In the final scene of Still Alice, Alice's daughter reads her a passage from Tony Kushner's Angels in America: "Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there's a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead."
Alice sits motionless, eyes staring into space, seemingly distant from what was just read to her. Through the natural deterioration of Alzheimer's, she now possesses a mind that is almost completely devoid of life. But when her daughter patiently asks what the book was about, a barely audible sound struggles out of Alice's mouth: "It's... about...love."
If you know anyone who suffers from Alzheimer's or another type of dementia, you recognize that it's a long, slow, process of loss. Memory, either short or long, is just the appetizer. This multi-course disease can also rob patients of their language, executive functioning, and other once basic behaviors.
As the son of a mother with frontotemporal dementia, I'm all too familiar with these symptoms and the progressive loss that accompanies them. Conversation with my mother is minimal at best, which makes communication very difficult. Phone calls are fruitless, as many begin and end with just, "hello." In person visits are better, but most of the conversation is one way:
"Mom, did you have a good day?"
"I had a good day."
"What did you do?"
"Mom, how was your dinner? Good?"
"Dinner was good."
"What did you eat?"
"Mom, what movie did you see?"
"I saw a movie."
And there are times, lately more often than not, when the words don't come out at all. There's just a smile and a purposeful stare in my direction. She moves toward me and grabs my hand. Then she utters a phrase that every mother never forgets: "I love you."
I thank her and just a few seconds later, again.....
"I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
So many words escape her now. But not these three. It takes more than Alzheimer's for a mother to forget she loves her son.
Loss is a natural part of any Alzheimer's patient. The worst may be the loss of language; one of the those human tools that most of us use without thinking. When words begin to disappear, the brain must draw upon any and all possible reserves. It has its own unique reservoir. Even when most of the moisture has evaporated, there is still a small pond left.
Let us not forget that although they are no longer the people we remember, we should love them just the same. And despite few visible, audible, or behavioral signs from them, they love us right back. These brave men and women have lost many things in their lives. Love isn't one of them.
Adam Rowe is a 20-year media sales and marketing professional who has held positions at Telerep, Viacom, and AOL/Time Warner. He is currently Director of Media Sales at Time Warner Cable News/NY1.