Bella has been able to reinvent herself several times over the 30 or so years we have been together, while I have remained a guy who works at a newspaper and likes to exercise and read books.
She has had at least four distinct careers during that time, and that doesn’t count the jobs she took to keep some money coming in while she was getting college degrees. She had a fluid organizational ability that allowed her, for example, to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, whipping up several large dishes at once that would feed the family for the rest of the week.
My focus is narrow and any attempt to do more than one thing at a time results in burned food.
So Bella’s transition from a lifetime of work to retirement has not been as rocky as I expected. She has been forced into this at 59 by younger onset Alzheimer’s disease, but she has embraced it the same way she embraced photojournalism and domestic violence counseling and coordinating student activities at a community college.
I suspect she handles this disease better than others might, because she has always concerned herself with the challenges of the moment and wasted little energy second-guessing the choices of the past or worrying over the future.
Alzheimer's Chronicles with Bella Doolittle
Read The Post-Star's ongoing series looking at early onset Alzheimer's disease with Bella Doolittle and her husband, Projects Editor Will Doolittle.
When we met, Bella was working three jobs, caring for two kids and commuting between two North Country communities an hour apart.
Bella was raised a Catholic, and I went to Quaker meetings as a child in Pennsylvania.
The best of our reporters, our editors, our writers, all of those journalists who serve our communities bring a brutal honesty to their craft.
We walk through life thinking it’s solid ground beneath our feet, but a couple of words spoken by a doctor — words like “Alzheimer’s disease” …
So now she spends the days on long walks with Pepper, who gets to choose her own route through the neighborhood; and cleaning and rearranging rooms and undertaking projects like the recently completed repainting of our family room; and cooking a stir-fry and teriyaki and pot pie and clam chowder and sour cream dressing for a salad and chocolate zucchini cake and banana bread and apple pie.
She has to be more methodical with the ingredients now, and if she’s doubling or tripling, she might arrange them all in proper proportions on the butcher block before starting. But the results are just as delicious, I can testify.
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We have more time to spend together now, because she isn’t commuting two hours a day, and we eat dinner together and watch the news and a couple of TV shows and talk about things. Sometimes, she repeats herself, but she says things like “Isn’t Beans (our bunny) such a good boy?” or “Don’t we have great kids?” or “I love this house” or “I love you” that aren’t a burden to hear more than once.
A childlike quality she has always had has become more pronounced — a positivity and joy in simple pleasures.
The challenge for me is to also enjoy the moment without allowing it to be soured by worries about the future or regrets over the ways I didn’t prepare for something like this.
But I am more interested in saying “yes” these days to whatever gets suggested.
Courage is another word for living in the moment, and Bella has always had a lot of that, while I’ve always had at least a normal amount of cowardice.
But Alzheimer’s is teaching me: Now is the only time, and what we choose to do now is the only choice we have.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at email@example.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at