I have six cardboard copier-paper boxes in a cavernous upstairs closet. If my house caught fire and I had the opportunity, the cartons are what I would attempt to salvage.
They are full of irreplaceable memories. Nothing of great value to anyone else but me and maybe a few others -- my baby book, school papers, the crown from my 1979 prom, my wedding album, every letter and card that my husband, Steve, has ever given me over the past 32 years.
Some boxes contain items that were my parents', both long gone.
Recently, while searching for another document, I found three pages in my Dad's distinctive handwriting. As I sat on the closet floor and began to read, tears came to my eyes. The pages were a true testament of Dad's love for Mom.
It must have been written in the mid-1990s, when we first placed her into a nursing home. She was just 60 years old, her brain already ravaged for years by Alzheimer's disease.
It was not a letter, a song or a poem. It was a few short paragraphs about her life and two pages describing, in great detail, her likes and dislikes. I'd never seen it before, but I can picture him at the kitchen table of my childhood home, painstakingly recording every word. It would have been the first time that he was alone in that house, and my heart breaks just imagining it.
I can recall that when I was in grade school, Dad quit his job. His boss had wanted him to travel several times a month, and he refused. He simply did not want to be away from her. Not for a day. Not for a minute. And now he was.
The pages are full of scratched-out letters and words. You can feel his pain and struggle in the writing itself. It contains many spelling errors. But the one word, ironically, that was spelled correctly was Alzheimer's. The most difficult word in so many ways. None of which have to do with spelling.
As I continued to read, I realized he wanted the staff, nurses and doctors at the care facility to know his wife the way he knew her. Who she was, what she liked, what she didn't like. He wanted them to treat her the way he had always treated her -- like a queen, despite her illness. She was not a patient but a person, and deserved the same respect and care that he had shown for nearly 40 years.
He begins by saying she was "born in Berea, Kentucky, in a log cabin built in the very early 1800s on Dec. 24, 1934. The log cabin still belongs to the family. She loves to be called Pat or Patsy ..."
Family stories like mine are not unique. It's why the Alzheimer's Association, where I work, works hard to provide care and support for the more than 5 million Americans affected by Alzheimer's disease. I do so personally, in memory of my parents.
I recently toured Memory Matters on Hilton Head Island and know they also forge ahead in memory of loved ones.
We've traveled the journey. We understand. All of us go to work each day in honor of those currently living with the disease, as it is our hope that we can rewrite the sad story that is Alzheimer's. So that one day -- one day soon -- the ending may read:
"... and so they lived happily ever after."
June is National Brain and Alzheimer's awareness month. Consider taking the Purple Pledge to show support of those facing Alzheimer's disease at alz.org/abam.
Because the worst thing you can do for your brain is nothing.
Diana Bosse is the special events manager of the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati and a part-time Hilton Head Island resident.