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Losing Words . . . One By One April 4, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

Iris Murdoch, acclaimed writer, lost her words.

One by one.

The onset and progression of Alzheimer’s caused great anguish to Murdoch and her husband and friends. 

As she saw her words slipping away, she struggled to get the thoughts she still longed to share down on paper before it was too late.

Iris, the movie about her frustrating struggle with the disease, tells her story through flashbacks, with Judi Dench and Kate Winslet sharing the title role.

From an Amazon review by Linda McDonnell:

There’s one especially telling scene, when Jim Broadbent, the husband of Alzheimer-afflicted Judi, finally breaks down and starts screaming and yelling at her in bed, his outburst drawn from the terrible abandonment he feels at the loss of his heretofore brilliant wife. We see the rage that the disease causes in survivors and caregivers, who seem to get nothing back no matter how tender the care they lavish on their loved ones.

Unlike “A Beautiful Mind”, there can be no happy ending at the conclusion of “Iris”; Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease the end stage of which is death. “Beautiful Mind” showed triumph through adversity, but that is not possible with every illness. Thus, “Iris”, though undeniably a well-crafted piece, is tremendously sad. See it on a sunny afternoon, when you can still go out and enjoy what is left of your day; it is not a film to see and then face the dark uncertainty of night.

The film does NOT have a happy ending.  How could it?  But it does portray what happens when the words we use to communicate our heartfelt thoughts dry up and blow away . . . leaving only a desert of sand behind.

No rules.  Just write . . . as fast as you can!

What say you?

Have you seen the film?  Have you experienced the frustration of watching Alzheimer’s progress . . . eroding the personality of someone you love?

Have you observed words blowing away . . . unspoken?

Related post:  Lexical Blues (BeeBlue’s Blog)


1. creatingreciprocity - April 4, 2012

So sad. Both of my parents have dementia and it is very difficult. I know it’s not rare and I know the suffering all round is wide-spread and I still struggle with it.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

It is a difficult disease . . . our loved ones are still alive . . . and yet the spark of personality we loved is already gone.

2. sweetdaysundertheoaks - April 4, 2012

Yes I have. My Aunt. Heartbreaking.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

Living a long life with mental faculties intact is our dream . . .

Alzheimer’s is the nightmare that nibbles away at the edges of that dream, word by word, and task by task.

3. Richard W Scott - April 4, 2012

I haven’t seen the film, and I’m not sure I could take it. The concept is very real for me, as I watch my mother, now in her late 80s, begin to lose hold of everything she ever knew.

It is a frighting thought, both that she is going through it, and that I might someday face the same issues.

While this is especially horrible for those of us who write, I cannot see it being any less painful for anyone who loves a parent.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

I agree, Rik. We all use words to communicate . . . on paper and in person. Losing that ability is horrific for all concerned.

4. suzicate - April 4, 2012

Thank you for this review. I will check this out. Both my father’s sister and my mother’s twin sisters are in the throws of Alzheimers…not easy.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

The mind is a terrible thing to lose . . . watching it waste away from “the sidelines” makes caregivers feel helpless and hopeless. 😦

5. Piglet in Portugal - April 4, 2012

To lose ones mind to Alzheimer must be so tragic. I must watch this film.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

If we didn’t KNOW it was happening . . . it would be easier to deal with. But Iris knew that her words were drifting away and she was powerless to re-call them.

Judi Dench is perfect for the role . . . no big surprise. What an amazing actress.

6. Tori Nelson - April 4, 2012

That is a frightening thing to think about.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

Watching the brain’s synapses dry up and wither away is horrific.

7. sufilight - April 4, 2012

Very sad. My mother had Alzheimer’s and from being an eloquent woman, she was reduced to hardly being able to put words together when speaking. The mind is a precious thing.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

My parents have good days and bad days. On the bad days, I find it hard to be a witness to their deterioration.

8. Lisa Wields Words - April 4, 2012

I want to see it, but I don’t know if I have the strength. My dad has it now, and he is no longer the man I knew. I accidentally stumbled on a movie about someone with Alzheimer’s (I don’t recall the title) and sobbed my way through the rest of the day. At the same time, it seems like a story we all must see.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

It’s a thought-provoking movie designed to make us think about what makes us, us . . . but there is no happily ever after.

9. Alannah Murphy - April 4, 2012

I’ve heard of this film, but I think I would cry my eyes out too much if I watched it. Such a cruel disease 😦

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

It is cruel . . . and the film is sad ~ full to overflowing with the forgetfulness, hopelessness, frustration, and deterioration that goes hand in hand with dementia.

Alannah Murphy - April 4, 2012

I wish nobody would suffer that fate. I’ve been fortunate not have dealt with it at all, so far, and I hope I never do 😦

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

My grandfathers and great aunt lived into their 90’s with alert mental faculties at their disposal. I cannot say the same about my parents.

Watching them fade away is horrible ~ they are already gone in all the ways that matter to me.

10. BrainRants - April 4, 2012

I have to say I could be okay coming home from Afghanistan without an arm, leg, or both, but loss of my mind would really unhinge me. My dad had a stroke, so I understand this. Good post, Nancy.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

Thanks, Matt.

I hope you come back INTACT ~ with all appendages present and accounted for! And mind in full working order.

11. Three Well Beings - April 4, 2012

I have not seen this move, and although I’m not sure I should, the cast is a draw and maybe some time when I can handle a good cry. I have not experienced Alzheimer’s in my own family, but I have a friend in a facility. She developed early onset Alzheimer’s, not compeltely diagnosed until in her 50’s, but I know she had even earlier signs. It’s unbelievable how quickly she lost personality and then memory. For each day of good mental acuity, I thank God. And my heart breaks for others. It really does. Debra

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

In her 50’s?! That’s ghastly.

I cannot thank God for my continued mental acuity . . . without condemnng God for not extending the same benefit to all.

Three Well Beings - April 4, 2012

Hmmmmm. I hear ya! D

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

It’s a bit of a Catch-22.

12. Andra Watkins - April 4, 2012

Nancy, I love the movie Iris. I think all the people involved did such a good job of portraying the degenerative nature of the disease, the euphoria over glimpses of the person who’s disappearing in a labyrinth of haze, the desperate abandonment of those left behind. It is a must-see.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

It’s definitely a movie that “says something” . . . when so many these days fail to accomplish that simple objective. 😉

Thinking about the movie and the debilitating disease it portrays caused emotions to surface which made for a tough day. I’m feeling more like Eeyore than Tigger at the moment. 😦

13. Life in the Boomer Lane - April 4, 2012

I can’t believe it’s possible, but I hadn’t heard of the film. Now it’s a must-see. Thanks!

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

Definitely a film with “substance” . . . and so well cast.

14. souldipper - April 4, 2012

Shudder! I can only hope that there is a Nirvana stage with this disease. Some of these folks at the Residence of my past employ seemed so happy. Others were damned miserable – always fighting to remember something. Like one woman who lived with a perpetually lost purse (no matter where it was) and die-hard suspicion of everyone.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

I have met a few people with advanced dementia who are “happy idiots” . . . living in Nirvana. Most are not that lucky.

They lose the essence of who they once were . . . without gaining anything of apparent value.

15. Crowing Crone Joss - April 4, 2012

My ex-husband will turn 68 in a few days and has Early Onset Alzheimer’s. he is losing ground very quickly and my children’s hearts are broken watching their Dad disappear. this is an illness that has no good stories for people to tell you about. Such sadness.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

When my father-in-law died from Alzheimer’s, it was a release for him and a relief for us. He could no longer communicate, chew, or swallow.

It’s a horrendous disease.

16. Paula Tohline Calhoun - April 4, 2012

I lost my wonderful, funny, witty, loving, giving mother to this abominable disease eleven years ago this past March 28. The thing is, it truly is “the long goodbye,” because I essentially lost the Mom I knew ten years before her body died, It is heartbreaking for the family and loved ones, because – at least in the beginning – the person still looks like the one you have always known and loved. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that the blank eyes and expression took over, indicating that she was truly gone.

Gee, Nancy, thanks! Here I was coming to treat myself to a nice SLTW post – I’ve been writing so much lately, I haven’t been making my rounds. I thought for sure you would give me a boost, and this is the post I read here!

In any event, you did a good job on this, and it never hurts to shed light on this devastating disease, which I still content is the worst thing that can happen to anyone, It takes an equal toll on the person with the disease and that person’s loved ones. (I just cannot write the word victim. I have never been able to imagine my mother as a victim of anything. Do you know another word? I don’t like “sufferer, either! I would love your input on finding a different word!)

Keep on keepin’ on! :mrcool:

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

Sorry about that, PTC. Check out “The House That Janna Built” or “Threats in Europe” if you need a smile. 😀

I talked to someone tonight whose son-in-law (in his 50’s) is losing the battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Which is worse, I wonder ~ a fully functioning mind trapped in a body that won’t work . . . or a mind that has wasted away taking all traces of personality with it?

Either option seems horrific. Getting old is not for sissies.

17. Paula Tohline Calhoun - April 4, 2012

I’ll hop on over – but no need for apologies! It is a good post.

ALS v. Alzheimer’s. We have a dear friend with ALS as well. It is very difficult to watch him physically deteriorate. I guess the only thing that makes it somewhat bearable is that there are some things that can be done to at least offer palliative care. With Alzheimer’s there is nothing. The medications at this point only delay the inevitable – and sometimes they don’t even do that.

There might be some consolation in the fact that at least with ALS the person knows the people who love and care for him/her. And some communication, however truncated, can still take place. But that is small consolation indeed, I know. I shudder at the thought of either, and everyday I offer up my thanks that neither has befallen me, while at the same time praying help and wholeness for those on whom it has.

I have the conviction inside of me that if as the human race we would give up our wars and political games and cat-fighting, we would have cures to most of those awful diseases by now. We have been throwing money, time, and effort at too many things that are completely irrelevant and incompatible with life. Daft world.

nrhatch - April 4, 2012

I think you’re right about ALS.

Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, gave a glimpse at the grim progression of the disease . . . which allowed Morrie Schwartz to communicate with loved ones until the end arrived.


You’re also right . . . it is a daft world. 😀

18. viviankirkfield - April 5, 2012

Thank you, Nancy. Although it is not a happy movie and many will turn away because it is too painful, the film portrays life in reality…not always an easy thing to deal with. The disease is sad, heartbreaking, devastating.

The other movie it brings to mind is “The Notebook” with James Garner and Gina Rowlands and Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.

The anguish of family members is one of the worst parts of the disease…and the moments of lucidity are perhaps the harshest of all…to see what you have become and to know you are not yourself anymore. 😦

I’ve just made a bowl of popcorn and my husband is looking for a romantic comedy for us to watch…I have two school visits tomorrow and need an infusion of positivity. 🙂

By the way, we watched IN TIME, the movie you talked about several weeks ago…it was AMAZING…high energy and a message we cannot ignore.

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

Yes, The Notebook deals with similar issues . . . including the desire to re-connect. It’s a gentler movie because she does remember every day, for a few minutes, after being reminded.

Hope you found an infusion of positivity to pair with your popcorn before your school visits today.

Glad you enjoyed In Time. I found it quite “telling.” 😉

19. jannatwrites - April 5, 2012

I have not seen the film, and I don’t think I can handle seeing it. We watched Alzheimer’s slowly take my grandma away. I’m thankful her heart gave out and ended the nightmare. It was sad, because losing her mind was what she feared the most. She watched her own mom go through it, too.

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

I understand, Janna. I generally avoid tragic and sad books/ movies without happy endings . . . there is enough pain in the world as it it.

When pneumonia claimed my father in law, we breathed a sigh of relief. Watching him trapped behind haunted eyes was terrible and terrifying. My parents’ mental decline is equally tragic and painful ~ it’s horrible to witness them slipping away.

20. pix & kardz - April 5, 2012

i once heard someone tell the story of a loved who passed away after a lengthy illness of alzheimer’s. at the funeral, the family member did not seem exceptionally sorrowful.
and why not? because the mourning and the grief of loss of a dear mom had already come a long time before that. the woman who died was not the mother once known. so sad.
the mother of a friend is on a journey through dementia right now. it has its bright and its tough moments. and this movie? i am not planning to watch it. your review is sufficient – and thanks for it. it must have been a tough one to create for all of them.

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

Yes ~ they’re “already gone” long before they stop breathing, so the “good-bye” is more a sigh of relief. At last.

Thanks, Kris. This post stirred up some “bad bits.” Tough day.

21. Victoria-writes - April 5, 2012

Such a horrible disease, so sad!

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

I agree with PTC (comment #17) . . . we need to stop wasting resources on bombs and guns and transfer our focus to eradicating these horrific diseases ~ Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Diabetes.

There’s plenty of problems to go around and keep us busy.

22. Sandra Bell Kirchman - April 5, 2012

I watched a movie many years ago starring Jean Simmons (don’t remember name of movie). It was about a woman, talented, beautiful and gracious. I think she was a writer. Anyhow, the horror of how she slipped away day by day, and her own vivid horror of doing so, stayed with me for many years.

I have not experienced this disease personally, but that film alone developed the fear inside me of having Alzheimer’s and losing my mind. In the last ten years, my memory has been slipping badly, so I did some research on what Alzheimer’s is and what it does. I was relieved to find that I had few, if any, of the other symptoms. I am going to rely on that for now. I don’t want to be that afraid.

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

Yes. Losing your keys is not the same thing as losing your mind. Forgetting things is a normal part of aging . . . caused by overfilled filing cabinets.

In contrast, if you forget how to make a cup of tea, tie your shoes, or put on your shoes . . . that’s of greater concern.

Here’s to keeping our minds sharp and active.

23. William D'Andrea - April 5, 2012

I am now 66 years old, and I do wonder about my own memory sometimes. I have trouble remembering names, and when I’m speaking, I have trouble remembering the words I want to say. That’s not a problem when I’m writing, like I am now. This is when I have all the time I need to figure out the wording.

There are also other minor things, like momentarily forgetting where something is, etc. They’re things that no one else would notice; but I notice them.

I’ve been told that many senior citizens have the same problem; and that it’s just a normal part of aging, but not necessarily the beginning of alzheimer’s.

I’m not really worried. I’m just wondering, what are the differences between an aging memory, and the beginning of alzheimers?

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

See my response to Sandra (#22). Alzheimer’s is more than mere memory loss . . . it’s forgetting how to do things that you’ve done on “auto pilot” for years.

For example, knowing that you have to boil water to make a cup of tea or knowing that eggs belong in the refrigerator and pots and pans do NOT belong in the freezer.

From your comments, you seem of sound mind to me, William.

William D'Andrea - April 6, 2012

Thank you Nancy:
I do keep my mind active. I often say that the brain is not a muscle, but it should be exercised regularly. When I’m writing, which I do every day, I’m exercising my mind.

I also walk about an hour a day, every day, going along local streets, from one destination to another. I know that a lot of people belong to gyms, where they spend a half hour walking on a treadmill, and not getting any place. I, on the other hand, am outside in the fresh air and sunshine, passing ever changing scenery. It costs me nothing, and also smells a lot better. I’m also on a high fiber diet. That contains a high amount of anti-oxidants, and other things necessary for good health, both physical and mental.

Like I said, I’m 66 years old. I’m also in much better shape than many men my age. I know I’m in much better shape than my father was at this age; which I think is a good way to measure your own health.

nrhatch - April 6, 2012

Walking, especially outside, is great for our physical AND mental health.

Walk on!

24. jeanne - April 5, 2012

This disease scares the hell out of me…

nrhatch - April 5, 2012

It’s an awful way to go . . . a downward spiral that chips away at the fabric of who we are.

Here’s to finding a cure . . . soon!

25. bluebee - April 6, 2012

My husband and I disagree about this new test they have just announced for detecting someone’s chances of getting the disease – I would not want to know because then every little slip would become something suspicious; he said he would, because its progression could then be delayed with medication.

(thanks for the ping back, Nancy)

nrhatch - April 6, 2012

I’m with you, BB. I do NOT want to know the chances/odds/ probability of getting a disease. People beat statistical odds every day.

This sounds like a ploy by the pharmaceutical companies to scare people into taking drugs to guard against a future “possibility.”

Since drugs present their own, often serious, side effects . . . I wouldn’t take medication to guard against a disease I might never get.

26. wightrabbit - April 7, 2012

This is a story that echoes the experience of many of us. My mother-in-law has vascular dementia and it’s so distressing to see her deteriorate, so rapidly.Thank you for posting this review, Nancy, and for ending it by urging readers to do what we can, while we can. I may search for exactly the right words when I write – but I’m grateful that I can express myself so freely, whenever I wish.

nrhatch - April 7, 2012

Thanks, Jacqueline. It is difficult to witness the waning ability of parents and grandparents afflicted with dementia.

You’ve got the right idea . . . none of us know how long we have here . . . or whether our minds will remain with us until we reach the “finish line.” Best to make the most of THIS moment.

27. Team Oyeniyi - April 8, 2012

My mother’s mother suffered. She would think I was my mother. I don’t remember her very clearly, but her ability to converse at all was very limited.

A film doesn’t need a happy ending to be a great film. I think this is one I will see – but not just yet.

nrhatch - April 8, 2012

I favor light-hearted books and movies with happy endings . . . personal preference. But, I agree, movies don’t have to end on a “high note” to be worth watching.

Team Oyeniyi - April 8, 2012

I’m with you on that one – I figure there is enough sadness in the news, without going to see sad movies, I go to movies for entertainment.

Every now and then, though, I see something I think has merit to see even though I know I won’t be laughing.

28. judithhb - April 15, 2012

Hi Nancy – still catchin gup on my reading. Yes, I saw the movie and it was all the more poignant and telling because my Mother was going through the same thing.
And now there are days when for as moment I cant remember a word. A common word used all the time. But I just type on and it eventually returns. As you say – just keep writing, getting it all down now. Thanks for the reminder of this moving story. 🙂

nrhatch - April 15, 2012

We watch Jeopardy most weeknights while we eat . . . esoteric knowledge will pop into my head with ease (e.g., the French Huguenots), and then I will be UNABLE to remember the name of a famous movie star (e.g., George Clooney).

I guess it all depends on where and when we filed the info away in the first place. 😉

29. My Name is Jane | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life - April 17, 2012

[…] recently read this blog from Nancy at Spirit Lights the Way and began to think what it must be like to be in a situation where you really don’t remember […]

30. eof737 - April 23, 2012

Very sad … and I always loved her. 😦

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