Harrelson’s Alzheimer’s Hits Home
Like many a Mets fan, I was saddened to read Bob Klapisch’s New York Post article about how Buddy Harrelson, the first ever player inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, and the only person on the field for both World Series titles, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
For me, it was not just a heart breaking story because of the difficult road that lies ahead of both him and his family, but also because of my own personal experiences with it.
In my life, I have lost two people near and dear to me. With my grandfather dying when I was just five, and with my other grandfather having been dead long before I was born, there were two men who stepped up and became a grandfather of sorts to my brother and I.
The first was our neighbor, Al. Al was about as eccentric and joyful a person you would ever meet. A lover of music, he would play the organ all hours of the night. As a way to sneak ice cream past his disapproving wife, he would keep a carton of ice cream in the freezer that was just for my brother and I. He just so happened to make a cone for himself.
He was a larger than life individual who spun tale after tale regaling all of the neighborhood kids. If you were truly lucky, he would make you a rickety old box scooter.
That was until the eccentric man became the absent minded man. The thing that always stuck with me was how he’d drive his car to the grocery store, leave the car running, and he’d walk home. He did this on numerous occasions.
Finally, push came to shove one day when I was playing with my friends in the street. In a blind rage, he came out calling me by his eldest son’s name. He grabbed me by the arm, and tried to drag me back into the house to punish me. Not too long thereafter, Al got the nursing care he needed before eventually being moved a home. When I learned of his death as an adult, I was devastated.
I was also devastated when my Uncle Pat was diagnosed not too long thereafter.
Having the experiences with Al, I know I purposefully disregarded the signs – the inability to pronounce certain words, the lack of memory, but mostly just that look when you know they were lost. It was haunting.
The larger than life man we all knew, loved, feared, and respected was troubled. Instead of him chiding my mom about not letting me play football, as was his dream for me, he would tell old stories. He would retell the same stories about all the famous people he worked with during his life. His favorite stories were always the Frankie Valli ones. As time wore on, he even told those stories with less and less vigor.
Eventually, he was diagnosed, and he didn’t last long after his diagnosis. In the succeeding years, I always question whether that was a good or bad thing. Like with Al, I wanted the opportunity to have one last real conversation. Really, I wanted a chance to say goodbye to someone who knew I was saying goodbye.
Alzheimer’s is a soul crushing disease, not just for the patient, but for everyone who loves and holds that person dear. My sincerest sympathies go out to Buddy and his family. At this point, all I can offer them is empty platitudes, so I offer them in the hopes it helps.