Trish Vradenburg joins us today as a regular guest blogger on Alzheimer's Disease. Trish is a playwright, author, television writer, and Alzheimer's Disease advocate. She and her husband George founded UsAgainstAlzheimer's with the goal of finding a cure or treatment for Alzheimer's by the year 2020. She brings her legendary humor and wit to the devastating realities of Alzheimer's, and will be posting on the AARP blog every other Thursday.
My mother was larger than life. She embraced life with style and grace and passion. She was a fashion plate. She wore drop-dead hats with her signature pearls and had the glide of a woman who had won every dance contest. She could capture a room just by entering it.
And my mom had guts. Born with a speech impediment, sort of a nasal voice, she decided to become a public speaker. "Watch," she would tell me, "the first minute I speak they will snicker; the second minute they will start to listen; the third minute I'll have them." And it always happened that way. That's who she was - a woman who didn't give up.
She wasn't always easy and we had issues, but there was no one who loved me more unconditionally. That's what mothers do. And nobody did it better than she.
In 1987, when my professional life was finally on track and I was writing for the television show Designing Women, my mother's life suddenly began to unravel. At first we didn't know what was happening. My mother, this powerful, dynamic woman, who had been approached to run for Congress, had suddenly become a confused, helpless person. We went from doctor to doctor, hoping to reverse the situation with a quick fix. But, we quickly learned, there was none.
Alzheimer's, they diagnosed. I barely knew what the disease was. What I did know was that there was no cure. For the next two years, I juggled writers' meetings with desperate calls from my mother. I cursed those calls, but when they stopped, I longed to have them back because at least then my mother was talking. The next two years were spent shuttling between studio tapings and a nursing home where this elegant lioness was reduced to a glazed-eyed woman in a wheelchair. I watched helplessly as her mind, her dignity, her soul, and finally her body succumbed to this killer.
The attendance at my mother's funeral was small. It mystified me since I knew how many people revered and loved her. Then I realized that by the time my mother died, people had simply forgotten her. The spiral of Alzheimer's had taken not only her memory, but also the memory that people had of her.
It is with enduring faith in what could be rather than what is, that my divine husband and I started USAgainstAlzheimer's - a national movement devoted to curing or averting Alzheimer's by 2020. I wrote my play, Surviving Grace, to raise awareness of a disease that is too slowly emerging from the closet to the consciousness of the American public and then politicians who can actually do something about this disease by allotting funds to RESEARCH - the only answer to this enormous problem that will ultimately bankrupt our country. Surviving Grace was produced at The Kennedy Center, Union Square Theater in NYC, theaters across the country and, most recently, translated into Portuguese and produced in Sao Paolo and then throughout Brazil. It turns out this is a huge international disease as well.
Each time I see the play, I get be with my mom. My mom is in my dreams three times a week, still telling me not to wear horizontal stripes because it accentuates my hips - and still telling me how much she loves me.
Alzheimer's has to be averted, like AIDS was after a 10-year intensified scientific effort, or cured like Polio. My play is about hope and possibility, two things my Mother instilled in me. A fighter - that's who she was - and that's who I've had to become. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.