I went to visit an old friend today. As I made the long drive to his house I started counting up the years and realized I have known him for almost 50 years. To my sadness and regret I have allowed too much time to pass between visits. I think it has been somewhere around 10 years. Time has taken its toll. His thick beard is entirely gray now. He has trouble getting up from his chair. He must use a walker to get around. Sometimes he does not make it to the bathroom in time.
He has Alzheimer’s disease…
He did not recognize me when I came in. He had to ask me for my name again. He really did not know who I was. He was always a man of few words but as I sat with him there were several long silences, during which he simply looked at me. It soon became apparent he was working internally, piecing together enough memory fragments to recall that he did know me and to collect some notion of how.
Friendship can be born from many things, such as shared work space, recreation, mutual friends, mutual interests. But friendships are nourished and grow through shared experience. Our best friends are the ones with whom we share the most experiences and we relish the camaraderie that comes from remembering times spent together, both good and bad.
Like so many things in life, memory is not fully appreciated until it is gone. This man was instrumental in helping me navigate the journey from boyhood to manhood. I’d like nothing more than to sit with him and reminisce. I’d like to honor him by telling him how much those memories mean to me and how profoundly those experiences were in helping to shape me. I’d like to recall some great times and in doing so let him know that I still think of them as great times. But the lid to that treasure chest is almost completely closed forever thanks to this disease called Alzheimers.
Imagine sitting down with one of your best friends and having a conversation in which you cannot reference anything from the past. I found out just how difficult that is. We build upon memories while creating new ones, and when that remembered context is gone there is very little on which to build.
By the end of the day my friend had put enough pieces together to recall it had been a long time since our last visit. I will always regret that because it wasn’t just the years in between that we missed, it turns out we lost all the preceding years as well. That was my fault….not taking the time to keep in touch as I should. I will try to do better with the time we have left before the disease takes him completely away.
Do you have a friend with whom you have not spoken in a while? Call them up and reconnect. Ask them, “Hey do you remember the time we…?” And be thankful when the answer is “yes”.