"Lee Gorewitz lives in a care facility for Alzheimer's patients, but she is not simply waiting to die. She is full of curiosity and frustration, struggling to remember herself and make sense of a world that is falling away from her.
"In Danville, California, the Traditions
Alzheimer's Care Unit houses 20 residents, most of whom are shepherded by
caregivers through scheduled activities such as balloon baseball and bingo. For
them, life is routine.
For Lee Gorewitz, life is an odyssey.
From the moment
she wakes up, Lee wanders to the boundaries of the unit. Along her route, she
gazes through windows, examines other residents' rooms, and strains to see
beyond the front entrance. An enigmatic outsider, Lee is on a quest for
something that she can neither articulate nor comprehend; she is interested
only in where her instincts guide her.
Drawn to family photographs scattered
throughout her bedroom, Lee is unable to identify herself in the pictures.
Combing through the items in her closet, she mistakes an everyday outfit for
her wedding dress. Seeking answers elsewhere, Lee finds a birthday card but
cannot recognize that she is the "Mom" to whom the card is addressed.
Exasperated and missing her children, Lee embraces a make believe family of stuffed
Although she lacks the ability to grasp memories, Lee's attempts at
recollection demonstrate unusual and poetic candor. Reflecting on her
birthplace, she says, "Brooklyn, it's right behind you." Regarding
her deceased husband, she professes, "How do I even say it? The air ...
was very good." Considering love, she intones, "That's a damn good
thing to work with."
With a past that is out of reach, Lee turns her
attention to her present surroundings. When in good spirits, she is near
angelic: consoling heartbroken women, kissing caregivers, and shaking a tail
feather even after the music has stopped. But with no realistic option for
leaving, Lee gives in to frustration. She argues with a table mate during
lunch, kicks a bouncy ball at a decrepit man's legs, and unapologetically tells
a sickly woman that she is going to die.
Although Lee struggles to coexist
with the other residents, she tries to accept her new home. On a final evening
lap around the unit, Lee approaches her caregiver and says, "Now I'm going
to my family. Aren't you mine?"
Widowed, cloistered, and slowly undone by
her inability to think or speak clearly, Lee has every reason to succumb to the
expectations of her conditions. Instead, she defies despondency. When she
breaks down, she rebuilds. When she loses words, she summons emotions. And,
despite the small defeats of her efforts, she remains an exceptional and
Immersed in the confounding logic of Alzheimer's, Lee's story
adheres to the discordant, but never fully crippling rhythms of the disease.
Here is one extraordinary woman who will not let us forget her‚ even as she
struggles to remember her self.