It has taken me a longer minute than I wanted to it to take, to complete this post from two months ago. Back on July 25th, Us Against Alzheimer’s Network hosted a call with Mark Shriver who discussed his book “A Good Man Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.”
I didn’t know what to expect from the call or from Mark; but the fact that Mark shares in this journey of being an Alzheimer’s advocate and having had a parent that battled Alzheimer’s, that alone makes us connected. On the call, Mark shared his reasons for writing the book and the feelings he experienced as a son watching his father battle this illness.
He expressed he had been hard on himself, wondering if he was doing enough to help his father. He questioned how could he achieve a better balance in his own life, how could he be a better father and husband and do it with a lot of joy as he had seen his father do on a daily basis.
When Sargent Shriver was dying and after he passed, Mark said people who knew his father, whether it was a politician or a waitress at his favorite restaurant; would say that his father was a “good man.” After hearing it more than a few times, he began to think about what being “a good man” meant. He knew it was a nice thing people would say to you after losing his father, but he knew they meant something different and it moved him to write “A Good Man Rediscovering My Father Sargent Shriver.” “A Good Man” is a memoir about his father’s journey, as a husband and father, about his faith in God, the causes he championed and Mark’s own self-acceptance.
If you do your research you’ll learn that Sargent Shriver was the husband to Eunice Kennedy, he was father to Maria, Mark, Timothy, Robert III and Anthony, was the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps, he founded Job Corps, VISTA, and Head Start; was the architect on the War on Poverty, was active with the Special Olympics and he had been the US Ambassador to France. But the insight Mark gave us; that his father was one of inclusion of all people and of all faiths, that he had great courtesies and thought about people and believed what brings us together is much more powerful that what separates us, is something you could never get from a page on the internet or from a book written by anyone other than a child of Shriver’s.
Mark, like many of us with parents who have Alzheimer’s, watched this disease strip his father of the past and future and from his loved ones. He spoke of how caregiving is really lovegiving, a better term for a challenging position; and that caregivers should reach out for help. In saying this, he did recognize that it’s not always easy to reach out for help and that his family had assistance for his father, but those of us who face this illness know, it doesn’t remove the feelings we have whether you’re the lone lovegiver or whether you have help.
Being more familiar with Mark’s sister Maria, it was interesting to learn more about Mark, his views and his feelings. I wondered if his views “and feelings” as a man and mine as a woman, would find common ground. And in listening to Mark and others on the phone during the Q&A session, you find it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, rich or poor, Alzheimer’s is the great equalizer that brings us to the same shared experience.
I lost my mother in April so like Mark, I now knew how it felt to lose a parent after battling Alz. Personally I had been and still am going through the what is my role now? I had the opportunity to ask Mark about his feelings after losing his father; did he have moments of feeling lost, perhaps confused on what his role was going to be and he said he did experience some of hat I’m going through; feelings of being lost, confused and at times guilt. But this process brought him to write this book.
He said on occasion he was asked as to why he wrote the book and why he revealed so much about his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s? Those of us in the trenches know that acceptance of what’s happening with our loved one isn’t always an easy place to get to, but I believe Mark’s reply to that question, “every family is struggling with something”, gives us the courage to not only accept what’s happening, but to know we’re not alone in the fight.
And to see more of Mark, check out this link from his appearance on the Colbert Report (click on the picture):