December 16, 2009

"Losing Herbie" hits close to home for Strayer Univ. student

Strayer University sociology professor, Terry Abramson, asked her class to write an essay on our film Losing Herbie. Below is the first of the five student essays that we will be posting here on our blog. Please welcome our first student, John Washington.

The purpose of this essay is to inform the reader about my personnel reaction to the video entitled "Losing Herbie". This essay will convey my feelings about the three subject matters that struck me the most as I reflected on the video. I have first hand experience with this subject matter, as I am the son of an Alzheimer’s victim. I use the term victim to express Alzheimer’s disease as a thief who has yet to be caught.

I realize that this essay is to be written about the three most shocking issues that stand out to me in the video but this topic hit me too close to home to only write about the video. I must say that I was not emotionally or geographically prepared to watch this video. I was not emotionally prepared due to the fact that this essay is the most communication about this issue that I have participated in since my mother’s death from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on September 28, 2007. 20 days after my birthday.

I was not geographically prepared because my internet service has been temporally interrupted; however I found a solution to this problem at my second job. In exchange for computer time in the back, I help my fellow sports bar co-workers with their clean up duties at closing while they manage my area. Someone always goes for the deal because they get to keep my tips.

As soon as I realized what the video was about I stopped it because I could feel suppressed emotions beginning to work their way to the surface and I didn’t want my co-workers to see my reaction. My eyes began to get glassy and my nose started to run just from watching 2 or 3 minutes of the video. Damn! I thought I was done with that part of my life. I never thought I would have to write about it. I decided to watch a little at a time while moving back and forth from work to the video until I got through it.

Finding out

Watching the "Losing Herbie" video for the first time made me think about the very first time that I witnessed my mother’s disease in action. In 2002 I took a vacation to visit my Mom at her home in Asbury Park N.J. While at her home she said she wanted to speak to someone about a bill she was disputing with a local heating and air company who claimed to performed work on her furnace.

While we were sitting in the office of the heating and air company, my Mom vehemently claimed that the service technician had never been to her home and that she had never seen him before and therefore was not paying this bill. Her testimony was so convincing that she had everyone in the room convinced that there must be some kind of mistake about who the bill was sent to and the home the work was performed in.

The manager decided to call the technician who was in the field at the time and asked him to come to the shop. When the technician arrived, he confirmed that my mother was definitely the home owner and in fact she offered him some pistachio ice cream, which also happens to be the only ice cream my mother ever bought home as far as I can remember. At this point I’m thinking to myself, how could he have known about the ice cream?

His statement was so shocking to her that she got up and as though her life depended on it, yelled “you’re a liar”! I still remember how confused I was when the technician described the front room, kitchen and basement area of her home to me.

That was the first time that I knew something was terribly wrong. I convinced her to let me take her to the hospital the next day. They told me that she had been transported to their facility before, because she had become lost while trying to drive home. A copy of her records indicated that she had been diagnosed with dementia in 1995. The only thing I knew about Alzheimer’s disease at that time was that it had something to do with memory loss for elderly people.

Effect on the family

My Second thought about the video was about the level of stress and frustrations that were evident within the family. There are forces that will rip at the fabric of Herbie’s family as the years tic by. I feel like most people who make the decision to take care of a parent with Alzheimer’s don’t really know how it will affect their current lifestyle. I consider myself to be someone who thinks about a problem and then develops steps to solve the problem. In my opinion there is no way for any family to be half way prepared to handle a task of this magnitude.

Long Term care and death

In 2003, I moved my Mother in with my family, this was the third issue the grabbed my attention in the video. We had a 7 and 8 year old boy and girl that needed a lot of attention in school, sports and at home. My wife and I both worked full time jobs and the kids were in sports all year. I felt like the family in the video was very much like my family when in it came to allocating time and resources to Herbie.

The strain on the family budget will become the topic for many late night arguments. There will be bills that will progressively grow larger as the disease progresses. At one point in time I could barely afford the $15 dollar registration fees to get my kids into the seasonal sport because I was spending so much money on my Moms medication.

After my Moms death in 2007, it’s clear that only one half of my family recovered. The kids bounced back with energy, while my wife and I still have not fully recovered from ill feelings of past conversations.


I’m willing to bet that when Herbie’s family found out the bad news about her dad having Alzheimer’s disease they begin to search for all the information they could find on the subject, without devoting too much time to the hunt for information they soon find that they were dealing with a criminal that prays on people from all walks of life. They soon find out that this criminal works slow and steady until he robs his victims of every brain activity that is needed to maintain life.

There are no winners in this battle to hold on to a loved one. The family and the patient take the brunt of this storm head on, and when the clouds clear there are only casualties left to sort through the debris.

I would wager a bet that says regardless of faith, race, or culture. That if a person could see a one hour film summarizing what their life would be like when faced with the onset and final outcome of Alzheimer’s. That 90 out of 100 people would say “I want to be euthanized when I reach a particular stage.”

- John Washington