Native Writes: Using up the roll


The death of Glen Campbell from Alzheimer’s brought a message of mortality for many people who are aging.

Everyone is aging. The baby born as I write this will be aging as soon as his or her umbilical cord is cut, but it seems as if aging gathers speed when gray hair emerges at the roots of long dark hair.

My old friend Dan compared life to a roll of toilet tissue. Retired from the Navy after more than 30 years of active and reserve service, he called it something else and was highly concerned that the roll must face a particular direction.

Life, he said, goes slowly in the beginning, picks up at the center and moves very rapidly when the end is near.

Would it make a difference if it unrolled from the front or the back?

He didn’t have an answer. What must be must be.

My visits with him became fewer toward the end, not out of any conscious decision, but because his roll was going faster and mine was requiring attention.

I think he was becoming a bit demented, but not as badly as my dad, who had Alzheimer’s, but died after a series of strokes.

It has been about 30 years since one of my mother’s brothers passed away from the brutal disease and someone younger than I laughed and asked if he had run into the street and been hit by a car. He hadn’t. His body, actually his brain, just forgot essential activities until it forgot how to eat, then how to breathe.

His roll ran out while other members of his large family were just beginning or about half through theirs.

Then there was his dad, who was a prolific letter writer and had a stroke that disabled his left side. Left-handed, he didn’t tug on his roll, but bought a typewriter and kept writing until his body finally gave out.

My paternal grandfather somehow kept his roll moving slowly until, when he was well past 95, he developed cancer of the carotid artery and doctors said surgery would surely kill him. The cancer spread to the inside of one cheek and made smoking his pipe painful. Rinsing his mouth with Old Crow killed the pain somewhat and swallowing it made it easier.

He died in the hospital after caring for him didn’t make life easier, but he clung to the last squares of that roll, mentally strong but physically weak.

The family doctor commented about that when dad began succumbing to the killer dementia. How did the father fare better than the son? Alzheimer’s research was in its infancy and he suggested it may have been a difference in how the body utilized fats and starches.

Granddad ate fried foods galore, loved corn bread and enjoyed each meal, sitting right across from my dad.

The one thing my mom’s dad and my dad’s dad did that made them unique was living their passion. One by writing letters, the other by solving word puzzles and playing solitaire.

 Today, the Internet is filled with information about Alzheimer’s. How to thwart it, how to lessen its effects, what the brain needs to maintain itself. More information is there, but when is it too much?

It can strike someone as young as 50 or never strike someone who lives to be 100.

A video clip of entertainer Campbell toward the end shows him struggling to sing, “I am a lineman for the county…” With many hits to his record, he grasped for the end of his tissue until it was gone.

As people age, psychologists say, they become more forgetful, but not as many develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

I support research, but no cure has been found so far.

So far, I am grateful for a roll that is hanging in there.

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