It was April Fools Day, 1978, but no one in the room was kidding.
"I didn't say a word, just listened and cried," recalls former First Lady Betty Ford in her book, "Betty: A Glad Awakening."
"I was dying, and everyone knew it but me."
Ford was undergoing an alcoholism intervention, secretly arranged by her family with the help of Dr. Joseph Pursch of the Long Beach, Calif., center where Ford previously had been treated for alcoholism.
When the family trooped into the house, Betty Ford thought the kids had come to see her because she hadn't been feeling well. Then Jerry Ford, the former president, sat his wife down on the living-room couch and said, "Mother, we've got something to talk to you about, and we want you to listen, because we love you."
Betty and Jerry sat on the sofa, facing a semicircle of chairs. The group included the Fords' four grown children, a daughter-in-law, two doctors, a nurse and a family friend.
One by one, voices struck home from around the room -- voices of relentless loving outrage. The hurt feelings, the embarrassment, the fear. The time they fixed a special dinner only to have Mom say she didn't feel like eating -- and reach for another drink. How they were afraid to bring friends home without "peeking around the corner into the family room to see what kind of shape Mother was in."
Ford's daughter-in-law put it bluntly: She and her husband were thinking of starting a family and wanted their children to know their grandmother as an alive and healthy person.
"When you're suffering from alcoholism, or any other drug dependency, your self-esteem gets so low you're sure nobody would want to bother with you," Ford says in her book. "I think intervention works because suddenly you realize somebody is willing to bother, somebody cares."
She hasn't had an alcoholic drink since.