The news last week was basically dominated with coverage of former President Reagan’s death. It was surreal to see all of the footage being played on TV; it was obviously old, and I knew that Reagan had been out of office for some 15 years, but one almost got the impression that he was actually still in the Oval Office. Of course, he wasn’t, and he was probably mentally incapable of doing much more than staying awake for the last few years. How ironic that a man who defined the later acts of his life and career on his intellect and negotiating ability would be felled by the total incapacitation of his brain.

Medical research has made great progress in modern times, but perhaps that only makes today’s incurable diseases that much harder to accept. And of all the ways a person can die these days, I can’t think of anything worse than Alzheimer’s. Diseases like cancer are certainly painful and drawn-out, but for the most part, the afflicted person remains mentally present until the end. Some drugs used to mediate the pain and progress of the cancer can cause mental fogginess, but the essence of the person and his intellect still remains. There is no such remnant in the mind of the Alzheimer’s patient. Even worse, the patient may hardly be aware of his own degeneration. This leaves the patient’s loved ones with the responsibility of caring for someone who will eventually be unaware of who they are. Despite the patient’s physical presence, it must feel an awful lot like taking care of a stranger. It’s just so cruel and so unavoidable once the disease manifests itself.

Like most state funerals, Reagan’s casket was kept closed throughout the ceremonies. It’s just as well. I want to remember him the way he left office, not the way he must have left this world.

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