Dad’s lights went out and society doesn’t seem to care

Ellen Darden's late father suffered from Alzheimer's / Headline SurferPhotos for Headline Surfer / Columnist Ellen Darden's late father, Russell Joseph Delfosse, shown here, a bear of a man at 6 feet 4, who was devoted to his wife and children, was later afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- The showy medical causes of our era are AIDS and breast cancer. While these are "not" the leading causes of premature death in our society, they’ve captured the imagination of people who have been willing to go all out to raise awareness and money.

I don’t disparage this in any manner; I just wish some other illnesses would also capture the imagination of people who can – with their resources, whether financial or access-driven – bring them to the attention of the nation.

Alzheimer's is one that is of particular and personal interest to me. My wonderful father’s lights were shut off by it. My grandfather was semi-diagnosed with it more than 10 years before his death, and it made my grandmother’s life unbearable.

My Dad’s last surviving sister is now stricken with it. I live in fear that the genetics point to my future battling a disease that has no cure in our time. I don’t in any way profess to have expertise on this particular form of senile dementia, now understood to be the most prevalent.

I have memories of my Dad’s deterioration (he passed away in 2005), and I tried to study and understand while he was going through it.

I’ve seen the sketches of the protein plaques and tangles that attack and cripple the brain. I’ve read the studies that profess to show that intense intellectual and physical activity can help ward off symptoms.

That being said, I have so little scientific understanding about it that I probably should not be writing this column, except that I mourn my Dad and fear my future. And, in the course of my feeble attempts to understand the disease, I learned how little we know about it, including how to cope or cure.

Russell Joseph Delfosse’s “birthday.” was March 31. He, my father, was born in 1919, and would have celebrated his 94th year of life. If not for the brain deterioration, I believe he would have.

He was a big man, 6 feet 4 inches, and very strong. As he aged, he loved to quote his doctor’s telling him he had the eyesight and heart strength of a man half his age. During the time that we lived in the same area of Florida, we often saw each other at the YMCA while working out.

This man was amazing in his talents and his personality.

He met my mother shortly after the end of World War II, and he "never" looked at another woman. He loved her with a loyal devotion that most women would kill to have. A bit disappointed not to have at least one son of his four progeny, he never let his daughters think they were anything but the greatest.

Ellen Darden's late father / Headline SurferHe met my mother shortly after the end of World War II, and he "never" looked at another woman. He loved her with a loyal devotion that most women would kill to have. A bit disappointed not to have at least one son of his four progeny, he never let his daughters think they were anything but the greatest.

This is in pre-feminist American, but he truly pictured and lectured that each of us could be anything that we were willing to work hard enough towards. He ended up with a brood of very well-educated, bossy, opinionated and successful daughters who have good marriages and amazing children.

A handsome fellow with an operatic voice (and a love for playing and singing opera), the heart of a poet, a lover of classic literature, he became a home-builder. While this may seem a rather ordinary career for such a Renaissance man, to him building meant creating.

As his eldest daughter, I spent many an hour with him pouring over house plans, walking sites, hearing the lofty dreams about what would arise from the ground and observing the construction process.

It’s probably a major reason why I love being a Realtor today after many years of doing other things. My father was the heartbeat of every family gathering. My mother was the center of his world, but his love of family and friends was generous and inspiring.

It’s probably a major reason why I love being a Realtor today after many years of doing other things. My father was the heartbeat of every family gathering. My mother was the center of his world, but his love of family and friends was generous and inspiring.

His daughters all married, and his sons-in-law became the sons he never had.

A performer, a salesman, a story-teller, an intensely loving and warm embracer of those who were in his sphere, he was a life-force. And then the lights began to dim.

Helplessly watching someone who is so important to you fade away gradually, the personality and energy diminishing day by day, is torture.

As our population ages, owing to the miracles of modern scientific medicine, nutrition and generally safer living conditions than in the past, more parents, spouses, friends and other loved ones are affected by the cruelty of Alzheimer’s and other forms of senile dementia.

I was told by a physician friend that every person would get it if they live long enough. Many just don’t because they die first of something else.

The “health” conversation now in our nation has morphed to debate about the explosion of medical entitlement costs, Obamacare with its labyrinthine rules and requirements, and wealth transfer between the young and elderly.

As mentioned in the beginning of this column, a few popular medical causes, such as AIDS, breast cancer and, recently, obesity, get attention and public/private funding.

In our knowledge society, as so many describe it now, why would we not put substantial resources into keeping brains alive, functioning and able to pass on information to following generations?

Why are we neglecting brains while obsessing about bodies?

Given the current conversation about healthcare and its costs, I fear that efforts to understand, fend off and cure dementia, including Alzheimer's, will go begging. Don’t we lose a lot that is so very precious to us all when the lights go out?

Given the current conversation about healthcare and its costs, I fear that efforts to understand, fend off and cure dementia, including Alzheimer's, will go begging. Don’t we lose a lot that is so very precious to us all when the lights go out?

Ellen Darden Picture

Short Bio

Ellen Darden, an active Realtor, is immediate past president of the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors. She and her husband, Frank, live in New Smyrna Beach. She is a former educator and a life-long student of and participant in public policy, governance and politics. The blog, "Politics and policies" (and its contents), is the sole copyright-protected intellectual property of NSB News LLC, and cannot be reproduced, copied or published in whole or in part elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the publisher. NSBNews.net, VolusiaNews.net and HeadlineSurfer.com are owned by NSB News LLC. All three domains fall under the umbrella of Headline Surfer, a registered trademark.