GLENS FALLS — The Post-Star editor who has shared his family’s grief and pain about Alzheimer’s with the world has been recognized with a special award.
Projects Editor Will Doolittle won the Lee Spirit Award on Tuesday. It is an internal award open to any employee at any of Lee Enterprises 46 newspapers across the country. Lee Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa owns The Post-Star.
Doolittle was honored for his columns and podcasts about his wife Bella’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
He started the podcast, “Alzheimer’s Chronicles,” last year. The podcast in its 12th episode focuses solely on the diagnosis and its effect on the family. He also writes about it on occasion in his weekly column.
In his first column on the subject, he showed brutal honesty: “The doctor who delivered the diagnosis told Bella she had eight years left, based on the average. Other doctors have said the progression is unpredictable and can take much longer. But they all agree Alzheimer’s is fatal and there is no cure.”
In another, he wrote, “We know the hours we have left are fewer than we expected.”
Both lines were highlighted in the award announcement. The honesty was necessary, said Managing Editor Ken Tingley.
“I believe Will and Bella’s goal has always been to express that brutal honesty in the hopes it would help the next couple down the road,” Tingley said in the award announcement.
The podcast started as a way for Doolittle to deal with the medical crisis that, as he puts it, is slowly crushing him.
“Doing the columns and podcasts helps me cope,” he said.
And the public response has helped him feel much less alone.
“That’s huge,” he said. “That helps tremendously. The expression of concern, the solidarity.”
Alzheimer’s affects millions of people worldwide, but the slow progression of the disease leaves caregivers isolated. Instead of a sudden death, for which friends and family know to show up with casserole and flowers, it’s “10 years of grief,” Doolittle said.
“So what do you do, bring me a spoonful of casserole every day for 10 years?” he asked.
In his columns and the podcast, he addresses that slow creep of loss.
“The grappling with ambiguous reality — I think people appreciate someone putting words to it,” he said.
And that has offered the couple a slight positive in a grim situation.
“This might be something valuable to other people going through similar things,” he said. “It gives some meaning that is positive to this.”
To his surprise, he found that sitting down with Bella to do the podcasts has been wonderful for them both.
“I think the experience has come to be more profound and important to us than we expected,” he said. “I get a lot out of it. Many married couples don’t really take the time ... we’re going to spend a half hour talking about what really matters to our relationship.”
The podcast is not depressing. It’s often funny, and it offers a reassuring example of a woman who has Alzheimer’s but is still a vivacious human being. Doolittle said that might be one of the most valuable parts of the podcast. It combats the frightening images of an incapacitated Alzheimer patient.
“Bella refuses to be drowned in that. She can talk about dying and being incapacitated without being weepy,” Doolittle said. “It really humanizes it.”
Doolittle is the third Post-Star employee to receive the Lee Spirit award. The previous winners are former reporter Maury Thompson and Sports Editor Greg Brownell.
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” …