I guess I’ve been on a music documentary kick recently. I just finished the Glen Campbell documentary “I’ll Be Me.” What an amazing life that man had. Such an incredible talent, he inspired thousands (or easily, millions) throughout his career with his performance, his personality and his songs.
The movie captures the magic of a man and the wonder of his life, and how that life could still connect and love every person he encountered, even through the degradation of Alzheimer’s disease.
When I watched, I was drawn into the life of Glen Campbell, but I was also drawn back to another man, my Grandfather, who also faced the struggles of Alzheimer’s at the end of his life. I watched the similar way Glen would interact with family and with friends.
My Grandpa, for years slowly descended into constant forgetfulness. He would rarely remember my name, but he always knew I was important. He knew we were family. Whether or not I was his son, nephew, brother, or friend, he knew that I cared about him and that he was safe.
The movie beautifully portrays the love that those who are closest to Glen shared with him on a daily basis. At one point they are out golfing. And Glen’s friend says “generally Glen is up. Sometimes when he has a bad shot he can get a little down, but a few moments later he will forget and won’t even remember the bad hit. So we generally just tell him ‘good shot.’”
I can remember the cycle our conversations would take with my Grandpa. I used to say it was the best way to try out my new jokes. We would talk about things, whatever was on his mind that day, and inevitably the same questions, the same comments would come back around every three to five minutes or so. It could be tiresome at times, but I learned to look forward to the “cycle” and take that chance to say something funny or stupid, just to see what would “work best.”
I know there are so many families that aren’t as blessed as we were. I bet Glen’s family would share the same thought. While we went through this process, my Grandpa may have lost his ability to completely care for himself, but he never lost the things that mattered most to him.
On a 3×5 card in his shirt pocket was the daily reminder of where he was, that my Grandma was no longer with us, phone numbers to call family, and a note that someone would be there soon. He loved his wife, his family, and his God till the day he died. I bet it had something to do with the love he encountered on a daily basis.
When you watch “I’ll Be Me” you see the same thing. Yeah there are moments that are frustrating, heartbreaking, and all out discouraging but Glen was surrounded by love, getting to do what he loved to do with the people he loved to do it with. His family gave him the space to just “be” himself. Even if he couldn’t remember five minutes before, they gave him the opportunity to enjoy the present moment. And that he did!
Near the end of the movie, Glen’s wife, quoting from the Bible says “a merry heart works like a good medicine and bitterness is like dryness to the bones.” There is a persistent joy in the life of Glen Campbell and everyone around him could feel it. I always will remember my Grandpa the same way, as a consummate gentleman, always shaking peoples hand, giving them a great big “Hello!”, and thanking them for being there. He never let the disease take away his smile for the moment and I believe that made a difference.
I sure hope they find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, because it is a real possibility for my life. I don’t think it’s a road anyone would choose to travel. But if they don’t and the cure never comes… if the days come where I begin to forget my mind and lose my memories, I hope I am blessed like my Grandpa and Glen Campbell. They were two different men, living two very different lives, but they were both surrounded by love and compassion. They were men who left a legacy, men who made a difference in other peoples lives. They may have forgotten a lot, but they never forgot what really mattered. If I’m left with anything, I hope it’s that.
If someone you love is going through the stages of Alzheimer’s disease, know that you are not alone either. There are ways to find help and support through this journey. The most meaningful thing you could ever do for that person is to be there, to love them, and to share your life as theirs is fading away.
And if you have the opportunity to help support the research for Alzheimer’s prevention and cure, please consider it! A cure or positive treatment will change the lives of the over 5.3 million Americans who have been diagnosed with this disease.
God bless your journey Mr. Campbell
Care for each other today.
In Memory of my Grandparents Willard and Alice Anderson
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and to find personal support check out some of these websites: