The ritual was an inevitable part of much of my life. As a teenager, I’d be called into the breakfast room where one of my parents would hand me a section of the daily newspaper with a column starred. “Read this,” my parent would say, pointing to the “Dear Abby” column. As a young adult, those columns (along with those by Dear Abby’s twin sister, who wrote the Ann Landers advice columns) would be part of a large wad of clippings that one or the other parent would mail me on a regular basis. And I had to read them or I wouldn’t be prepared to answer the query of what I thought about the advice when I spoke to my parents during our weekly phone calls.
So it’s sad to hear that such a rich (and informative) part of my life, Pauline Friedman Phillips – aka Dear Abby – has died at the age of 94 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Her column first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. From that initial beginning, the column was syndicated and now appears in 1,400 newspapers worldwide and receives more than 10,000 letters and emails a week. Her daughter, Jeanne Phillips (using the pseudonym Abigail), now writes the column.
In a recent posting on uexpress.com, Jeanne offers a salute to her mother’s struggle with dementia: “Over the last quarter century Alzheimer's disease had stolen away bit by bit her remarkable intellect, but she battled her illness with courage and dignity.”
Twenty-five years. That’s a heartbreaking long time to watch someone slowly slip away. During that time, we’ve seen Y2K, 9-11 and the television show, Lost. We’ve gone from the impeachment proceedings for President Bill Clinton to a Supreme Court decision that decided the 2000 presidential election to the election of the first African-American president to the rise of the Tea Party. We’ve seen the rise of fax as the new-fangled form of communication, followed by the emergence of email and now the prevalence of texting on your smart phone (LOL!). We’ve seen the AIDS epidemic emerge, a housing bubble burst and major changes in geopolitical relationships. That’s lot of fodder for Dear Abby to respond to as readers’ questions poured in.
Yet during those 25 years, we haven’t found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, there has been progress in the research on this brutal disease, but it’s come slowly, moving at a creep rather than through any major breakthroughs. And this disease continues to claim more victims. Just look at the numbers provided by the Alzheimer’s Association for 2012 alone:
- More than 5.4 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease.
- One in eight older Americans has the disease.
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the US.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 that can’t be prevented, cured or slowed.
- More than 15 million American s provide unpaid care that’s valued at $210 billion for people with dementia.
- Finally, payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the U.S. in 2012 alone.
So yes, Pauline Friedman Phillips was one in many millions, but she was also one in a million. “Please join me and offer a prayer for my mother,” her daughter wrote. “She had an amazing journey from Sioux City, Iowa, to shaking hands with U.S. presidents and British royalty. Ask that her spirit be surrounded by the souls of the many individuals whom she loved and who loved her. She has sat in God's waiting room for so many years, and now may their souls be joined together.”