Twenty years ago, investment manager Gary Premer and his mother began collaborating on her memoir – telling some hard stories about her life growing up in a dysfunctional family in Northern Colorado and Southeastern Nebraska. What he didn’t know at the time is that, for so many people, including his mother and two of his siblings, Alzheimer’s disease is the last chapter of the book.
Gary’s mother, Maxine, grew up in the Depression era when money was scarce and too much of it went to support her father’s craving for alcohol. To say ‘life was hard,’ is a cliché, but it fits. Maxine never realized her dream of finishing high school and becoming a telephone operator. Her mother now divorced, Maxine was moved out of her home by her grandfather and forced to be a live-in caretaker for another family. Other parts of the story she blocked out in order to move on.
“Mom was very reluctant to talk about her life,” he said. “She suppressed a lot of it, and I was always curious, particularly about her dad. She had few remembrances of her dad. One was a large oval portrait of him that resided on a wall in an unfinished part of her basement.”
Gary decided that it would be informative for his family and therapeutic for his mother to talk about her early life so, in 1998, he bought her a gift: a booklet on “Writing Your Life” by Mary Borg that is based on her class at Aims Community College. As part of the gift, Gary said he would sit with his 77-year-old mother and write down her memories, turning them into a book about the family’s life in Depression-era Colorado and Nebraska. Maxine reluctantly agreed.
Gary’s goal of finishing the book by his mother’s 80th birthday was not realized. Then, at age 81, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, followed a month later by a stroke. Two years later, Maxine passed away.
The book took a back seat as other events drew Gary’s attention. At age 57, his brother, Doug, a health professional, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Just 18 months earlier, Doug and his wife had moved to Montrose, Colo., to enjoy their early retirement years traveling.
“The toughest part of Alzheimer’s is receiving the diagnosis when you’re aware of the implications,” said Gary. “Doug had spent his career in vocational rehabilitation, and he knew what the diagnosis would mean – particularly after seeing our mother go through it.”
More recently, Gary’s older sister, Darla, was diagnosed at age 78. Unlike Doug, who fought valiantly and cried many tears over the news, Gary sees more resignation in Darla.
What about me?
Twenty years after Gary first sat down with his mother to pen her biography, his book, “Time Would Tell,” is finished. But he understands that his last chapter, like Darla, Doug and their mother before, may be written by Alzheimer’s.
“I have been tested, and I do have the DNA markers for the disease,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I’ll get it. You can’t live in fear of getting Alzheimer’s.”
“The more I learned, the more proud of my mother I became,” said Gary as he learned of the challenges his mother faced and the sacrifices she made. He hopes to emulate her resilience as he ages, understanding that his family’s Alzheimer’s legacy may write his last chapter.
“I think about what I want to do in what could well be my last 10 years,” he said. “I consider the time I have to be a gift, and I have a responsibility to give back.”
Gary is giving back by talking to groups about Alzheimer’s disease, and donating proceeds from his book to the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.
“I want to be relevant to the movement to solve the Alzheimer’s challenge,” he said. “While I’m skeptical that a cure will be found in my lifetime, I’ve seen firsthand the drain that this disease is on families emotionally, logistically and financially. And I understand the cost to our nation in terms of healthcare costs. We need to figure this out on so many levels.”
“Time Would Tell” is available directly from Premer at email@example.com, the publisher at Lulu.com/spotlight/TWT2018, or from the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado by contacting Ashley Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s research and to participate in a clinical trial, call the Association’s free 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900 and ask about the TrialMatch program.