In a new short-film documentary entitled A Marriage to Remember, filmmaker Banker White takes a starkly intimate look into his parents’ struggle with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
In her youth, Pam White was a model and an actress. Later, she devoted her entire life to her family and her kids. Now, they’re paying her back with around-the-clock in-home care.
The film visits Pam at an interesting moment in the course of her disease. For the most part, she’s still in command of her mental faculties. In one candid car ride, her son asks whether the confusion has been difficult for her. Wittingly, she replies, “I’m not confused. You think I’m confused?”
She isn’t arguing or in denial. She’s just being precise. Confusion isn’t exactly her issue just yet. Ultimately, Banker agrees. That wasn’t the right word.
It’s a telling moment that keenly illustrates the sneaky progression of Alzheimer’s. Here is a woman who still recognizes, still remembers, still engages in conversation, and is clearly still quite sharp. And yet she is also undeniably struggling.
Her husband has to pull her out of bed and help her shuffle from one room to the next and down the stairs. He tells us that the change in just one year has been “profound.” Her son says there are early mornings where he’s sure she doesn’t recognize them at first. “That is beginning,” her husband says.
But while the narrative of Alzheimer’s is often a sad one, sorrow is not the prevailing sentiment in A Marriage to Remember — and that is what makes it so impactful in its brief, eight-minute runtime.
“Initially, I was quite distressed,” Pam tells us. “…But it doesn’t really change anything… I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”
Blessed. What an outlook. And truly, the film is as much husband Ed’s story as it is Pam’s. It reveals the unshakeable strength of a marriage that is so strong that not even Alzheimer’s can break it. Theirs is a love for times both better and worse. It is truly inspiring.
Silver linings and love help to redeem even the darkest diagnoses. A Marriage to Remember is a testament to that. It’s a very short film, and I think you’ll be glad you watched it. You can find it streaming for free at The New York Times.
If you and your family are currently going through an Alzheimer’s experience of your own, I also recommend getting in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as they offer a number of programs and services that can be of great help.