As November draws to a close, it is time to reflect on all the great times the month has offered. The Utah-BYU football game. (Well, for some.) Thanksgiving. The first snowstorm. That first day walking into the mall and hearing "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. Watching the neighbor hang his icicle lights.
It is also time to reflect -- for all those who can't -- that the month of November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month in America.Alzheimer's disease cripples, confuses and kills, but before that, in perhaps the unkindest cut of all, it takes away the past.
Everything a person has learned, every relationship cultivated, every book, every movie, every joke, every sunset, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas . . . gone.
To call it insidious is a compliment. It goes way beyond that.
Judy Seegmiller knows the pain. She watched Alzheimer's slowly and surely reduce her husband, Craig, to a shell of his former marathon-running, baseball-playing, money-making, life-loving self.
Craig was 52 when he was diagnosed.
He lasted less than three years until he died this past January.
It's unusual for someone so young to come down with a disease generally regarded as reserved for the old. But it is far from unheard of. Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain. Sometimes it gets started early. Of the more than 1 million Americans who get Alzheimer's each year, nearly 250,000 are younger than 65.
Judy points out these sobering statistics, and others, in a diary she kept as her husband battled daily with the disease he referred to as Big Al.
Now that Craig is gone, she would like to see the diary, all 217 double-spaced pages, published in the hopes that it might bring some comfort and solace to others in the same situation.
In the meantime, Judy is just now emerging from the shock of seeing the fittest, healthiest, most energetic person she knew -- her husband of 30-plus years -- transformed almost overnight into a person who would turn to her and ask, "So, how are we related?"
She buried him with his running shoes on, a pair of brightly colored racing flats from the Sports Shoes, Etc. store they owned before Craig got sick and started selling $80 shoes for $3 and they had to sell out.
Running was the one thing Big Al never got. It may have gotten the running store and the entire bank account and it may have reduced Craig's IQ to 62, but Craig ran to the end. Judy would put a necklace on him in case he got lost that explained he was memory impaired and turn him loose. And the thing was, you could never tell he was sick as he ran through the neighborhoods near their Provo home. That's another thing about Alzheimer's. It is a sucker punch of a disease. All the damage inflicted is beneath the surface.
Beyond hoping that her experience can help others cope and realize they are not alone, Judy also hopes that as she and others tell their experiences, health-care and government officials can become better educated about Alzheimer's and start responding to it properly, both in research and benefits. Her insurance did not cover any of Craig's Alzheimer-related costs because most of the care was not medicinal but custodial.
By the end, Judy was in major debt and sinking fast. Only now that the ordeal is over has she started to right the family ship. It will take a while.
In the meantime, she has this vision of Craig sprinting into heaven, his memory restored, his intelligence back at full strength, the gleam of life again in his eye.
She's confident of all this, including the heaven part. Craig was the greatest guy she ever knew, she says; he never had an enemy.
Except Big Al.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Send e-mail to email@example.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.