Having completed a draft post on the serious business of burgers, I am setting it aside, because something else weighs on my mind.

The story of Joe McLeod, the 70-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who shoved 87-year-old Frank Alexander to his death in a personal care home, is quite possibly one of the saddest Manitoban stories in recent memory.

Oh, this is not for lack of options. Our business knows tragedy, and knows grief. Our business cloaks itself in sadness with every day’s headlines. But there is something uniquely sad about this case, where there is a murder, but no murderer. A human action with no human to be held accountable. By all reports, Joe McLeod doesn’t know what he’s done. How can he? He doesn’t, I hear, even know his own family.

But since this has been whispered around the edges of the McLeod case, a thought: from what I’ve seen, the general public seems more able to accept Joe McLeod’s disease as the finger which pulled the proverbial trigger, than they could for Vince Li, who was targeted by death threats.  

Why the difference, I wonder? Is it the savagery of the crime? Is it the age of the man accused? Is it — as ugly as this is — the age of the victim? Or is it simply that severe schizophrenia is harder for the average person to wrap their mind around than a disease which makes grown men so visibly vacate their own bodies?

It is a hard thing to understand. Maybe no-one really can.  

The best analogy I ever read for delusional schizophrenia: imagine you’re walking down the street. In your hand you’re holding a big, shiny, firm red apple. But as you’re walking down the street, a man stops you.

“Why are you holding an orange?” he says.

You give him a weird look and shrug it off; but then the next person asks why you’re holding an orange. And the next person. And all the while, you’re looking at this apple in your hand, and it is clearly a shiny firm red apple, and you can feel its apple flesh and smell its tart skin and it is clearly not an orange…

How long do you last before you start wondering why all these people are trying to convince you that your apple is an orange?

And how long do you last before you start thinking they have planned this against you?   

In a similar fashion, I sometimes imagine that deteriorating Alzheimers is sort of like knowing you’re holding something in your hand, but you can’t see what it is. And for that matter, you can’t see your hands. And you want someone to tell you what you’re holding in your hand, only when you try to ask them you discover that you no longer know how to speak. And the walls go up, and up, and up…

Aggression is common in Alzheimer’s, the last gasp of a mute and frustrated spirit.

Everything about this is sad, sad beyond belief.

Michael Alexander pledged the family would fight to make sure their father’s death was not in vain. I hope he’s right: as Canada finds itself more and more shouldering the burden of an aging population, a system that’s already so struggling will be strained to the breaking point.

But wherever you think the best place for people like Joe McLeod is, hopefully we can all agree: it’s not on the street.

We need to figure this out, and quickly, and it’s my generation that must do it.

  • http://westenddumplings.blogspot.com/ Christian

    I agree. What a horrible situation for both families.

    This and aging drivers are probably two of the biggest issues coming our way that, unfortunately, will end up having a loss of life total before governments get a grasp of the issue, much less do something to help solve it.

  • saphi

    I remember how embarassed my aunt was at the beginnings of her alzheimers. She would call herself a fool. Her friends had already stopped speaking to her because they thought she had developed a drinking problem.