A few years ago my friend Pat made a visit to the University of New Mexico Medical Center. She wanted to donate herself to any clinical trials for treating and studying dementia, which she suspected was on her horizon. She was inspired to do this because her father, a doctor in Clovis, NM, had volunteered to be part of a clinical trial for leukemia which had not saved him unfortunately, but had been an important step in the development of what has become an almost miracle cure for certain childhood leukemia. Pat was very proud of – and inspired by – her father and wanted to carry on the tradition. The first step was to confirm a diagnosis and after a very comprehensive battery of tests, including MRIs and scans of all kinds, it was confirmed. She had early signs of age-related dementia. There were no trials but they would stay in touch. Pat took the diagnosis with surprising calm and with hopes that she might some day contribute to medical understanding.
Pat and I have been friends for decades, and for the past few years we have been in a writing group with two other companions. We are close-knit and have had many laughs and tears over the years as we share our creative juices.
This year has been challenging. We have each had our own struggles as we navigate the constraints and anxieties ever-present in our lives. And for our little foursome, there is no more getting together for snacks and chuckles and hugs at Pat’s house. COVID has driven us to zoom for our gatherings. Recently we received an email from Pat. It was part of a thread about finding a date to zoom.
She would be happy to see us all on zoom she said, and added:
“I will have a story to tell, it’s about dementia; I’m tiptoeing into its acquaintance with some shivers and some giggles. It seems a good idea to let my friends know so you can be irritated, patient, amused, puzzled, frustrated, or just plain aware of what’s happening to my more than 80 year-old brain-psyche. I’ve found that funny things do happen quite a lot, and there’s a good aura about my beginning journey into the never never. Anyway, that’s the prologue on this side of the fence. I intend to be friendly no matter what.”
We in our group, including her, have watched for signs, seeing what might have been a symptom or two, but on second thought realizing that each of us was capable of exactly that slip up, that confusion, that repetition, that memory lapse. But now Pat was telling us that she is indeed stepping out ahead of us, into the unknown. She was reporting from the front, from this fearsome zone where the mind is laboring on an unfamiliar path to a mysterious destination.
I was deeply touched by her generous spirit. She was showing us how to go there, into the unknown, with courage, curiosity and good humor. And she was assuring us that she was still there, still her authentic, unique self. That core of Pat that we love and treasure is not diminishing. In fact it may be crystallizing into a more pure version of itself, shining light on a path that for so many of us is full of demons.
I suggest you read Pat’s words again. I dare you to craft a better recipe for moving forward… wherever you might be headed.