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If you're new to this blog and want some context for it, read this post from the day I announced my Alzheimer's disease and this post about the day I announced I had lost it. For more info, visit my website with my autobiography and all blog entries in chronological order for easier reading to catch up. There's also a sermon on the spiritual lessons I've learned through this journey through my damaged mind.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Panties in the Refrigerator

Washington DC
I’m reading mostly novels these days.  For most of my adult life, I’ve read serious non-fiction: politics, religion, economics, philosophy, and so on.  I might have read two novels a year if someone pressed them on me.  I still do read an occasional non-fiction, but I’m trying to spend most of my reading time with novels.

Part of it is that I have a little trouble staying with fairly abstract readings (as I mentioned in Abstractions a couple of weeks ago).  Another part is that I just don’t find myself as interested in the intellectual world any more.  (It doesn’t help, of course, that our national politics has become so dysfunctional, corporate power so overwhelming, media so subservient, the free market so dominating, and consumerism so unexamined … whoops, there I go again.  Perhaps I’m not so disinterested.)  Intellectual work is getting to be less and less a part of my self-identity.  That phase of my life seems to be over: Been there, done that!  I’m not even reading much about Alzheimer’s.

But perhaps the most important part is that I just want to read novels.  They’re usually less abstract, of course.  They tell stories of people who are different from me.  They speak to my heart, not just my head.  It’s part of the increasing emotional openness I’m experiencing.  I greatly look forward to my reading time just before bed.  Fortunately, I don’t have a set time to get up every day: A novel can keep me up hours past my bedtime.

I don’t ordinarily read children’s books.  But seventeen-year-old Max Wallack sent me the little book he authored: Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? It was short, so I looked at it. 

It’s a great book!  Seven-year-old Julie is the narrator, but even older children who are faced with someone who has Alzheimer’s will find it helpful, I think.  Grandma comes to live with Julie’s family.  Not too long after, Julie notices that Grandma is starting to lose things.  Julie’s worried she might be responsible for Grandma’s trouble; maybe Julie’s own messiness has caused the problem.  Her mom explains simply that Grandma can’t remember because she has Alzheimer’s disease.  After Julie finds Grandma’s panties in the refrigerator, she asks her mom about it.  She’s afraid Alzheimer’s might be contagious.  Her mom reassures her and describes very briefly the neuronal dysfunction in Alzheimer’s.  The rest of the book follows the deepening and wonderful relationship between the Julie and her grandmother.

Although I’m much earlier in the disease than Grandma, the book reminds me of my relationship with my grandchildren.  My daughter told them I was having trouble with my memory, which didn’t seem like a big deal to them.  When I’d lose something or forget how to play a game, they’d sometimes ask me matter-of-factly: “Is that your memory problem?”  I’d say, “Yes” and that was pretty much the end of the discussion.

We don’t need to protect our children from Grandma’s diagnosis.  If you’re okay with it, they’ll be okay with it.  And, at least for the younger children, Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? might be a good way to start the conversation.


  1. Recently, I've told others about this great book on Grandma and her underwear. Children don't care how abled or disabled their grandma's are, they care about the love they feel.

    I've never been much on novels myself, but I remember the movie Persuasion where Jane Austen's lead character, Anne, told a forlorn Captain Benwick that he might want to sprinkle in some less romantic poetry to his daily readings. So, last Friday I attended a book launch of a local author whose advertisement so interested me I had to attend. Her book "Ashoan's Rug" was a fun adventure of stories; so much so I thought they were real and so did the audience. I never buy novels, but I bought this one, and it may be just the ticket for some fun, interesting reading which will compel you to climb in and experience the traveling rug.

  2. Hi David, I have a quick question about your blog, could you email me when you have a chance? Thanks! -Cameron

  3. Love this book recommendation and will check it out! Cheers to you.

  4. Anonymous10/09/2013

    Wow! How interesting! I am married to a 67year old retired bank president with alzheimer's, so this blog really caught my attention. Looking forward to future posts. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Anonymous10/09/2013

    This certainly is a fact of life today Love reading what you have written looked after my dad in the later stages I was very fortunate to have had that time with..he always knew who I was..take care

  6. Anonymous10/09/2013

    My father has this horrible disease; was diagnosed only a few years ago, however, I noticed tell tale signs close to 17 years ago. My dad is almost 82 years young, a Holocaust escapee, but now imprisoned by this disease. We need a cure!

  7. Hi David, This is definitely a new chapter in your life. I met you when I worked for awhile at the Community of Hope law office years ago. For the last four years I've been spending a lot of time living with my mom who has Alzheimer's. When people ask me how she's doing. I say she's doing great! She even started playing golf again at age 88. When I'm not with her we have caregivers and I encourage them to take her out on the town as much as possible to do things she has always enjoyed. It seems to be working because she is in good spirits almost all of the time. We do everything we can to be positive and live in the moment.


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