"How would you feel if you found out one of your most valuable assets, your brain, was diseased?" This is the question Ron Grant posed to a bright, young professional - a staffer working for a Senator in Washington D.C. “I don’t know you, but I know something about you,” Ron convincing relayed. “Many bright, intelligent applicants applied for your job, but you got the position - you are the cream of the crop!”
Every person who sat in the suite located in our Nation’s Capitol that morning reflected on his question. “How would you feel if you were dealt this diagnosis?” It could happen to any of us; after all, Ron had no family history of dementia. The reality hung in the air. “I would be devastated,” the young woman was finally able to vocalize. “Yes,” Ron stated. “I was devastated.”
Early-onset Alzheimer’s brings a host of additional challenges to its victims.
The hardest challenge of Ron's disease to date was having to inform his parents of the diagnosis. They had already buried their other child, Ron’s sister, who died of lung cancer. Knowing he quite possibly would not be around to take care of his parents was devastating. When his father died a few years ago, one of the last things he said to his son was, “One thing I’ll tell you - I’m not going to have to bury you.” Ron’s mother, not far behind the man she had faithfully loved for over 66 years, died three months later.
Ron had been dealt a death sentence. As Chaplain in the prison system, he understood this reality well. Over 1,500 times he delivered the news of a loved one’s death to an inmate. He also counseled men on death row and remembers one who he describes as the happiest man on the prison yard. This inmate received a death sentence then had it reduced to life when the state abolished the death penalty. His fate was sealed in prison, yet he found joy in life. Ron can relate.
The moment he realized his death sentence had no execution date,
Ron got back to living!
Each of us has this choice on a daily basis and no one relays this message more poignantly than Ron Grant. “Vicky and I are closer now - We are closer to God - this disease is a small price to pay for that reward.” Ron and Vicky intentionally live each day to its fullest. "Is tomorrow the day I'm going to wake up and not recognize myself?” No one knows, but Ron says he refuses to live in the “what-if’s” and intentionally seeks to make everyday a good day.
“What boy didn’t want to be a major league baseball player?” Ron asks. He points out most did not achieve their dream - but it didn’t scar their lives. We all learn to move on. Moving on meant quitting a job he loved before he was financially, emotionally, or mentally ready. Although most think of this disease as a loss of memory, Ron points out it is so much more than that. “It is a loss of personality, a loss of the future you envisioned.”
Ron acknowledges he cannot choose what the disease is doing to his brain. “I can only choose how I react to those changes and hopefully lessen the damage.” A few years ago he was speaking to a group at a retirement facility. During a break a sophisticated, older lady approached him. “Thank you,” she said, “We sit here everyday wondering who will get this disease next. We live in fear - I don’t have to be afraid anymore."
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