final act,
The Glen Campbell Goodbye Hour. And oddly enough, it might also be his finest hour.

He's going out in style.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Terrible grace vs. just terrible

This week, you can't open the sports section without reading about the star-crossed relationships of 20-year-old college students and 50-something coaches.

In Baton Rouge, among the stately oaks and broad magnolias, police hauled in four LSU football players Tuesday for questioning about a bar brawl that left four men battered and bruised -- one of them with cracked vertebrae. Two of the players, including Tiger starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, weren't even old enough to have a legal beer at the time.

The cops say somebody's going to face charges -- maybe even felony battery charges. The question now is who. Jefferson?

Some substitute who throws better punches than blocks? Some other among the 20 or so Tigers at the appropriately named bar -- Shady's -- Thursday night?

Po-po ain't done questioning the thirsty Tigers yet, according to
The Advocate:

The names of the men injured in the fight were not released. However, White said, the man who was knocked unconscious and suffered contusions to his head, nose and hands is a Marine.

White said four LSU football players implicated in the incident gave their statements to police Tuesday at State Police headquarters and gave investigators the names of at least a dozen witnesses.

The four players — senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, 20; freshman wide receiver Jarvis Landry, 18; sophomore offensive tackle Chris Davenport, 21; and sophomore linebacker Josh Johns, 21 — met with police for about two hours, the chief said.

“They were quite gracious,” White said of the players. “They gave their statements willingly.”

Police spokesman Sgt. Don Stone said investigators will interview the witnesses the football players told them about.

“It’s possible we will talk to more football players,” he said. “Names were mentioned today (Tuesday).”

Stone said interviewing the additional witnesses could extend the police investigation five, possibly 10 days.

“This investigation is far from over,” he said. “We are still on a fact-finding mission.”

However, Stone added, based on facts investigators already have gathered, “there is a good chance that when the investigation is over arrests will be made” and that people could be booked with simple battery and second-degree battery.

Second-degree battery is a felony offense that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence upon conviction while simple battery is a misdemeanor.

LSU'S COACH, Les Miles, says he'll take action beyond extra running for the team as the situation sorts itself out. He won't say what, because LSU football coaches have their priorities -- like not tipping off No. 3 Oregon (Sept. 3, Cowboys Stadium) about personnel or the game plan.

The cynical among us are tempted to just chalk this up as "college sports today." Another typical day in the big-money, big-entitlement, BMOC world of 20-year-old jocks and their 50-something coaches.

Tempted. Tempted until another story presents itself -- one of a 50-something coach and her 20-year-old son.

This one comes out of Knoxville, Tenn., just a few hundred miles northeast of the underage beer and parking-lot brawls of Baton Rouge. Torn from the pages of
The Washington Post, it's Sally Jenkins' account of a women's basketball program, a devastating diagnosis, terrible grace and the unshakable bond between a mother and a son.

YOU WANT to know why Pat Summitt, leader of the Lady Vols the past 37 years, has won more games than any coach of either sex, anywhere? Here's a clue:

Last Thursday, Summitt, Barnett, and her 20-year-old son Tyler, who is a junior at the University of Tennessee, met with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Athletic Director Joan Cronan to inform them of her condition. Barnett warned Summitt that contractually school administrators had the right to remove her as head coach immediately. Instead, Cheek and Cronan listened to Summitt’s disclosure with tears streaming down their faces.

“You are now and will always be our coach,” Cheek told her. With the blessing of her university, she will continue to work for as long as she is able.

“Life is an unknown and none of us has a crystal ball,” Cronan says. “But I do have a record to go on. I know what Pat stands for: excellence, strength, honesty, and courage.”

To Barnett, Pat’s fight is characteristic; her determination to keep working, and also to act as a spokeswoman for Alzheimer’s, is not incompatible with the values she has always preached as a coach.

“If you go back to her speeches, and her discussions with players through the years, you see several things,” Barnett says. “One is absolute dedication. Two is an unwillingness ever to give up. And three is an absolute commitment to honesty. And in this challenge that she’s facing, she is displaying the exact traits that she’s always taught. . . .Pat is going to run this race to the very end.”


It wasn’t until August that the reality of her condition hit home. “There was a pretty long denial period,” Tyler says. “At first she was like, ‘I’m fine.’ ”

When the blow finally fell, it was heavy. Summitt had always been the caregiver: Friends, family and former players struggling physically or emotionally have always come to her house for comfort, a hot meal and soothing advice in that honeyed southern voice. “I want to go see Pat,” is a common refrain. It wasn’t easy to reverse the role, and to admit that she would need care.

In September 2006, not long after the death of her father, she separated from R.B. Summitt, her husband of 26 years. Some months later, she found herself immobilized by physical pain, and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Summitt rarely betrayed in public the toll of that disease, but there were occasions, before it was successfully controlled by medication, when her son had to help her put her socks on.

In between those traumas she suffered a shoulder separation — from fighting a raccoon — and was hospitalized twice, once for cellulitis, and once for dehydration and exhaustion. Still, for all of that, she managed to lead the Lady Vols to consecutive national championships in 2007 and 2008.

Through it all, there has always been a sense of centeredness in Summitt. She is like a marble pillar, ramrod straight, that seems to have stood for a thousand years, while everything around it falls.

“Everyone has always wanted to know what Pat’s really like,” DeMoss said. “The word I’ve always used is ‘resolve.’ Pat has more resolve than any one I’ve ever known. She has a deep, deep inner strength.”

But now she will need a different kind of counterintuitive strength. Surrender and acceptance have never come naturally to her, nor has admitting vulnerability. She has trouble even uttering the word Alzheimer’s. But she’s learning.

“We sat down and had a good talk, and realized that the only reason we even made it this far, was that we had each other,” Tyler says. “It started with her father passing away, and then the divorce, and the arthritis, and then the Alzheimer’s, and each of those things, I don’t know how anyone could go through them alone. So we figured out that as much as we wanted to be Superman and Wonder Woman, and take care of things alone, we needed each other.”

MEANTIME, down on the bayou, the LSU players' high-powered yet pro-bono attorney, Nathan Fisher, says his clients are "scared to death" and that they "cried in this meeting -- they are scared to death."

Did you get the picture that they're scared to death? Do you get the picture that I'm strangely unmoved, considering?

Would that Pat Summitt might have the sad satisfaction of knowing why she's facing a sentence impervious to the best efforts of the best lawyer money can't buy. Or, thus far, to the best efforts of the best doctors that money can.

And would that a 20-year-old kid at the University of Tennessee had nothing worse to worry about than the prospect of a jail time and the wasting of a collegiate football career.

Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Till hubby decides you're good as dead

Watch CBS News Videos Online

"What is going to happen to me, Father?" I ask before he gets away altogether.

"Oh," he says absently, appearing to be thinking of something else, "you're going to end up killing Jews."

"Okay," I say. Somehow 1 knew he was going to say this.

Somehow also he knows that we've finished with each other. He reaches for the trapdoor, turns the rung. "Give my love to Ellen and the kids."


At the very moment of his touching the rung, there is a tapping on the door from below. The door lifts against his hand.

"That's Milton," says Father Smith in his workaday ham-operator voice and lifts the door.

A head of close-cropped iron-gray hair pops up through the opening and a man springs into the room.

To my astonishment the priest pays no attention to the new arrival, even though the three of us are now as close as three men in a small elevator. He takes my arm again.

"Yes, Father?"

"Even if you were a combination of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronltite, and Charles Kuralt rolled into one—no, especially if you were those guys --"

"As a matter of fact, I happen to know Charlie Kuralt, and there is not a sweeter guy, a more tenderhearted person --"

"Right," says the priest ironically, still paying not the slightest attention to the stranger, and then, with his sly expression, asks, "Do you know where tenderness always leads?"

"No, where?" I ask, watching the stranger with curiosity.

"To the gas chamber."

"I see."

"Tenderness is the first disguise of the murderer."


-- Walker Percy,
The Thanatos Syndrome

Did you watch the CBS Sunday Morning video from Barry Petersen? Good.

At least we have a starting point -- a frame of reference. The ending point is that this story is as monstrous as it is tender.

It is all the more monstrous because I can understand his anguish . . . the thinking . . . the rationalization . . . all wrapped in heartfelt tenderness. This tenderness leads -- if not, alas, to the gas chamber for poor Jan Chorlton -- at least to whitewashing her objectification. Her dehumanization.

This is because -- you will note that she is referred to in the past tense -- everyone seems to see her humanity, all that makes her Jan, as being wrapped up in her mental function. In her memory, which Alzheimer's has stolen from her.

And it all makes sense, doesn't it? We observe that she is slipping away. We don't know her anymore, just as she doesn't know . . . anyone. Scientists can explain this.

Scientists also can explain the angry outbursts Petersen described. There's a name for them -- Sundowners Syndrome, being that the episodes generally happen toward the end of the day.

I KNOW a little about this. Alzheimer's killed my mother in law. We watched, my wife and I, as her mom began to act -- for lack of a better term than the indelicate -- stupidly. We watched as she tried to cover for her mental lapses and bizarre behavior.

My wife struggled to make heads or tails of the retired bookkeeper's now-chaotic finances, as Mom fought her every step of the way.

We did the whole take-away-the-car-keys thing.

We watched as her personality changed, as she began to slip into a second adolescence, as she began to mindlessly shoplift from the corner convenience store. As her id began to overtake her superego. Then it was time for assisted living.

It was time for spending down the last of her meager assets on her assisted-living bills. For my wife, her eldest surviving daughter -- the only child still in Omaha -- to get conservatorship, to deal with nursing-home and Medicaid caseworkers.

For trying to find humor in the increasingly bizarre behavior, because if you didn't laugh, you wouldn't stop crying.

For feeling guilty because you felt angry, because you didn't know who the hell this person in front of you was. She sure as hell wasn't Mom.

AND FINALLY, it was time to be so overwhelmed as to feel nothing, because you were just another stranger Mom knew not. Another stranger she barely would acknowledge or look at with eyes that revealed. . . .


Absolutely nothing. Nobody was home, and the lights were fading fast.

It was an ongoing wake, only without the socializing in the funeral-home coffee shop.

Her life ended in a darkened room in the locked "memory wing" of Douglas County Hospital -- the only option left when the assisted-living folks, unable to deal with Mom's increasing aggression, piled her into a taxicab on a snowy day and sent her there.

Without that bit of heaven-sent socialism, God only knows what would have happened to her. The staffers at that charity hospital are saints. They do -- and do cheerfully -- what you and I can't . . . or won't.

WE WATCHED Mom die -- my wife, my brother- and sister-in-law and me -- during the wee hours of a wintery mid-March morning in 2006. She turned gray, with her skin mottled, from the feet up. Her breaths grew shallower and farther between. And then they stopped.

Mom didn't have Alzheimer's anymore. And we could start to remember what she was like . . . before.

And we also could begin to be gripped with fear every time we have a "senior moment." Is this it? Am I next? Is my wife -- Mom's daughter? Oh dear God, how could I bear it?

One way or another, Jan Chorlton and Barry Petersen are living our worst nightmare.

Well, not exactly.

No, my worst nightmare is that I would succumb to what tormented Petersen, then put what I longed for before what my dear wife deserved. What she deserves is for me to fulfill the vows I made to her and to God almost 27 years ago.

What she deserves is for me never to abandon her -- nor for me to offend her dignity by screwing another woman with impunity, with her powerless to object, then making like we're some sort of bittersweet, loving ménage à trois (albeit one where only two of us would be having any fun). Damn it, love is not just an emotion -- it is an occasion of grace and (sometimes) an agonizing, brute act of one's fallen will.

But this story . . . it's all so tender, no? No doubt.

Tenderness that justifies betrayal. Tenderness that makes adultery seem so . . . reasonable . . . civilized . . . compassionate . . . open-minded.

Petersen's is a tenderness that I can get my head -- and my heart -- around. You want to cut the lonely, hurting guy a break. And that scares the hell out of me.

Because it all offends the human dignity of the helpless person we've all just dehumanized here -- Jan Chorlton . . . Petersen. Who is still Barry Petersen's wife. And who we
-- tenderly, of course -- regard as figuratively dead, if not technically so.

I mean, it's obvious, isn't it?

AND THAT right there is the g*ddamned lie. And the God-damned one, too.

Because if you can buy that bit of utter dehumanization and objectification in the name of compassion and tenderness, it ain't that far a trip to the gas chamber.

HAT TIP: Rod Dreher.