2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Thinking about Alzheimer’s disease

Published: July 8, 2014, 6:30 pm, by interns

by Emily Donovan
Gazette Local News Reporter Intern, Summer 2014

Norma and John Robinson smiled politely from the couch as I scribbled “Alzheimer’s disease” in my notebook. Yellowing family pictures from World War II and a quilt were on display in their living room.

I don’t get to talk to a lot of older couples.

I don’t know or even see a lot of older couples any more.

Since other college students are statistically most of the people I see when I’m on campus between August and May, 18- to 22-year-olds are most of who I think about. Out of sight, out of mind.

Sitting in their armchair asking Norma and John about Alzheimer’s and family, I started thinking differently.

I thought about getting old.

Like most 87-year-olds, my mom’s mom is periodically in a hospital for check-ups or surgery. My mom spent a lot of this past May sleeping in stiff visitor’s chairs in my grandma’s hospital room after she had gotten a knee replacement surgery.

It was tradition that dad’s mom gave a hand-stitched quilt to each grandkid when one graduated high school. When chemotherapy made her fingers too sore, my grandpa started cutting the fabric squares for her. My dad and aunts were waiting for me with my quilt in the living room at my high school graduation party. Her quilting club finished mine and my younger cousin’s after they died.

I thought about family.

My grandparents dressed a goose garden statute in a new costume for every holiday until the end.

My mom’s mom sends a family email at the same time every Saturday. They all start with a good/bad judgement of the movie she just watched at her assisted living center. They all end by saying she loves and is proud of us. Sometimes in the middle, she gets one of her hands misplaced by a letter and you have to decode a few sentences based on your memory of the QWERTY keyboard.

I thought about what I’m willing to do for my family. And John’s family does for him.

And I smiled like an idiot in the middle of this bittersweet interview.

You can read Norma and John’s story in yesterday’s Gazette or online at gazette.com.

Emily Donovan is an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas from Kansas City, Kan. Follow her on Twitter @emdons.