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Projects editor

Age brings humility, but coping with the Alzheimer’s disease that afflicts my wife, Bella, is humbling me faster than my hair is falling out.

I might be able to better accept all the ways Alzheimer’s is showing me I fall short if I repeated daily affirmations, like the following:

  • Today I will fail to appreciate all the good things we have and will regret all that we’re losing;
  • Today I will fail to give Bella credit for the courage she shows and instead will blame her for her symptoms;
  • Today, I will fail to enjoy the present and will fret about the future;
  • Today, I will fail to make this hard affliction easier for her.

The list could be longer, but that’s enough. This column itself is a failure — a failure to find the positive in our experience as I intended to do at first, a failure to affirm that life is good despite the hard things like this disease.

The last time Bella read one of these columns, she stiffened as she reached the part where I get heavy and sad. Tears welled in her eyes.

But she tossed the paper aside, and she waved her hand in front of her face. I could see her put aside the grief with an effort of will.

“That’s OK. I don’t care. That’s fine,” she said.

She has always been so strong-minded, and she still can be sometimes. She has always been the strong one, and when that is not possible for her, I doubt it will be for me either.

We recently drove down to Falmouth, Massachusetts to spend Thanksgiving with our older daughter, Ginny, and her husband, Jeff, who have been solicitous of us.

The drive takes four or five hours, and along the way, Bella was fretting about our pets.

She was anxious about leaving them alone. Since she will frequently forget what we just talked about, she brought up her fears for Pepper, our dog, and Beans, our bunny, every 20 minutes or so. After a couple of hours of that, I started getting testy.

“Have my symptoms gotten worse?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She asked me how.

“You repeat things more. You lose track of what you’re saying. You have a harder time keeping in mind what you’re doing or finishing complicated tasks, like preparing a difficult recipe,” I said.

Before the trip, she had made a cheesecake for Ginny that in the end was delicious, but she had struggled over it for hours.

“A few years ago, I would have whipped that out without thinking,” she said.

Reminding her of that struggle was cruel of me, and it was my way of venting annoyance at having to reassure her over and over about the pets.

Perseveration is part of Alzheimer’s, and she can’t help it. She gets stuck on things, especially things she’s upset or worried about.

I can help it — I can modulate my reactions to account for her illness, but I don’t always. I get impatient.

I spoke with a local man earlier this year who had cared for his mother — she had Alzheimer’s — and he told me he had at times felt resentful and expressed that to her.

“You have to forgive yourself,” he said.

The change happens slowly, but it continues. The gap between where you are and where your spouse is gets a little wider each day, and it takes a little more of a leap to cross it. If you don’t have wings, you fall short.

Falling short is what I live by now. Falling short is what I have to accept to make this work.

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.

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One of the great things about a good marriage is the feeling that you have a partner in the effort it takes to get through a day or a month, s…

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at


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Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at



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