Margaret Thatcher has Alzheimer's, and some people are unhappy you now know that.
Her daughter, Carol, revealed the truth in a new biography of her mother, "A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl: A memoir." For eight years now, the former prime minister of Britain has been declining, traveling, as Ronald Reagan put it, "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."
It is a dimly lit journey more and more people are having to travel an estimated 5.2 million Americans now suffer from it. And yet there are those who would prefer the road remain dark.
That Thatcher's daughter would tell the world of this condition is a betrayal that contributes nothing "other than prurience to her mother's personal and political legacy." That is the opinion of Amanda Platell, the former press secretary for a Tory leader in Britain, who wrote those words in The Daily Mail. It's similar to what Ann Widdecombe wrote in the Daily Express: "Such recollections might be acceptable in an autobiography written at the end of one's own working life and long after one's parents have passed on but not now while her mum is still living and seen in public."
Because, of course, it's best to deal with things like Alzheimer's alone and without any discussion or support from others.
That old-fashioned notion, even in stodgy old England, seems astoundingly wrong in this age of information and medical discovery. Even the meager details provided in the news accounts I read this week about how the daughter years ago was surprised to hear her mother ask the same questions over and over, or how, on the day of the 2004 terrorist bombings in Madrid, she quickly forgot the news and had to be told again, or how she kept forgetting her husband had died and had to absorb the grief again and again were a source of comfort to me.
It reminded me of the evening a few years ago when I spoke to my dad by phone, trying to comfort him because he had just been told that his mother and all his siblings were dead some for as long as 50 years. It reminded me of the day he attended a gathering at my house, where I have lived with my wife and children for most of two decades, and suddenly exclaimed, "This is your house?"
Thatcher was said to have a mind so keen she could absorb new facts instantly and with expert analysis. My father was a graduate of Yale University who once was listed in Who's Who because he pioneered a computer failure-rate system in the 1960s. That's why I was so astounded to hear him confuse facts and forget things he had taught me his entire life; why I can't forget the day he told a nurse trying to diagnose his condition that he thought it was still 1948.
The brilliant weren't supposed to go dotty. But now we know better, and Margaret Thatcher's daughter has brought that truth to a lot more people. None of us is immune, and many of us are going to travel that dim road into the sunset.
Science seems eager to fill the never-ending conveyor belt of information about how to ward off Alzheimer's. Keep the mind active through reading, writing and puzzles. Don't let your waistline expand and exercise regularly. Cigarettes ... well, no one is too sure. Smoking may actually reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer's, but it will kill you in many other ways.
But while the facts and speculations swirl, I am haunted by a notebook I recently found among my late aunt's personal things. It was a record of my grandfather's behavior. As near as I can tell, my aunt would leave for work before the nurse came each day, and the nurse would leave before my aunt came home. The notebook was their way of communicating. It told what now is an all-too-familiar tale for me of behavior we now associate with Alzheimer's.
Grandfather died when I was in my 20s, but no one talked much about the details.