George Will

The aging that conquered Louise was, like war, a mighty scourge, and, like war, elicited nobility from those near its vortex. The nearest was Fred Will, who died eight years ago, at the end of his ninth decade.

A few years before his death, Fred, a reticent romantic, whose reticence may have been an effect of his tinge of melancholy, shared with his children some poetry he had written for Louise, including this from 1933:

The warm sun
beams through the clear air
Upon glistening leaves.

And the birds
sweep in long arcs
Over the green grass.

They seem to say,
"This might last forever!"
But it doesn't.

But it lasted more than six decades, which is forever, as foreverness is allotted to us.

A retired professor of philosophy, Fred probably knew what Montaigne, quoting Cicero, meant when he said that to study philosophy is to prepare to die. Fred was, strictly speaking, philosophic about his wife's affliction. A common connotation of ``philosophic'' is placid acceptance of what can be comprehended but not altered. However, Fred's philosophic response to the theft of his wife by aging was much richer than mere stoicism grounded in fatalism. It was a heroic act of will, arising from clearsightedness about the long trajectory of Louise's life.

He understood this stern paradox: Families seared by a loved one's dementia face the challenge of forgetting. They must choose to achieve what dementia inflicts on its victims -- short-term memory loss. They must restore to the foreground of remembrance the older memories of vivacity and wit.

``All that we can know about those we have loved and lost,'' Thornton Wilder wrote, ``is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.'' Louise, released from the toils of old age and modern medicine, is restored to clarity.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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