Hemingway was so wise. The above is one of my favorite excerpts from “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and it’s a lesson of which I’m constantly reminded when spending time with my loves. Many of them were not as fortunate as I am to realize the validity of that quote at such a young age. Some, however, possess an inspiring “better late than never” attitude.
I met a woman this week who toured my community on behalf of her dad. I knew she had just returned from a European vacation, but it truthfully came as a surprise to hear that it was one her father not only attended, but booked and planned for his family. At 87 years old, this determined nonno is simply not willing to leave items on his bucket list unchecked. He realizes now more than ever that the clock is ticking; if he doesn’t see the places he’s dreamt of now, he may never get to them at all. A bigger motivator/quasi-roadblock (depending on your outlook): he has dementia.
My spirit animal nonno (I’ll call him J) is in the earlier stages of the disease process. He sadly knows there are changes happening to his mind, and he’s terrified of their consequences. As is common in diseases like Alzheimer’s, short-term memory loss is one of the earlier symptoms one can recognize:
“The hippocampus takes our immediate thoughts and impressions and turns them into memories. Alzheimer’s attacks the hippocampus first, so short-term memory is the first thing to fail. Eventually, new memories become impossible to make and learning is a thing of the past. Without knowing what just happened, it’s difficult for people to judge things like time, place, and what’s going on around them.”
In his case, J is constantly misplacing things. He’ll store his online banking passwords somewhere safe, for instance, only to be on the phone with his teller a day later to reset what’s now forgotten. Even more alarming IMHO: he’s lost his passport three separate times. His angel of a daughter has expedited new ones, knowing how important that document is to her wanderlusting father.
J is on a race against a clock with unmarked intervals. Dementia lays no clear path and gives no notice as it changes course. Imagine how terrifying it is, then, to know your days are numbered.. to recognize that sometime soon, you won’t be truly you anymore. How debilitating that fear must be:
“Alzheimer’s is a lot of stress, mainly because you know what you have been earlier and you know very well you’re not that good now and it’s real hard to reconcile. … We really do want to be like human beings. We have so many fears: the fear of forgetting things, the fear of tripping over something. Our speech is not too clear sometimes and our feelings are hard to sort out many times.”
-Cary Henderson, A Partial View
This month, J killed it in Europe. He walked the cobblestone streets of Rome, ate French bread in a Parisian café, and gambled in Monte Carlo. He was happy and he thrived. God willing, if he’s still able, he’ll visit Japan and Cuba next. Without a doubt, he’ll fiercely battle this disease and fight for what he loves – as long as that next passport’s expedited.