by Lynn Posluns for Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
Marcia Gay Harden has played many memorable women in her remarkable career, winning acclaim on Broadway, TV and in the movies and picking up an Academy Award along the way. But no woman has had a bigger role in her life than her mother.
Beverly Harden raised 5 children during the course of a nomadic existence as the wife of a US Navy officer, instilling in all of them a love of discovery, beauty and creativity. Although busy running a bustling household, with her husband often away for months while at sea, she found time to become an expert practitioner of ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arrangement.
Beverly’s inherent vibrancy and love of life made it all the more heartbreaking when she developed Alzheimer’s.
“She’d been a great mother and a great leader and had travelled all over the world. It devastated me that a person can forget who they are,” said Marcia in a telephone conversation with Women’s Brain Health Initiative.
Beverly’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sparked Marcia to write a book: The Seasons of my Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family and Flowers.
“Mom not remembering her life was the inspiration.”She writes lovingly, lyrically and passionately about Beverly, preserving the memories of their shared experience that her mother can no longer consistently remember.
“Her legacy cannot be Alzheimer’s.”
-from The Seasons of My Mother
When Marcia was just launching her career and was reluctant to go to one particular audition, Beverly gently but persistently pushed her to try. Marcia got the part and was on her way. She brought both parents to Hollywood for the Oscar ceremonies to share in her triumph. And when Beverly’s memory started to fail, Marcia curled up with her mother in bed to offer comfort and support.
“It’s my memory of my travels with my mother. She was an advocate for me and now I’m an advocate for her.”
In The Seasons of my Mother, Marcia does not hide her anger towards a disease that devastates millions of families.
It infuriates me that this is also how Alzheimer’s becomes a robber,
a stealthy thief, forcing its victims to live only in the moment.
For my mother there is only the present, with no connection to her past,
without the rich tapestry of her life to tell her story. No dimension, just dementia.
Her description of Alzheimer’s as a thief would be familiar to anyone who has been touched by the disease.
“It lives within you for quite a while before it becomes apparent and it slowly but surely starts taking away precious items…an insidious thief and yet it’s not one that you can bar from the door. At least not yet,” she said.
Although Beverly’s forgetfulness continues to progress, Marcia says she still has an appreciation of beauty and still enjoys gifts of flowers and gentle caresses from loved ones.
“She’ll say ‘it’s lovely’, and she might repeat it 15 times, but it doesn’t matter.”
Marcia has chosen to use her profile to speak out about dementia, to tell families facing similar challenges that they are not alone and to encourage greater funding for research towards a cure.
“I think we have to get the government recognizing this as a national emergency.”
She is also aligning herself with the new and growing movement that is calling for greater recognition of the dementia gender gap: women are getting Alzheimer’s at a much higher rate than men and only now are researchers starting to explore the differences between the sexes.
On Wednesday October 3rd, Marcia Gay Harden will be in Toronto for the launch of her book in Canada, speaking at an event called From Her Lips to Our Ears™ in support of Women’s Brain Health Initiative (the charity I lead) which supports research and education to combat brain-aging diseases that affect women.
As often happens with the families of people with Alzheimer’s, Marcia now wonders whether she will be next, wonders anytime she forgets something if it is the first indication of dementia. She has embraced the concept of brain health, cutting sugar in her diet and trying to remain physically active.
Her advice to others going through the same experience: write down your memories, get your affairs in order so that your children do not have to struggle with them. She has already started the process for herself.
“Why not? We’re all marching in one direction—getting older.”
For more information about Marcia’s book launch in Canada, please visit FROM HER LIPS 2018.