By Ronnie McBrayer
When the magnificent Pat Summitt announced last month that she was stepping down as coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, it was the end of what Summitt called “a great ride.” For those of us who watched her coach these past four decades, pacing courtside and staring down players with that icy, piercing gaze, it was the final touch on a gold-gilded treasure.
Though Pat Summitt’s coaching career has ended due to what Dr. Alois Alzheimer called the “Disease of Forgetfulness,” certainly her life has not. She remains a hero and will go on with grace and strength, but she will have to do so with help from others. Many heroic people—not as well-known as Pat Summitt, but just as accomplished in their own way—are ambushed by this hellacious illness. In the fray that follows, those playing supportive roles emerge with equal heroics of their own.
For 50 years, my friend Betty has been a church pianist. As Alzheimer’s tightens its grip on her mind, she still dresses in her choir robe on Sundays, sits close to her grand piano, and when she gets her cue, she goes to the bench and plays Bach as surely and confidently as she did decades earlier. Her church could afford a new pianist, but they love Betty. They want her to play as long as she can, and at times they graciously order their entire worship service to accommodate her.
There is one of my personal heroes and mentors, Dr. Ron, who recently died from dementia. As his vigorous mind began to unravel, hundreds stepped forward to assist his wife and family—an entire community. And there is my own father-in-law, who now wrestles with this disease. The family will wrestle as well, at times smiling as he forgets a name; at other times weeping over stolen memories; and sometimes buckling beneath the near unbearable weight of caring for one who was once capable of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
But what other choice is there? When one has given his or her life to us, how can we not give a little of our life in return? Yes, some of our heroes will forget almost everything: their accomplishments, the lives they once lived, and maybe our very names; but love will not let us forget them, especially when they need us most.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.