Maria Shriver's father Sargent Shriver died today, marking the end of his long struggle with Alzheimer's. He'd been battling the disease since 2003, and passed away at the age of 95.
I've been reading today about how involved Maria Shriver has been in advocating for Alzheimer's victims. It's a cause that holds personal meaning for me; my grandfather died of Alzheimer's when I was in my 20s and I will never forget how it swallowed him whole. He was a brilliant and tender man, reduced to a confused husk in a nursing home.
I remember visiting him once and my mother gently reminding him that I was a Whichello (our last name). He smiled at me and said, sadly, "I used to have a name like that."
That was just before they had to keep him strapped to the bed so he wouldn't get up, addled, and hurt himself.
Gah. Anyway, Maria Shriver has been public with the impact of Alzheimer's on her family over the years, including writing a book for children called What's Happening to Grandpa? with all proceeds going to the Alzheimer's Association. When asked what she hoped young readers would get from the book, she said,
"I hope it will help children and grown-up children like me understand what's happening to their parent. Most people I've talked to comment that they feel so helpless. I wanted this little girl [in the book] to be able to take that feeling and do something about it. With one idea, she makes a difference and provides joy."
Shriver produced HBO’s 2009 documentary series The Alzheimer’s Project, and she also teamed up with the Alzheimer's Association to publish The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s. The 2010 study details the $300 billion-a-year impact the illness is having on the nation, with a special focus on American women as caregivers, advocates, and people living with the disease.
In 2009, Maria confessed that her father had gotten to the point where he no longer recognized her.
"I introduce myself to him every time I go visit him. I say, 'Hi Daddy. I'm Maria, and I'm your daughter.' And he says, 'You are. Oh my goodness. That's so great. Glad to meet you.'
"It teaches you … to live in the moment, to accept the person who's sitting right in front of you, and to stop wishing that some things were different."
Maria Shriver and her family have done so much to help normalize this often private and stigmatized disease, and help spur much-needed research. I can only imagine how proud her father would be.
Image via MariaShriver.com