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Rodale News: Learning about Love Through Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease transforms the mutuality of love, but it doesn’t have to leave the caregiver feeling isolated and bitter.

 When a beloved spouse develops dementia, all kinds of catastrophes can unfold in a family, ranging from financial and legal to emotional and psychological. It’s hard to believe that this disease, which creates such mayhem, could mean anything other than disaster for those touched by it. Yet we know that other diseases, such as cancer and heart attack, can lead to transformative life experiences that open doors to greater love and spirituality. Is this same kind of existential opportunity possible with early-onset Alzheimer’s? I began to find the answer to this question when my beloved husband, Ed Epstein, developed early-onset Alzheimer’s in his mid 50s.   
Love Lost: The First Sign of Ed’s Dementia
Both Ed and I were psychotherapists, and we shared everything, including working together as couple therapists. Our closeness fired on all cylinders: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. For more than 25 years, Ed was my best friend and my lover, and I expected that he could always help me know myself better and that I would do the same for him, holding up the mirrors in which we saw ourselves in each others eyes.
For some years before Ed received a conclusive diagnosis (holographic PETscan) of dementia  at the age of 59, I felt and saw the strange erasing of my beloved. And as this happened, I began to understand the nature of love in a radical new way. On April 8, 2008, I wrote the following in my journal:
I awoke during the night and involuntarily mulled over the problem of what has been missing in the last 5 years of our relationship. Really, it’s been the lack of witnessing that has been so hard. Ed rarely knows where I am, what I’m doing, what is going on in my physical or mental being. Ed is oblivious of me unless he needs me. Or, to put it more accurately, he just takes  READ MORE 


Seven Days: Learning about Love Through Alzheimer’s Disease

Polly and Ed in Kevin O’Connor

Vermont psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath remembers all the questions she aimed at her husband: Why had he racked up some $70,000 in unexplained credit card bills; written another $57,000 in checks to himself from their joint account; and, most disturbingly, anxiously defied her repeated call for answers?

“The bottom has dropped out of everything that promised security in my life,” she recalls thinking. “I no longer can count on marriage, finances and any vestiges of control over my circumstances.”

Then Young-Eisendrath learned that her husband, Ed Epstein, had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

For some, the brain ailment is simply a plot point in dramas such as Still Alice, the current film in which Oscar front-runner Julianne Moore portrays a fiftysomething professor losing her memory. But for an estimated 200,000 Americans, depictions of that impairment hit painfully close to home.

“We knew something was seriously wrong, but when you’re in your fifties, you don’t want to think of that,” Young-Eisendrath says in an interview. “The day he was diagnosed, I had to revise all my plans for the future. I said to myself, Everything has changed. There’s no way to fix it. What can I do now?

Like many clients blindsided by a death, divorce or layoff, the Worcester therapist and writer faced a tidal wave of emotions. She nevertheless found reason to stay with every terrifying yet teachable moment.

“As long as I don’t deny my feelings,” she remembers telling herself, “I can investigate with a gentle awareness what my life is now presenting me.” READ MORE



VT Humanities Council: What the Buddhists Teach: Finding Clarity in Everyday Life

How do we develop not only mindfulness, but also a compassionate optimism about a highly imperfect world? Polly discusses the Buddhist model for remaining fully engaged in the ups and downs of everyday life, a model that differs dramatically from traditional Western perspectives.



The Present Heart:  A Memoir of Love, Loss and Discovery

The Present Heart

The Present Heart is an insightful journey of living in the present moment. In a deeply moving yet unsentimental voice, Young-Eisendrath draws on her lifelong practices of Buddhism and psychoanalysis and her own unique view of love, as well as a circle of profound thinkers including author Abigail Thomas, psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams, and Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young.

A thoughtful meditation on the human experience, The Present Heart shows how our most intimate relationships, often the source of our greatest pain, can prove to be our path to spiritual enlightenment. The book offers a new perspective on how to maintain engaged, reciprocal relationships—with a partner, parent, child, or friend—under any and all circumstances.

Available at book stores everywhere and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.