The Final Prescription

Dear Devoted Readers,

My ole sweet dad died 10 weeks ago today. Might as well be a million years ago. Might as well be five minutes ago. Whatever time has passed, I now live  in the strange new world of Life Without Beau. I’m making my way here despite the fact that I can’t fathom that I’ll never hear his laugh or see his grin again.

I tried to save him in my own way. I clung to my book project about him as if it were a life-preserver for us both.  I was treading water while he was going under. The more I wrote, I subconsciously hoped, the slower he would drown.

The life-preserver didn’t work. I kicked hard against the current of death for 18 months–holding Beau up in my mind.  Now he’s gone, and 220 pages are left in his wake. Sometimes I think I just want to burn the manuscript. Join the book’s ashes with Beau’s ashes. No Dad = No Words.

But then I think of the millions of other people out there still fighting Alzheimer’s disease. All of them perhaps in need of their own life-preserver. Could they float on my book for a few minutes?

Brain in a Jar isn’t some big inspirational manual, but it does tell the tale of how we’ve managed through two generations of A.D. The decisions that had to be made. The suffering the had to be endured. The peace that we made. The love that lives on.

Before my Uncle Woodson died, he gave me some letters that my father wrote to their mother–most of them about my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease and how to deal with it.

Clark Air Base, The Philippines

28 May 1967

Berc sounds like he is getting worse + worse. I advise against giving him a lot of pills because they are useless for his condition. Certainly a tranquilizer would be OK to keep him from becoming excessively agitated or worried…

…You certainly seem to be managing things well. You must realize, however, it will no longer be possible and that for his own good + your welfare, he will have to be put in a nursing home or an institution such as Dr. Jarnett’s.

I have decided to return to Florida for more training in neurology. If I decide to pursue neurosurgery, this will be costly in terms of money, time + inconvenience but I surely would be a better doctor in the long run. If I decide I do not wish to be a neurosurgeon, then it will be the right thing to do anyway.

Nancy + Barbara send their love.



These letters that Beau wrote to his mother, also named Nancy, later became messages to me as well. I was so torn about us having to send him to Juniper Memory Care nearly two years ago. But Beau himself had once said, “He will have to be put in a nursing home or an institution. I simply followed the path that he laid out for us.

History matters, no matter how much time has passed. Especially when it ennobles the future of others. And, so,  in that way, Beau’s life is worth preserving and sharing.

Brain in a Jar just may turn out to be Dr. Bercaw’s final prescription.



P.S. Many thanks to my pal, Jon Shenton, for designing this cover for Brain in a Jar.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Allan Nicholls says:

    Here’s the deal! (as one of my many mentor’s would say, though I cannot recall which one, but it doesn’t really matter)…this account that you have written of your father/daughter… father/his mother…father/his father…father/his other family members and their dealing with this uncompromising disease, that I refuse to call by name any longer, now exists in this world. Whether or not your book is published or kindled or nooked or whatever… it exists in this world as words on pages that you have written that tell this heartfelt personal story and no one can’t take that away… it cannot be undone…it exists!
    If you were as proud of you as I am of you…you would burst! You have done it! You have a wonderful that I cannot imagine how difficult it was to conjure up the many memories, images, and stories that you uncovered and tell so wonderfully. The next part of the process as I understand it is getting it out there to the world. I believe you have handed that chore over to Prya when you agreed to her representing you and whose diligence, and knowledge in this area is admirable and who I think you are extremely fortunate to have in your corner.
    All this to say.. I would give her as much time as she thinks it will take to get it in the right situation. Your job is done and you did it well … now put your faith in Prya to find the right home for your book.
    God forbid if this sounds like “you have given birth to this creation…and if you love something set it free” Holy shit! That is not what I mean…what I mean is: as Tim O’Brien wrote in his Atlantic Monthly Telling Tales article; “To vividly imagine and to vividly render extraordinary human events, or sequences of events, is the hard-lifting, heavy-duty, day-by-day, unending labor of a fiction writer.”
    I think you have done your job…and really well…now rest up for another.

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