Nov 24, 2011

What exactly are we thankful for?

So, what then, are we thankful for this Thanksgiving?

By Cheryl Appel Rosenfeld
Alzheimer's Reading Room

What exactly are we thankful for?

So there we sat, on a sunny, autumn Sunday afternoon, with Nanny Polly, at a nicely set table—white tablecloth, cornucopia centerpiece and menu on display.

The room was festively decorated, each family at its own table and staff milling about, taking photographs of memories that won’t be remembered.

It was Thanksgiving at her Alzheimer’s care center, a feast for families and friends to share. If only Nanny Polly could have shared it with us.

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She sat at the head of the table, visibly annoyed by the corsage pinned to her blouse. She meticulously folded and unfolded her napkin, incensed by the suggestion she place it on her lap. She refused to put in her top teeth. She played with the cranberry sauce.

Somewhere inside that frail shell was my mother, but she wasn’t with us today. And so we sat, my sister and her husband, my teenaged daughter, all trying to make the best of it. We joked and laughed, as we tried to make conversation, but she couldn’t understand it; neither could we understand what she was rambling on about. We tried to feed her; she made faces and preferred playing with her feast to eating it.

Then dessert came. Once the pumpkin pie was placed before her, she suddenly remembered how to use the fork, how to cut slices off with its side and dip them into the whipped cream. For the first time that afternoon she was enjoying herself. She still didn’t know who we were or why we were there. But she knew she liked pumpkin pie.

So, what then, are we thankful for this Thanksgiving? Are we thankful that this torturous disease hasn’t claimed her life yet, even though it certainly has succeeded in destroying it?

Are we thankful that as scientists learn more and more about what causes Alzheimer’s they may be able to prevent it before it comes for us?

Are we thankful that she is at peace in her surroundings and well cared for?

We are simply thankful that we could share a sunny, autumn afternoon with a wonderful woman we remember as Nanny Polly.

Cheryl Appel Rosenfeld is editor-in-chief for CenterWatch, a global source of clinical trials information and publications. Previously, Cheryl was Assistant Business Editor/Special Sections Editor at The Boston Globe and Assistant Business Editor at the Boston Herald. She holds a B.A. from Brandeis University and an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She was the primary caregiver for her mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, for six years.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room