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“I Was Not Done”

By: Cindy Petersen

My mother, Grace Whitten, lost her battle with vascular dementia after five years. She started out her life like many other women at that time—raising her children in lieu of education and career. After 25 years of marriage, she found herself divorced with no high school diploma and raising us by herself.  She could have done anything to make ends meet, but she chose to pursue her dream of writing. She obtained her GED and college education all while freelance writing for 15 cents an inch in local newspapers. Over the course of her career, she established herself as an investigative reporter, local award-winning journalist, columnist as well as an editor and bureau chief. She finally retired at age 75, which is when this disease started to present itself. Before the symptoms of dementia appeared, she was passionate about her life’s work and was on pace to work many more years.  However, she discovered one day that she could no longer do simple math, and she would suddenly forget how to say something. 

Within two years she was not able to live alone.  Within three years she could not “find the right words” to express herself or even write her own name. In the last six months of her life, she had a rapid loss of skills , sometimes overnight. For instance, one day she woke up and simply forgot how to walk.  It wasn’t that she was physically unable to walk, she just lost the understanding of how to walk.  The worst part of it all was that she was aware of the abilities she was losing and spent her last few years agonizingly and frustratingly trying to recover skills that we knew would never come back.  She was always hopeful, even up until the end. She talked about the day she would learn to write again so she could complete her lifelong goal of writing her autobiography.  

Every health care provider and every emergency room visit was always the same – a diagnosis of “normal aging.”  This disease has reached epidemic proportions masquerading itself as “old age,” and families and health care providers continue to struggle with education and support.  Doctors deserve education to diagnose these diseases earlier. Families deserve answers. But most of all, people living with the disease deserve a cure so they can live their life to the fullest.  With early diagnosis, research, family support and education, we want to spare this hardship for other families. 

I Was Not Done In memory of Grace Whitten

People say it was just my time That I lived long enough That I had a full life That dying is expected I had love to give I had people to meet I had places to see I had goals to accomplish I had hopes for the future I had something to say I had dreams to enjoy I was stolen from my family I was robbed of my memories I was removed from all dignity I was still fighting I was not over I was not old I was not done



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