I was a really good mom. Great carpooler, all that. You’re not interviewing my kids, right? Who needs a dissent? But I started writing columns, all humor. Wrote a screenplay. Wrote a steamy novel basically to humiliate my kids. I was having some success, and in the middle of all this, my daughter became a teenager. All of a sudden she was taken by aliens — if you have kids, you know this happens. My parent-effectiveness training went right out the window. I had met with “Designing Women,” and they asked me to come out to L.A. I said: “Put me on the next plane.” In Hollywood, I could be good at something again. Successful career as a writer.
The phone calls started. I started hearing from Mother, and I didn’t like what I was hearing. My mother was a lioness, a powerhouse. She canvassed for Kennedy so well that he invited her to the inauguration for helping win New Jersey for him. She was a fighter. In another time, she would have been the head of GM. But that’s not who was calling me. I could hear her retreating, spiraling down. It just got worse. The confusion, the paranoia. The phone would ring, and I’d brace myself. My mother was no longer my mom. She died of pneumonia.
We have to start talking about Alzheimer’s. It’s ugly. It’s ugly for the victims. It’s ugly for the caretakers. In Japan, for the first time, they just sold more adult diapers than baby diapers! Do we really want that? I don’t want to change any more diapers. And the thought of my son changing mine? No. We have to get people to come out of the closet and demand research, money, a cure, a vaccination, anything! We need more money, and I’m not going to stop asking for it. I’ve got nothing to lose now. I will shake a congressman. I recently told one that if he had any questions, I’d be waiting right outside his door. You don’t have a mother like mine and not stick around for as long as it takes.
I wrote “Surviving Grace” [a play] as an homage to my mother. It’s about the dynamics of a mother and daughter. It’s about a family losing its core — its powerful center.
In the play, I talk to Mom about going on a cross-country trip as she’s lying in bed. But when she comes back in Act 2 and wants to go, I say I’ve got a speech to do, a script to write, a family, no time for a trip. She’s convinces me it’s a gift to have this chance. I’m living that odyssey now. Every time I write a check, every time I bang on a door, see the play open in a new city, meet with a senator — every single time I give Alzheimer’s a voice, I’m out on that odyssey with Mom.