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Monday, February 13th, 2023

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


I returned a message from my friend I’ve known for many years. He was calling to tell me goodbye. He told me he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t know how his memory will hold up in the weeks to come. What do you say to a colleague in such condition?  Apparently, a number of people just wake up to the fact that they have been captured by Alzheimer’s and take a last gasp to put their life in order.

I was touched indirectly, but somewhat forcefully by the ordeal of CBS Sunday Morning reporters Barry Peterson and his wife, Jan. The married journalists were living and working in Asia, until Jan’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s at age fifty-five cut their close relationship short.  Barry was a guest on my nationally syndicated radio program on several occasions.  We talked at length, both on and off the air, of the trails he faced taking care of and loving his wife, and trying to figure out what his own life would become in the years ahead.

“The hardest thing was watching her disappear a little more,” Barry said. They discussed what Barry’s life might look like without her. “She was very adamant that if something happened to her, which I didn’t think was going to happen, that I should go on and have the rest of my life,” he said.

As Jan’s condition worsened, Barry was alone, and he had to make a difficult decision. “I really felt that for my survival, my sanity, my desire to have conversations with someone that really understood the process, that I needed to reach out and I did,” Barry told me. Here’s how Barry delt with the difficult problem of being a caregiver and also trying to carry-on a separate relationship. He  met Mary Nell Wolff. 

Friends encouraged Mary to go on Match.com. She said she later got a message from Barry, who shared his story about his wife’s illness. With Barry traveling the world for work, Mary Nell took on caregiving responsibilities for Jan. “I felt at peace the moment that Jan and Mary Nell bonded,” Barry says. “I didn’t not love Jan, and I was not going to in any way abandon her, but I loved Mary Nell at the same time,” he explains. “And Mary now loved me, and Mary Nell loved Jan.”

Barry shared his experience in his book called “Jan’s Story.” Jan passed away in 2013. He said if you can understand the love he shared with her and Mary Nell, “then you have understood the matrix of what love is like with Alzheimer’s for people who just want to survive.” 

Each time Berry appeared on my radio program, I was stunned at the number of messages, calls, and emails that I received. So many people wanted to share their stories of dealing with Alzheimer’s as a caregiver supporting someone who was suffering from the disease.

Following one of the appearances by Barry on my radio program, I stopped in at local hardware store that specialized in radio cables and microphones. I gathered the few items I needed, then went to the cash register to pay for my acquisitions.  As I handed over my credit card, the salesman asked if he could visit with me for a while. Of course, I said.

He told me that he’s been a caregiver for his wife who has had Alzheimer’s for the last 12 years. He was taken by my interview with Berry and told me how much it meant to him that I would brooch such a difficult subject. As he told me more about his wife’s deteriorating condition, tears filled his eyes, and he finally lay his head on the counter and cried and cried.  I did my best to console him, but it was obvious that I could do little more than standby and watch him as all these pent-up feelings came out.  I still call him from time to time.

Finding a cure is not close at hand.  This chronic disease often begins years before it is diagnosed. Oh, scientists will eventually find a cure.  Sadly, it will be a good way into our future.  But we have to continue to hope.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.









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