Meryl and Me, Part 2

May 6, 2011 - Trish Vradenburg

Over our dining room table we worked out a plan for a fundraiser for Alzheimer's. Ellen Proxmire and others were opting for a small, manageable event. Tony Sudler, the head of the Virginia/Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association (a truly wonderful chapter) was willing to take either/anything. My husband George was almost 100% now, after having suffered a massive heart attack the year before (but that•s another saga for another time). Still, he was unsure if he should take on a big event. George tentatively voted for small; Meryl and I exchanged sly glances and our hands shot up for a big event - a Gala. If we were going to go down, we might as well do it with fanfare. But then Meryl and I were finding that, high cheekbones aside, we were pretty darn similar.

Now I know that it's hard to find a bff (best friend forever) on the north side of, shall we say, 40 (I mean really north), but that's what was happening with Meryl and me. In the beginning it was strictly about the clinical side of the disease, and the Gala. And though most everyone with Alzheimer's generally slips into the same chasm in the same unforgiving way, the specific details are always different.

My Mom was coming up on her 48th wedding anniversary when we could no longer admit she was not just forgetting a few things. When it became profound (within a year, and she could no longer toilet herself), my Dad placed her in a nursing home.

Meryl toileted Harvey every day and during the night as well, often having to change the sheets afterwards. In the morning, she helped 6'2'' Harvey to the bathroom/shower - which she had converted from a powder room/closet - and brushed his teeth, showered him and gave him an old-fashioned shave. She made sure to dress him in a spiffy casual outfit, and then their day began.

When I asked if I could meet Harvey, Meryl was shocked. Before Harvey showed distinct signs of Alzheimer's, Meryl was hesitant to say anything to her friends about his diagnosis. He only seemed...different, odd, was she sure Harvey was all right? She wanted to protect "his dignity." After she told friends that Harvey had early onset Alzheimer's, the invitations started to dwindle. But why? Were they afraid Alzheimer's was catching? Were they afraid to face what their future might be?

One night when Meryl and Harvey were walking home from a neighborhood party, Meryl looked around and was horrified to see Harvey do something truly odd. But then she had to laugh. Years later she told me that she was still considering writing a book called, Who Is That Guy and Why Is He Peeing in My Barbecue?

When Meryl told me that story, we laughed uncontrollably. We did that a lot. Meryl tells me that the laughing is what keeps her sane. Me, too.

I wondered if I could walk a block, much less a mile, in her pumps.

The money she and Harvey had amassed was slowly starting to dwindle away. Within four years the money would be gone. According to Medicare rules, she would have to go bankrupt to get any monetary help. The only possession she would be able to keep was her house: a once gracious home where she and Harvey had entertained happily, now a hospital ward.

Meryl knew she had to go back to work, but how?

(TO BE CONTINUED...)

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