By Daughters Martha L. Hansen & Ellen Dunham
In his soon-to-be-published book, Forgetting and Forgotten: Dementia and The Right To Die, our father, W. Lee Hansen, describes the mother we once knew, a woman known and loved for her sense of humor, her intelligence, her love of the English language, and her dedication to her teaching career. How tragic it was that our highly verbal mother, who loved nothing more than a lively conversation, came to the end of her life virtually mute. Likewise, her physical activity dwindled, as did her always active and vibrant social life. The crossword puzzles she had enjoyed, the books she had devoured, the friends she had treasured – all were lost to her as she was left isolated in a world devoid of meaning and filled with fear, anger, and sadness. Adding to the poignancy of the situation was the fact that dementia was a fate our mother had long dreaded, and she had for years been a steadfast supporter of Death with Dignity.
This left us facing an agonizing irony: If Mom had been able to exercise a choice in the matter, we have no doubt that she would have chosen to end her life. Indeed, so strongly had she expressed this feeling over the years that we would not have hesitated to assist her in this had she asked. Alas, given that she was no longer legally competent to make this decision, we could do nothing to honor that long-held wish. Thus, she was forced to continue to suffer until she finally, mercifully, slipped away. And so ends the story of “The Remarkable Sally Hansen.”
At the same time, another story continues, one that we feel deserves equal attention: that of The Remarkable W. Lee Hansen. During the period of time these events took place, we, Lee and Sally’s daughters, were both living elsewhere, one across the country and one abroad. Our father frequently sought our advice and kept us well informed of all the twists and turns and ups and downs of our mother’s health situation; however, because he did so in such a calm, rational – even stoic – manner, we remained to a large degree unaware of the depth and complexity of the struggle he was engaged in.
Being the competent, highly intellectual, and even-tempered individual that he is, Dad never made things sound terribly alarming or upsetting; indeed, he seemed to take everything in stride and never demonstrated signs of fear or distress, much less hopelessness or despair, always simply focusing on the next problem to be solved. In an extension of the academic approach he had honed over the course of his career, he doggedly gathered data and assiduously recorded it in an attempt to take what control he could over the unpredictable events that were unfolding.
Dad handled our mother’s hospital admissions, endured her volatile moods,
vetted the care options available to her, and supervised her caretaking in several different facilities to make sure that she received the best care possible. He was indefatigable in his unending efforts to brighten what was left of Mom’s life, visiting her almost daily, bringing her treats, and decorating her room with pictures and familiar keepsakes aimed at making each new environment as comforting and nonthreatening as possible. In demonstrating his love and concern by so closely attending to her needs, Dad inspired the affection, admiration, and allyship of the caregivers tasked with the difficult job of caring for her, thus ensuring that she always remained in loving hands.
Over the course of the years, all of this added up to a formidable task that for many people would have been a crushing burden, but for our father was a load he carried with uncommon grace, almost single-handedly and without complaint.
Although we dearly miss our mother’s wit and wisdom and grieve with our father for the loss of the deep and lasting bond they shared, we feel so very blessed that our amazing dad is still with us. He has persevered through so much to honor Mom’s memory and pass along the fruits of his hard-won experience in an attempt to help others, hopefully including the readers of his book. We salute you, Dad, and offer you our heartfelt thanks.
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.