Terry Pratchett died today, after battling with dementia. This news struck me very personally on two fronts. Firstly as a reader. I adore Terry Pratchett’s work, especially his Discworld novels, and will surely continue to appreciate them for time innumerable.
Secondly, his death has brought to the forefront just how deeply my life has been touched by dementia. In 2010 I lost my maternal grandfather to Alzheimer’s, about a month before my wedding. He was too sick to travel, so we hadn’t planned on him attending, but it was still a large emotional blow to an otherwise happy time. My maternal grandmother also has dementia (a different form), which has taken away nearly all of her communication skills and sense of situational awareness. Though she is otherwise a very healthy woman, she doesn’t have much of a grasp on where she is, when she is, or who she is with.
My mother has been a caretaker of dementia patients for the last decade. My great-grandmother lived in the same household prior to passing away in early 2010, so my mom at one point was helping to care for all three of them. She has seen her parents slowly seep from their bodies, which is something no child should ever have to do. I am terrified that, one day, I might have to do the same for her.
When I interview cover artists for my spotlight articles in Nightmare Magazine, I always ask this question: What scares you the most?
My answer is dementia. Losing my sense of self, my memories, and my ability to communicate with the world is my biggest fear.
According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America supports research and education, but is especially focused on backing caregivers and helping them to ensure a good quality of life for those they care for. You can find them at http://www.alzfdn.org/ (They are accredited by the Better Business Bureau’s ‘wise giving alliance.’ The BBB’s report on the organization can be found at give.org). Their site is worth checking out if you’d like to learn more about Alzheimer’s specifically, and I suggest donating to them if you find their cause worth-while.
To those suffering from dementia, know that there are people who love you and want the best for you. It’s a scary, harsh disease, but there are those out there looking for a cure.
To those caring for a dementia patient, thank you. Caregiving is often an underappreciated job. It’s stressful, and time consuming, and sometimes undignified for both you and the person you’re caring for. Thank you for all the hard work you do, and for giving so much of your life to another’s safety and wellbeing.
To Sir Terry Pratchett, I’m sorry I never got to meet you. You used humor to highlight serious subjects. Comedy can be used to as both an attention getter, and as a salve–which is a lesson I also learned from my great-grandmother. Sometimes you have to laugh, or else you’ll cry.
We laughed at my grandfather’s funeral. Telling silly stories about him was the best way to honor his memory. There were tears aplenty, but also smiles; it was a very cathartic experience.
On that note, here’s a little cartoon to brighten everyone’s day, and honor the man who built a silly, flat world to make us think:
(To quote the announcement from his twitter account,)
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.