16: It’s a Wonderful Life and Alzheimer’s

16: It’s a Wonderful Life and Alzheimer’s

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

It’s a Wonderful Life and Alzheimer’s

The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humor and style and generosity and kindness.

~Maya Angelou

My favorite movie has always been It’s a Wonderful Life. I love that George Bailey gets to see the impact he’s had on so many people.

I was around ten or twelve years old when I first saw the movie. The story has always been a reminder that doing something good for others because you care — and not expecting anything in return — is one of life’s greatest rewards.

This past July, at fifty-two years old, I was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It occurred to me that one of the things Alzheimer’s does to a person is rob him of his memories, which is sort of what George Bailey went through. He got to see firsthand how no one recognized him: They knew nothing of his life, he had no friends, and, worse, he had no family.

That’s kind of what is going to happen to me — only of course I will be the one not remembering anything. I know there are people who have a much worse lot in life. I only write this so that someone may relate to my perception of the disease.

Imagine never having been born; think of having all your memories taken away from you. I would not wish that on anyone. I still want to be the person I was before I received the diagnosis — a George Bailey kind of person. So I’ve decided to be an advocate for dementia awareness, specifically younger-onset Alzheimer’s. I’m hoping to help get the word out that this disease doesn’t only affect the elderly, as many people think. There are more than 200,000 people in the United States younger than age sixty-five affected by this disease.

I know I am the luckiest guy in the world. I found my one true love early in life, and we’ve been married for thirty-two years. We have an incredible family: two beautiful from-the-inside-out daughters who are married to two wonderful men, and a strong, caring, determined sixteen-year-old son who couldn’t make a man more proud. And we have three gorgeous grandchildren.

So, just like George Bailey, I know I’ve had a wonderful life and will continue to make as many wonderful memories as I can. And I will try to remember, as Clarence said in the movie, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

~Michael R. Belleville

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