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Posted: June 14, 2004

Practical Caregiving

An Open Letter to Nancy Reagan, Caregiver

The passing of Ronald Reagan, the nation?s 40th president, affected me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it caused Nancy Reagan?s arduous role as his caregiver to be recognized and praised. I?ll add mine in this open letter to Nancy Reagan.

Dear Nancy:

Ronald died -- a sad passing for us all. My heart goes out to your family. My mother had Alzheimer?s disease, and I understand your loss. Several years before Mom?s death, I lost the mother I had known all my life ? but I learned to love that little girl she became. That little girl was so precious. I feel I was able to get a glimpse of Mom as a child - and I will always appreciate that glimpse.

The Ronald Reagan the world knew has been gone for quite a while and his family will always miss him, but they will also miss the Ronald Reagan who became a young child ? the Ronald Reagan you so wisely did not let the world see. My heart goes out to your family now -- and it will in the future.

Your Ronald was a tremendous influence in the world. Everyone may not have always agreed with him, but they could always be proud of him. If I would have told you 20 years ago that your very intelligent, smiling and upbeat Ronald would end up not knowing any of those he loved most, you would have thought I was the one with a problem. That?s how I would have reacted.

Nancy, I salute you for being such a loving and devoted caregiver to your husband. I?ve been there. I understand. It would have been so much easier to let someone else take charge of his care ? but you couldn?t have lived with yourself if you would have done that. You couldn?t have foreseen what it ultimately would entail. It?s so heartbreaking.

Before we knew that Mom had Alzheimer?s disease, we knew something was wrong. Strange things were happening. When Mom brought something to my place and I wasn?t there, she didn?t remember the instructions and did the opposite of what I had told her to do. At other times I would find things missing after she was there, but when I asked her she didn?t know anything about it.

Dad, my sisters and I thought that modern medicine could find the problem and fix it, but there was nothing they could do. Mom had Alzheimer?s disease. That?s all there was to it. We heard the words, but we didn?t understand what it really meant. We didn?t understand how we would lose her several years before she died. We didn?t understand any of it. I sure hope they find a cure for Alzheimer?s disease in the near future. I don?t want it.

Before you and Ronald knew he had Alzheimer?s disease, I?m sure you saw those tell-tale signs also, but you probably didn?t clearly understand them. I?m sure you had the same hope I did. Then, when the diagnosis of early stages of Alzheimer?s was given, you still couldn?t have fully grasped what the future would hold.

There was a point that Mom knew she couldn?t remember or think very well. She would clench her fists and almost scream when that happened. I talked with her about how frustrating that had to be. It seemed to help her to know that I understood and didn?t condemn her for it. Emotionally I felt like running away. I didn?t want to face it, but I had to. Mom needed me there for her. Mom loved me and I loved her. There was no way I could leave her. I had to be strong for her.

I know you had a similar experience. I?m sure you learned how to handle it, even though you felt like running away from the thought of your Ronnie not thinking clearly. You didn?t have a choice. You had to face it. You had to be strong for him. He loved you, and you loved him. Everyone saw that.

Nancy, the first time your Ronnie didn?t know you -- it hurt. I know. It hurt when Mom didn?t know me. I?m sure you did something similar to what I did. I took a breath and told her who I was and talked to her like normal. Later, I cried.

You have said that your life didn?t start until you met Ronnie, but that Ronnie left you a long time ago. In his place, you had a precious little child who was so helpless. You could still see the Ronnie who you lived with for so long, but as a child. He was the same person with the same feelings. He just couldn?t think or remember very well. You still loved him. And I know that down deep, he still loved you. Mom would look at Dad and say to me, ?I don?t know who that man is, but I have always liked him.? I?m sure your Ronnie felt the same way to the end, even though he couldn?t tell you.

For the rest of the caregiving world, you are desperately needed. The caregiving world needs you to stand as a role model for the rest of us who are facing Alzheimer?s in a loved one, or have already been there. You have set a shining example for all of us. There are many people who will say -- If Nancy Reagan took care of her Ronnie so well, then I can too. I am so proud of you and what you did, and I know others feel that way also.


© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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