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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, May 19, 2014


Washington DC
A week ago Friday, over seventy people crowded into a friend's house for my wife Marja’s surprise seventieth birthday party.  She actually had no idea it was coming and was flabbergasted when we walked in, especially when she saw her brother who had traveled from his home ninety miles north of Toronto.  Two of my stepsisters and a brother-in-law from Cleveland also showed up.  It was lovely, even for me who seldom enjoys parties.

The number of people was staggering.  We’re not part of large communities: our small church of perhaps fifty people, our families, and a few of Marja’s former students.  But Marja means much to so many people, and a large percentage came.  Ten days later both of us are still basking in the joy of that gathering.  Marja still mentions it at least daily

In the two days before the party, we also surprised Marja with the arrivals of our two children who weren’t already in the area.  Laurel flew in from California and Kai from Seattle.  Our younger daughter Karin had returned earlier in the week from her fifteen-month stay in Delhi, and we were still elated by that.  It was delightful to have our little nuclear family together again for a few days.

The most beautiful aspect of the party for me was the several weeks before as I combed through our photo albums and loose stacks of pictures to find photos of Marja from different phases of her life.  Especially wonderful for me were the pictures from her adolescence and early adulthood.  I’d forgotten how beautiful she was.  A gentle yet powerful spirit emanates from those pictures.  I kept thinking: How could a woman so beautiful have been interested in me?  I don’t remember realizing at that time the depth of her spirit, so the pictures were my own surprise party.  I scanned the pictures into digital images and sent the files to Laurel.  She created a beautiful slide show that looped continuously throughout the party.  Every time I looked, there was a cluster of people gathered around the monitor.

I suppose we become used to the beauty that surrounds us and it ceases to be startling or, too frequently, even apparent to us.  Marja and I have been together almost forty-five years, and so often I forget the beauty between us.  Every once in a while, though, it will suddenly break through.  Each time it comes as a wonderful surprise, although never so powerfully as when I was selecting those pictures for the show.

My ongoing wonder—at both the numbers that showed up and at Marja and my relationship—reminded me again how much my cognitive decline has opened me emotionally.  I doubt that this depth of joy could have broken through to me before.  Oh, I’d been intermittently aware of and grateful for the gifts I’ve been given.  Intellectually I would have known the importance of the party and recognized its joy.  I would not, however, have experienced it so intensely.  The depth of the joy has been a miracle.


  1. I am so touched by this post.
    Thanks for sharing your journey and your gratitude.

  2. This was so beautiful. I really did tear up towards the end. Happy birthday to her, and congrats to both on your wonderful marriage.

  3. Krista5/19/2014

    I have the same experience, I feel more alive and find joy in small things. Now I understand the word mindfulness. I was scared one year ago but now I am calm.
    But I also try learn alla about the disesase. and this week I will enter a Medical study.

  4. I would love to see a picture of your wife. She sounds like a glorious woman :)

  5. That was one of the joys that came with my father-in-law's stroke--his new found ability to express emotion. Proof that here are ups to these downs. I'm glad you got to feel that joy so strongly.

  6. Well, it sounds like you've still got it, Doc. I'm always so amazed at the people in love that wonder what that wonderful other person ever saw in them.

    I used to work in long term care/hospice for over 20 years. About ten years ago, a couple in the facility was getting ready to celebrate their 70th anniversary. She was a sweet, gentle little woman. Her husband was big, brash, blustering, complaining jerk. As I was talking to her, I asked her, "what happens to change these men from young men in love to these old mean farts?" She smiled and handed me a folded note. It was a love letter, written by that mean old fart 70 years ago. It was so loving, I had tears in my eyes. His wife, smiled at me and said, "He's still got it." Last I saw him, he was still an old grouch. But I guess his wife saw the young man writing love notes.

    1. Anonymous5/24/2014

      I love the stories you tell, Lee Ann. You have a good understanding of human nature.

  7. Anonymous5/24/2014

    A wonderful post, as always. I was struck by a paradox, though - you write of the joy in remembering Marja as a beautiful, young woman, and yet in your May 13 post you wrote "a sure path to unhappiness is to hang on to the self I used to be." It made me reflect on those of us who have either lost a spouse or never had one, so there isn't a special person who remembers us as we once were. When I meet someone new they only see me as I am now - a 67-year-old woman, and I reflect on how differently I might be responded to if I was still young and attractive, or if the other person remembered me as such.

    1. I have sometimes reflected somewhat similarly. I feel myself to be all the ages I've been; I don't need to remember who I've been because I am in some ways still that person. To the extent that I have friends and family, many others, too, include in their perception of me what I've been. That informs their relationship to me now. But as one ages and gradually loses those people who have experienced me at other times in my life, people increasingly perceive only what they see: An old forgetful guy who loses his balance easily and can't remember people's names. It's one of those new challenges to aging that I hadn't expected (much moderated for me because I still do have family and community).


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