I just finished reading Elegy for Iris, a memoir by literary critic John Bayley about his marriage to novelist Iris Murdoch, and his thoughts on her journey into the neverwhere that is Alzheimer's.
I've never read any of Iris Murdoch's work, but one thing Bayley's rambling, whimsical narrative makes clear is that Iris' was a unique and powerful personality. Now that that personality is completely devoured by the memory-destroying disease, who is the person inside the body of his wife? And where or what is the woman he fell in love with fifty years ago?
It is, despite the light, loving and positive tone, a very disturbing book.
It must be a very good book, in it's odd little way, because it has obliged me to reflect on many things. My grandmother, who was the light of my early childhood, suffered from some form of senile dementia. When I met her for the last time, with a three-month-old Buddy in tow, she did not know me or understand that she was holding her first great-grandson. When she died a few months later, I took comfort in the conviction that, upon arrival to Heaven, God took mercy and restored her memories to her intact, including the ones formed in the end, and that she was rewarded with an understanding that I had come to see her one last time, and that she had met Buddy.
But that is a posthumous comfort, and not available to the friends and family of the living. I can only approach the puzzle of Iris in quick feints, because the whole of the question is terrifying. And also the whole of this question: what if it should happen to me?
Another author, one who's books I have read -- all of them, multiple times -- also has Alzheimer's. Iris Murdoch is an abstract puzzle to me, but Terry Pratchett is a blow much closer to home. Along with Douglas Adams (oh, well) and Neil Gaiman (get in line) he is one of the few authors I've ever wished to meet in person. I certainly have a complete imagined personality ascribed to him: a quite, thoughtful man, with a devilish streak and a secret lust for bad puns. His voice and his values pervade his work, and those books are reliable old friends that I turn to, when, more that anything in the world, I just need a bit of fun.
I imagine that he, like Iris, is very much loved by those who truly do know him. And that the spectre of his disappearance by inches... well, mustn't wallow. In a blog post on the topic, Mr. Pratchett himself quoted his greatest character, Granny Weatherwax, saying: I ATEN'T DEAD. And he would thank folks not to mourn him prematurely.
Meanwhile, in a style that fits my image of him to a tee, he has done something proactive and positive by donating nearly $1,000,000 to the Alzheimer's Research Trust. And a movement has come out to support him and his cause. Click and check out Match it for Pratchett.
I have zero money at the moment, but I can at least envision the purchase of a sharp tee-shirt in my near future. I think thirty bucks to help good people fight a disease that scares the living crap out of me is a smart investment.
While composing this post in my head, it even occurred to me that I could auction off a Feegle, provided anyone would be so louche as to purchase one. If you think that's a good idea, comment and I'll get to work on it.