Facebook continually sends you reminders of “memories,” that is, posts you have made on today’s date years before. A memory came up on what would have been a few days before Thanksgiving five years ago. This was just before I took my wife for the final time to the hospital. She had been having symptoms for some four or five months before. These ranged from loss of balance to difficulty walking. She said it was “like my gyroscope was broken.” We went to various specialists e.g. allergists, ear eyes throat people, a neurologist, and not to mention her primary care doctor several times. None of them had an explanation or cause of her symptoms. She was getting worse and worse. My daughter in law is a doctor who was working at the local university’s teaching hospital. We had arranged for her to go in to see them on the Monday after Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day however, in my conversations with her I noticed some cognitive deficits. I asked my daughter in law to come over to do an assessment so I would know whether it was just me reading too much into her behavior. My daughter in law concurred and recommended that we take her to the hospital immediately even though it was Thanksgiving and we had planned a holiday dinner.

Thus began a nerve wracking two-and-a-half-week period. We finally got her checked in to the hospital which had a skeleton crew. The next day doctors came by on rounds and did all sorts of tests including an MRI with contrast dye which her primary care doctor and health insurers had been loath to do. As the doctor explained, “It lit up like a Christmas tree.” After months of fruitless searching, as her condition deteriorated, we finally found out what was causing it. She had a disease like “mad cow disease” in bovines in which a chemical in her brain (a prion) went rogue and started affecting other parts of her brain. It is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and is very rare in humans. Less than 1 in a million Americans get it. The normal ways to get it are through heredity or eating meat from an affected animal. She had neither of these potential causes. She fell into the 80% of cases in which the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, there is no cure and it inevitably leads to death pretty quickly. I was stunned. The hospital released her to home hospice care. We scurried around to get a hospital bed and arranged frequent visits from hospice nurses. She was eventually released from the hospital on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. We spent the ensuing days caring for the bedridden woman who was slowly wasting away before our eyes. She passed away on a Sunday 11 days after she had returned home. It was less than 3 weeks after that Thanksgiving we had taken her to the hospital.

I have not shared the details of that story with many people. That Facebook memory, it was just an acknowledgement of thanks to all the people who had touched my life, was written just before all of this happened and changed my life forever. We had been married for 44 years, had raised a son, seen a granddaughter born, and looked forward to spending our sunset years together. The Facebook memory seemed like it came from a message in a bottle, or better yet, something in a time capsule, from a person I barely recognized anymore. It was a person who did not know what was just about to happen. The message arrived early enough that I could share it again on Facebook.  It was still true. I did want to give thanks for all the wonderful interactions with people I have had over the years and acknowledge the importance of family. The Facebook algorithm that churns out these “memories” has no idea what kinds of memories it stirs up in people. Since this time, I have become part of my son, daughter in law, and granddaughters’ family, we have moved twice, and a third move is on the horizon. My granddaughter has grown from an almost two-year-old to an almost seven-year-old. I have had a hip replaced and suffer more aches and pains from age than I did then. It is still important to appreciate and give thanks for what you have rather than grieving over what you do not. It is a lesson I learned early in card games like “bridge.” You always have to play the hell out of the hand you have been dealt.

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2 Responses to “Message in a Bottle”

  1. Jason Graham says:

    Very well said you often delve into our losses because closure is difficult. But it takes away from all the games and all the loved ones still above ground. I’m sorry for your loss. And this is very well said. I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving

  2. Jeffrey Drummond says:

    An emotionally powerful recounting of a a very sad event. Quite beautiful. All my love to you all.


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