Dear Family and Friends,
The news coming out of the Hodges household in recent years hasn't exactly been the kind of stuff Christmas newsletters are made out of, so we stopped the presses quite awhile ago. If you haven't seen me since Max and Jen's wedding, you probably know me as a violinist, a writer, a golfer, mother to a huge furry dog Dad hates, a student, or some combination of those things - but probably not as a runner, let alone a marathoner.
With Mom's mind steadily withdrawing and with Grandma Nancy's recent passing, I've started doing a lot of things I never thought I'd do. A good portion of every day is devoted - whether I like it or not - to worrying about what's going to happen to my family, especially Dad. I keep my phone on and with me at all times, in case someone needs me. I cry - a lot. And because things lately have a tendency of getting to be too much, too fast, I run.
Maybe I'm biased because she's my mom and well, she wanted me so badly she sent for me from halfway around the world, but if you're reading this, I have a hunch you agree - there's nothing about Janet Elizabeth Henry Hodges that isn't special and unique and wonderful. When she started losing her memories and her personality and everything that made her her, a big part of everyone who knew and loved her was lost, too. So when I decided I wanted to run a race in honor of Mom, there was no distance for me but the marathon - 26.2 miles - and no stage big enough but the streets of New York City.
So on November 6, 2011, before most people have started their first cup of Sunday morning coffee, I will be shaking off my nerves at the starting line of the biggest, most famous race in the world - the New York City Marathon. I am running as a member of Team Run2Remember, a group of 80something people who run in support of the Alzheimer's Association to fight back against the disease that has stolen memories from our loved ones. So not only have I dedicated myself to completing a 26.2 mile race for only the second time in my life, I have set an ambitious fundraising goal of $6000, a small amount when stacked against all of the things I'll never get to share or reflect on with Mom. And with 5.4 million Americans suffering from dementia and someone new developing symptoms every 69 seconds in the US alone, the need for research dollars is rapidly approaching critical mass. It's both terrifying AND unacceptable that Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, but the only one currently without a cure, hope for prevention, or a way to slow its progression. In 2011, Alzheimer's and other dementias cost the US government $183 billion, $11 billion more than last year. By the time I'm 70, costs will be up to $1.1 trillion and a cure will DEFINITELY be in the national interest. But who wants to wait that long?
This is where you come in. I've never once thought this goal was unattainable because of all the people out there who love me AND my family, and who miss the real Mom with all their hearts. I'm writing to request your support with a tax-deductible donation to the Alzheimer's Association in memory of all her lost memories and the lost opportunity to make more. I can accept credit card contributions in any denomination on my personal New York City Marathon fundraising page, at http://2011teamr2r.kintera.org/elizabeth, or checks can be mailed to my home address: [omitted, but I can E-mail it upon request]. If you have questions, don't hesitate to get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org, or [phone omitted].
Of course, it would be remiss of me to ask for an "investment" in my undertaking without providing an investor report, of sorts. To this end, I've started a blog with the aim of writing about my life as framed by both my running adventures (and misadventures) and my experiences with Mom's condition and the effects it's had on my family. It's usually not a very easy thing to write, and from what I've heard, it's equally difficult to read, but if you're interested, I'd love for you to join me there - http://roadfullofpromise.blogspot.com.
When I initially received notification of my acceptance to the team, Dad was the first person I called to tell the good news. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when wrestling with the best way to personalize my fundraising page, that I found the best way to tell Mom - by telling everyone who loves her.
Remember the journal you gave me when I was younger - the shiny red one with the Labrador puppies on the cover? You told me if there was anything I wanted to know and might be too embarrassed to ask out loud, I could write it in a note to you in that book and you'd write back to me. We only wrote back and forth a few times before one of us lost track of the book...but I found it on a bookshelf the other day. My silly questions - written in teeny tiny handwriting and all signed "Me" - made me laugh, but your careful, considered responses, written so non-judgmentally and with so much love, made me cry. I've put the book in a safe place, where it can still be our little secret.
When I couldn't think of what to write here, that book was the first thing I thought of. Twentysomething years later, confronted with the need to "write something meaningful" on this page, the only way the words are actually coming to me are in a letter to you - and believe me, I've tried pretty much every other angle possible. I think this is what they call "coming full circle," except, in a horribly unfair twist of fate, you'll be the only one who doesn't get to read it.
Remember the time you decided to move that ugly white-tiled coffee table from the living room to the family room and you had a five year-old Max screaming and crying, clinging to your leg, begging you, "Don't change! Don't change!" I'm not sure if anyone else actually remembers that, but for some reason, I think of that moment a lot lately. At the time, I thought he was being stupid...but nowadays, there's a big part of me that screams every time something happens that wouldn't have if you were still healthy and wholly you. We know you're not getting your memories back, and that your Mom-ness is gone, but as all of our lives move on without you, I think it's like we feel the space all the more as time passes. Does anyone ever get used to having their heart broken over and over again? Would anyone ever WANT to?
If I were a more religious person, I could fill that emptiness with my faith in God and my belief that he has a plan for everyone...but I'm not. I believe in God, but I'm also pretty sure that this couldn't be a part of anyone's plan. It's horrible and evil and awful and we miss you every day, even though you're still, in the vital signs sense of the word, with us. There are so many things I'd like to ask you, and so many moments I wish you could have been a part of, that it could crush me if I let it. I know the same is true for Hanna, Max, Alex, and Dad.
It seems like people pat me on the back an awful lot these days and tell me to take care of my family. But really, I think we take care of each other. After all, we learned from one of the best, and I think we do you proud in the way we've come together. It's for you and Grandma that I'm signing up for this, but it's with the strength of Hanna, Max, Alex, Dad, and everyone that loves you and misses the real you with all their heart that I'm going to be able to finish it. I can't think of a nobler cause to run for than the end of this terrible disease that's robbed you of your you, and so many families of the people they love most. I wish you could be there with me, but in a sense, you'll be with me every step of the way. With any luck, we'll get a chance to talk about it someday.
In the meantime, don't worry if you can't remember. We'll never forget.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your love and support.