When Losing Memory Means Losing Home | KUOW News and Information

When Losing Memory Means Losing Home

Jul 18, 2015
Originally published on July 18, 2015 3:33 pm

In this installment of NPR's series Inside Alzheimer's, we hear from Greg O'Brien about his decision to sell the home where he and his wife raised their three children. O'Brien, a longtime journalist in Cape Cod, Mass., was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2009.

Greg and Mary Catherine O'Brien have lived in their house on Cape Cod for more than 30 years. It's their dream house. They used to imagine growing old there.

But this winter, as Greg's Alzheimer's disease worsened, it became clear that they couldn't stay in the house, which sits on a couple of acres in a secluded part of the Cape. Greg doesn't drive much anymore, and he'll need more and more medical care in the coming years.

Plus, without Greg working as much, the house costs too much to keep up.

So the O'Brien family is preparing to sell their home. The process began with cleaning out Greg's office, where he has worked as a journalist and writer his entire career. Sifting through all his journals and notes has revealed a precious trove of memories.


Interview Highlights

On deciding to sell the house

We made the decision, over the weekend, to sell the house. That's a tough decision and, you know, as a working journalist I never made enormous amounts of money; but I was always able to take care of my family. And now, I'm wondering how I take care of them in the future.

The good thing is, I know that I have these memories, because they're here and I saved them. I don't know why I did that.

You know it's so cool, when you think you've lost your memory and you know you have, but you have all these notes in front of you, and you have your kids. I couldn't think of a better Father's Day present.

On old letters Greg found while cleaning out his home office

It's Father's Day and the kids have given me a great present. They're helping me clean out a bunch of memories in my office. I have, like, four boxes of notes, not knowing where I'd be today in the weeds of my memory. Notes in here about how the kids ... snuck out [to my office]. Brendan writes, many, many years ago, as a little kid:

Hi Dad, It's Brendan. Have a nice Day. I love you a lot. I bet you're wondering how I did this. Love ya. Bye.

He figured out how to get on my computer and print.

Here's another one. I remember [my daughter] Colleen had her first rabbit, Cuddles, and the rabbit died. And she writes:

This is the best I could do, Cuddles. I have included a box full of, along with this letter, your favorite song on a CD and a tape of me; your favorite food, celery, your brush and your chew toy.

I feel as though someone has ripped out my heart and stomped all over it.

I love you, Cuddles, and I will miss you. And many nights I will cry myself to sleep. I will visit you from time to time and I hope you visit me in my dreams.

Goodbye and I love you,

Colleen

I don't know, they're pretty good memories.


Greg O'Brien and his family will share more of their experiences with Alzheimer's in coming installments of Inside Alzheimer's on Weekend All Things Considered, and here on Shots.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Greg and Mary Catherine O'Brien have lived in their house on Cape Cod for more than 30 years. It's their dream home where they raised three children. They always imagined growing old there until Greg was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Now they've made the difficult decision to sell the house, which means they're beginning to sift through a lifetime of accumulated memories, beginning with Greg's home office. Here is Greg.

GREG O'BRIEN: It's Father's Day, and the kids have given me a great present. They're helping me clean out a bunch of memories in my office.

Keep that Patriot - that New England Patriot football. Don't get that lost.

I have, like, four boxes of notes that I just saved not knowing where I'd be today in the weeds of my memory.

Is that a fishing rod holder? I can't even catch a fish now.

BRENDAN O'BRIEN: So here's...

COLLEEN O'BRIEN: What? You were so...

G. O'BRIEN: Notes in here about how the kids in the office, when they were young, snuck out. And Brendan writes, many, many years ago - he's a little kid - hi, Dad. It's Brendan. Have a nice day. I love you a lot. I bet you're wondering how I did this - love you. Bye. He figured out how to get on my computer and print.

What do you think, Brendan?

B. O'BRIEN: I can't believe that we still have...

G. O'BRIEN: We saved all the good memories, so it's a cleansing process.

B. O'BRIEN: It's important. But this is just the tip of the iceberg right here.

G. O'BRIEN: Here's another one. I remember, Colleen had her first rabbit, Cuddles. And the rabbit died. And she writes, this is the best I could do, Cuddles. I have included a box full of, along with this letter, your favorite song on a CD and a tape of me.

All this gets thrown out.

I feel as though someone has ripped out my heart and stomped all over it. I love you, Cuddles. I will miss you and the many nights, and I will cry myself to sleep. I'll visit you from time to time, and I hope you visit me in my dreams.

Do you got the keys, Conor?

Goodbye, and I love you - Colleen. I don't know. It's pretty good memories.

Those are nice shorts. I like them.

CONOR O'BRIEN: Yeah.

G. O'BRIEN: I think I saved all the good memories stuff. The other stuff, you got to let go.

CONOR O'BRIEN: No. You know what?

G. O'BRIEN: What?

CONOR O'BRIEN: There's some cool stuff that you showed me and Brendan.

G. O'BRIEN: We made the decision over the weekend to sell the house.

CONOR O'BRIEN: Ninety-nine percent of it is just stupid stuff you don't need, but a lot of it, like...

G. O'BRIEN: It's a tough decision. And you know, as a working journalist, I never made tremendous amounts of money, but I was always able to take care of my family. And...

CONOR O'BRIEN: I almost got choked up.

G. O'BRIEN: Now I'm wondering how I take care of them in the future, but...

CONOR O'BRIEN: You wrote a letter to yourself about my last baseball game?

G. O'BRIEN: Yeah. Yeah. I journaled. I don't know why, but maybe God was telling me to put stuff down early on.

The good thing is I know that I have these memories because they're here and I saved them. And I don't know why I did that.

Well, all of that stuff, when I leave this planet, you guys should go through that very carefully. It's going to tell you an awful lot about your lives that you might have forgotten. It's all there. All right.

CONOR O'BRIEN: Sit here. I'll...

G. O'BRIEN: Oh, all right. You want me to...

CONOR O'BRIEN: No, just...

G. O'BRIEN: I can help you.

CONOR O'BRIEN: No.

G. O'BRIEN: All right.

You know, it's so cool just to - when you think you're - you've lost your memory and you know you have, but you have all of these notes here in front of you. And you have your kids. And I couldn't think of a better Father's Day present - so pretty cool, pretty cool. I'm just going to relish in this for a while.

RATH: That's Greg O'Brien. He was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2009. You can hear previous stories from this series, Inside Alzheimer's, at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.