Skip to comments.Reaganís family await merciful release (THE GREAT MAN ALERT)
Posted on 09/28/2002 10:53:56 PM PDT by MadIvan
HE was a key figure in ripping down the iron curtain and ending the cold war, which brought the 20th century to a close with America as the only superpower. Yet Ronald Reagans horizons have shrunk to his bedside as Alzheimers disease ravages his mind.
Michael Reagan, his elder son, believes that death would be a merciful release for the former American president.
Its time for him to go. Its very sad, he said in an interview. Im going to hate the day Dad dies. You think you are ready for it, but you never are. But I sometimes pray that if God wants to take him home, then take him home.
Reagan, 91, sleeps on and off for 18 hours a day, according to his son. He was always a sound sleeper, even when his policies were under attack in the 1980s.
His waking hours are a nightmare of befuddlement.
Reagan fell in the bedroom of his Bel Air home in California in January 2001, broke a hip and has been bedridden ever since. He is fed, washed and cared for 24 hours a day by medical staff, but can neither leave his bed, even for the most basic functions, nor make himself understood.
Some days are better than others but they are all sad days. You see a man who is referred to as the Great Communicator and he cant communicate because he doesnt know who he is. He talks gibberish, said his son.
Reagan does not know that his daughter Maureen died last August of melanoma at the age of 60. On the day of her funeral he stayed at home. You wouldnt have wanted to tell him, said Michael. Even if he could comprehend, he would have no way of expressing his feelings.
Michael, 57, was adopted as a baby by Reagan and his first wife, the actress Jane Wyman. According to family legend three-year-old Maureen was in a Hollywood chemists when the pharmacist asked what she wanted. She put 97 cents on the counter and said: I want a baby brother. Her birth had been difficult, so the family chose to adopt.Today Reagans son is a radio chat show host in California who buried some of his family demons with an autobiography more than a decade ago. The children had many run-ins with their emotionally distant father but Michael now visits him once a month. He doesnt know me, but I go there for Nancy, to show up. I hug and kiss him, he said.
In some ways I go there out of guilt. Were not like every family I was at boarding school from the age of five, so Im seeing him more than I used to. Its the way our family works, by appointment its always been by appointment.
Nancy, who was 81 in July, still looks at Reagan adoringly, said Michael. She wants others to remember him the way he was but even she confessed last week that she was lonely. She was not sure that her husband knew her any more and said: When you come right down to it, youre in it alone and theres nothing anybody can do for you.
The strain is beginning to tell on her. Shes frail, said Michael. Shes much frailer than she would have been because of Dads illness. Shes a professional worrier. Shes always carried a burden of some sort. She worries about what people are saying about Dad, about his place in history.
I worry that when Dad goes Nancy wont be far behind because she lives and breathes for Dad. She need have no fear about historys verdict on Reagan, whose virtues are frequently invoked in this post-September 11 world.
George W is closer to my fathers ideology than he is to his fathers, said Michael, who believes that the September 11 attacks would not have happened under Reagan. He responded to the Muammar Gadaffis. They knew where he stood. Despite backing Bush, he thinks his father would have disapproved of the giant conversation under way over Iraq.
Libya was bombed in 1986 after a terrorist attack on Americans in West Berlin. Dad didnt hold a press conference saying what well do with Gadaffi. He just did it, said Michael.
Reagans descent into Alzheimers was remarkably rapid after he left the White House in 1989 and soon became impossible to conceal.
Michael said Reagans great ally, Margaret Thatcher, was guest of honour at a birthday party for him in 1993.
Dad gave Maggie a great introduction, as he always did, and she got a standing ovation. Then the applause stopped and Dad reintroduced her. Everybody stood up and applauded again as if nothing had happened.
After that Nancy and Dad felt it was time to start thinking about getting the word out about Alzheimers.
In 1994 Reagan published a touching letter about his plight in which he said: I only wish I could spare Nancy from the painful experience.
He could not. By 1997 he was still active some golf, walking on the beach but his mind was faltering. He would spend hours sweeping leaves from the swimming pool and his secret servicemen would quietly put them back, simply to keep him occupied.
Every now and then he would show a flash of insight, his son recalled. My daughter Ashley hugged him and said, Grandpa, I love you. He looked directly at me and said in a full voice, You know why Im hugging her? Because shes a she. Hed remembered how Michael had complained about his lack of hugs as a child.
Now Michael understands that Reagan was a typical post-war father. At the time, however, the children were often unforgiving and even today the family is politically divided.
At the launch of the battleship USS Ronald Reagan last year, Nancys children Patti Davis and Ron Reagan stayed away. Theyre the 1960s generation, the liberals. To them the ship was a killing machine, said Michael. I felt sorry for Nancy that day. She fought hard to have the ship commissioned before my father died. It had never been done in anybodys lifetime before, so it was an honour. I was there with my wife and children. George W Bush was there.
Nancy and I have not always had the greatest of relationships and I began to wonder if the problem was not that shes so angry with me but that shes jealous that the Wyman kids Maureen and I would show up no matter what was going on in the family.
Maureen was Nancys chief support until she succumbed to her own illness. In the past year Patti has grown closer to her mother and believes the reconciliation makes her father happy. Nancy said last week: She thinks he has a feeling of the two of us together. As she says, his soul doesnt have Alzheimers.
Michael is grateful. When Maureen passed away, Patti stepped up and shes there with her mother all the time. Its been good for Nancy and its great for Patti. Shes finally getting close to Dad.
Maureen sacrificed her own health, Michael believes, by campaigning non-stop for an Alzheimers cure instead of fighting her cancer.The time is nearing when Reagan will join her. Maureen has been waiting for him for a year and has probably got a good spot for him beside her. Shed love it. No brothers, no sisters, no moms. Just her and Dad. For Michael, it is a consoling thought.
God Bless You, Uncle Ron.
It'll be a sad day, but the Gipper got his money's worth outta life...MUD
What hurts is that there are so many battles that we could use his help on.
It is up to our generation to pick up the Flag of FReedom, Slay the Evil RATS, and win those battles ourselves.
BTW...if Reagan's healthy and stout in '92, Bill Clinton wouldda never happened.
One joke that President Reagan made during his illness that reached this side of the Atlantic is that apparently he said the one advantage of Alzheimers was that he was able to forget that Clinton was President.
God Bless Ronald Reagan
You are about to set a new record for the brevity of a stay on here.
What struck me is the thought that Nancy will pass shortly afterwards. You see that in truly devoted couples, that when one goes, the other follows - as if half of one's soul has passed from death to life, the other shall go too.