13 July 2006

Alzheimers and Consciousness, Clarified


George Will engaged in some philosophical thinking triggered by his Mom's passing after a long bout with Alzheimer's. The title links to his column in the Washington Post (which requires free registration). Since Gwen's Nana passed recently, this column was very close to home for us. The first paragraphs:

"NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The long dying of Louise Will ended here recently. It was time. At 98, her body was exhausted by disease and strokes. Dementia, that stealthy thief of identity, had bleached her vibrant self almost to indistinctness, like a photograph long exposed to sunlight.

"It is said that God gave us memory so we could have roses in winter. Dementia is an ever-deepening advance of wintry whiteness, a protracted paring away of personality. It inflicts on victims the terror of attenuated personhood, challenging philosophic and theological attempts to make death a clean, intelligible and bearable demarcation.

"Is death the soul taking flight after the body has failed? That sequence -- the physical extinguished, the spiritual not -- serves our notion of human dignity. However, mental disintegration mocks that comforting schema by taking the spirit first.

Therein lies a significant realization concerning death and mortality. Perhaps this is why Alzheimer's is so very incomfortable for the living. If there is an immortal soul, it cannot be lodged in the brain or any process dependent upon the brain. Or it can escape the body before death.

But surely we know and understand, after having a loved one develop Alzheimer's, that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, yet it depends on many of those parts, and especially the brain, for wholeness. George Will brings reality to our dealings with death by reflecting so eminently and eloquently on this, and I think one has to marvel at the ability of his mother to express her situation to us all, through her son.

1 comment:

Pardes said...

This a very powerful and poignant entry in your blog. I'm touched by the depth of it and will continue my own exploration through fiction writing of the intersection of consciousness, meaning, and reality that is experienced by everyone. How very nice to meet you on the path.