What must it feel like to lose yourself? Not just where you left your glasses or the name of a person or place but to gradually forget who and where you are. It might start with those minor irritations like losing your keys but then goes on to see your memories drift away piece by piece. To lose the people and places you know so well even those who you cherish and love the most. This is the beast that is Alzheimer’s, that irreversible brain disorder, that stealthy robber, going unnoticed until it has stripped the person bare.
Alzheimer’s was first identified in 1907 as a form of dementia. My granduncle, Charles Biggs, was committed to Callan Park and his death certificate in 1946 shows Alzheimer’s as his cause of death. My uncle, Stephen Biggs, also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Given the part that genetics play in so many diseases it should have been no surprise that my father, Charles Godfrey Biggs developed Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is such a subtle disease, I am not sure when my father started to show signs of this disorder. By the time he was in his early seventies he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was gradually slipping away. For the next twenty years, my father remained a sprightly, able-bodied older gentleman who continued to love and be loved by his wife, Hazel. He would be vague when it came to everyday conversations but at times would make us all laugh and his old self would shine through. He continued to enjoy working in the garden but many other routine tasks and activities were beyond him. By the time he was in his mid 80s he could no longer go for his daily walk unless he had company for fear he would get lost, so rather than his daughter, I became “that young girl who goes for a walk with me”.
On 12 June 2006 at the age of ninety, my father suffered a stroke and died shortly after. Those 20 years were a long goodbye, it was a difficult time but one I would not have wanted to miss or discard. He remained to the end a caring and very gentle man, and I smile when I think of him and me being “that young girl”.