One in an occasional series.

I saw one. Last night. Again.

A ghost.

I don't know what else to call it, but it's not the flowing bedsheet apparition that you see in cartoons. Nor is it one of those ectoplasmic gloops in the Ghostbusters movies. This one moves like a shadow, a silhouette of quick, sharp, knife-thrust angles. It doesn't make a sound. And neither do I … well not counting my heart, which is beating like a symphony orchestra's percussion section.

He…or She…or It is here and gone in a finger snap, having done nothing menacing, and yes, I know what you're thinking: How about laying off that midnight pizza, Heart Burn Breath?

All I know for sure is that it first began to show up when I was almost four years into having been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

The man in the white lab coat has suggested a variety of neurological possibilities and assorted manifestations. But I was looking for something exotic.

Of course. It could only be Al, my Alzheimer's nemesis. Or as many e-mailers have christened him: That Little Rat Bastard. Al takes great comfort in my discomfort.

As always, though, we'll not permit him an inch of surrender. Remember our mantra: Resist. Persist.

Never, ever give up.

The Shadow knows

Do you believe?

In ghosts? Or angels? Or spirits?

I am sitting here in a chair and with my right hand gently stroking my dog's head.

She died six months ago.

She isn't real, of course. Not tangible. Probably my imagination. But there is something soothing here, something gentle and comforting. It lasts for a moment, that's all, and then without a sound, gone.

I look around, sheepishly. And then go through the whole house, looking … looking … looking …

"Missing something, Buddy Boy?"

Al. That Rat Bastard!

He makes the room go cold … like the morgue.

Now I know that with age has come a nocturnal restlessness, which has me prowling room to room and pausing for the inevitable pit stops. … Three is tolerable, and any more than that takes me to the refrigerator, where I survey a field of leftovers, none of which is worth risking 2 a.m. fire alarm chili.

One more lap around the living room and I trundle off to bed … checking first for the reassurance of a dry landing and proof that Depends are indeed our friends.

No, wait. False Alarm. I forgot where I put that … uh, huh … uh … oh yes, now I remember … actually, I don't … because that's the curse of That Rat Bastard Al — stealing our memories, gnawing away at them silently, leaving us befuddled. … Something is not quite right … out of focus…

Did you see the light?

Well, did you?

You know the one … the one that's come for you, the one bathed in blinding light, with a halo of gold, and with the answer to The Great Mystery of Life. …What happens to us when we are gone?

This is delicate territory. For we all have our beliefs:

  • Nothing.

  • Eternal bliss.

  • Not sure but hopeful.

  • If they're keeping score up there, I'm hoping my total pluses are one more than my minuses.

There are those who are certain, steadfast, and unshakable. And those who are doubtful but in their heart of hearts hope that the true believers may be onto something here.

My grandmother, a most gentle and God-fearing soul, drew her last breath at 95, having pronounced herself at peace and ready for whatever was to come.

"I've had a good run, no complaints … none …"

We should all be so fortunate.


That's what they're called, right? Those little black bugs that zoom in front of you.


They appear out of nowhere, do a couple of the loop-de-loops, then flip away. Like the UFOs of the insect world.

I know of no one who has ever captured one. Mostly they just seem to evaporate.

You can go ahead and take a swipe, and good luck with that, but they can shift shapes, which doesn't seem fair.

Just before we moved, we were treated to a colored lights show — reds and golds outlining the houses and trees, only no one could see it but me … and no, I haven't been nipping from the Merlot.

Perhaps a moving gift from Al?

As we shall see, he comes with us. Alzheimer's knows no boundaries.


A confession:

I am a hugger.

Big time

I come to this stance late in life. Wrap both arms around you and squeeze.

My generation was taught to stay at a distance. Respectful. Firm handshake. Quick tap on the shoulder if you are feeling adventurous.

Keep buttoned up. Embracing is for funerals. Weddings. Graduations.

Can't say for sure when I softened. But I think it was around the arrival of Al. Alzheimer's brings with it sorrow and misery and before I knew it I was offering solace and comfort to those whose lives he touched.

We all, every one of us, has a load to carry, and while a hug may seem a trifle, it has remarkable recuperative powers.

And isn't it deliciously ironic how this show of affection just fries Al?

A couple of passing thoughts:

We are elders, remember, so be careful. Somewhere between a Strauss waltz grip and shouting Bingo!

You may hear suggestions that hugging repeatedly is a cheap thrill. And I can only say that I am making up for lost time.

A final thought: There is nothing in this world that can't be made better by a hug … and chocolate …

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist and author of Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life.