Monday, May 11, 2009


A gentleman at the church I attend is close to 83, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a couple of years ago. His declining state troubled me enough to e-mail the minister about it. I'm feeling half-embarrassed about the e-mail, because I picture him reading it, thinking "Tell me something I DON'T know."

Sol has been at the center of church life for decades. I'm a newcomer. So the majority of people know Sol and his large family, most of whom attend the church. They knew Sol when he was the founder and CEO of his own company.

Other people have joined the church since I did. They probably look at Sol and think of him as "the old guy who won't be around much longer." He's always been a quiet sort (at least as long as I've known him). He and his wife sit in their accustomed seats in the front every Sunday without fail (except for a week here and there when one or the other was in the hospital). They're a "fixture" in the truest sense of the word. It's easy to look at him and think "He's here, he's old, end of story."

But I fit somewhere in the middle between those who "remember him when" and those who don't know him at all. When I first joined the church, he welcomed me, fetched me coffee, and made small talk about what we had in common, which is a Jewish background. There was a connection made there, and so I took notice of things he did and said. He was a funny guy, and sharp. He had a wry sense of humor. Another elderly gent in our church tends to be something of an instigator. He'd throw some crack at Sol, and Sol would saw him right off at the knees. It was a treat to see Sol in action.

In the last couple of years, Sol has been in the hospital for heart problems and his wife was treated for cancer. They both "pulled through." But my most recent interaction with Sol was quite different from what I'd gotten used to. Now he barely speaks and is more likely to fall asleep wherever he sits. His breathing is labored and rapid, and his facial expression when awake is one of puzzlement. Sure, the way he has been for five years probably is nothing like the younger version of Sol, but just what I've seen in the last month marks a dramatic deterioration.

Because I spent much of my childhood in the company of older relatives and neighbors, I saw plenty of people "get old," "slow down," etc. But the difference between the natural aging process and Alzheimer's is unmistakable, even in someone of advanced age. It doesn't just sneak up gradually. Or if it does initially, once it takes hold, the effects are obvious, even on a week-to-week basis.

It's scary. I'm glad the scientific community is working to find a remedy.

[Came home, wrote some more...]

Some years ago, I heard a truism I never forgot:

"When the mind goes, the heart shows." That could be why some people who always seemed to have it together in their prime become ugly and foul when they get old and their faculties slip. I also think this applies to intoxication as well as dementia. Other people become childlike and sweet.

That's the case with Sol. Those who knew him a few decades ago describe him as a Type-A, impatient, rather intimidating, driven sort. That was all in the past by the time I joined the congregation. The man I met was gentle, kind, absolutely devoted to his wife. I feel privileged to have met the "heart" of Sol, before the Alzheimer's took that away, too.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Alzheimer's is a brutal disease, stealing as much from family and friends as it does from the sufferer. I wish Sol well.