Before I became a caregiver, I loved films, concerts and cultural events. But when you’re caring for a person with dementia, there’s little time for those activities. If you find yourself with an “extra” hour, you’ll probably just take a nap or a hot bath. Nevertheless, I taped lots of movies I wanted to watch if I ever got some “free” time. Then one day I realized I had three Diane Keaton movies on the DVR and her memoir on top of my night stand. It’s no coincidence that my house was full of Keaton’s work. Her movies have made me laugh and cry since I was a teen. And in her memoir “Then Again” she’s written beautifully about the impact of Alzheimer’s on her beloved mom.
My life could not be more different than that of a celebrity. I live in the woods and have to walk a mile just to buy milk. We have no red carpets or chauffeurs, no maids or stylists. But it does seem that celebrities of a certain caliber can help caregivers by making public statements when dementia affects their families. Their stories alert other segments of the society to the need for more research and supportive services. If you’ve seen any films from The Alzheimer’s Project on HBO, you’ve shared the benefits of a celebrity’s interest in this disease. The series was produced, in part, because Maria Shriver — daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient — served as executive producer of the project. Though I’m grateful that you can watch the films for free online, I can’t quite picture myself in the shoes of the former Mrs. Schwarzenegger.
Somehow I don’t have that problem with Diane Keaton. The goofy humor she showcased in her early comedies made me love her as an actress. Although she had famous boyfriends like Woody Allen and Warren Beatty, she never seemed glamorous to me — just very funny and original. When I read her book I enjoyed the way she integrated the story of her mother’s life with her own. She worked to ferret out her mother’s thoughts by reviewing journals her mom kept before dementia erased so many memories.
As a writer, I’ve done this kind of detective work, jotting down details of each phase of my mom’s disease. Her photo albums and notes are here so I can see what she valued and which friends she treasured. I loved the way Diane Keaton scoured her mother’s books to better understand her — and the way their family kept the bedside vigil as her mom neared the end. Plenty of celebrities try to make news of their latest divorce or stint in rehab. Few of them take time to document the deep, meaningful aspects of our lives like bedside hand-holding and the grief we feel as dementia proceeds along its sinister path.
So, since we’re in the midst of the Hollywood award season, I’m nominating Diane Keaton for a Pond Award. We don’t offer a statuette, and there’s no need to dress up — because we certainly won’t! We just treat the winner to fresh brook trout when they’re in the neighborhood and promote them as a positive example for less virtuous celebrities.