A letter from home

My mother's long, slow, sad decline into dementia

10-21-21 (issue No.7).

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Last Wednesday evening, just after I’d put the 6th issue of the Picayune Sentinel to bed, I heard from my father in Ann Arbor that my mother, 89, had taken a hard fall on the sidewalk outside the house and had been taken to the hospital by ambulance.

In one of my final columns for the Tribune I’d written this alluding to her general condition:

Dementia is brutal, unforgiving, heartbreaking and exhausting. The grieving is incremental, protracted and relentless….Dementia is not mere forgetfulness, but a constellation of behavioral symptoms and deficiencies that only get worse over time and try everyone’s patience and stamina.

She doesn’t remember that she’s old and brittle, for instance, and so doesn’t steady herself properly when moving about. So three times in the past year — including last Wednesday — she has fallen, broken her femur near her hip and ended up in surgery.

Only faint glimmers remain of her personality — her wit, her intelligence, her compassion — as she struggles through the dense fog of confusion that has enveloped her life. At times she remembers me, my sister and her husband of 67 years. At other times she forgets her own name.

I know very few people who would say that, yes, they would prefer to live as she is living rather than to die with most of their faculties intact. Yet advanced-care directives for Alzheimer’s disease don’t offer a dignified out for those who, by any reasonable definition, are no longer themselves.

I headed to Ann Arbor to cover the night shifts in her hospital room, soothing her as she demanded to leave at 4 a.m. and fought to escape the confines of her bed.

I sometimes have the fantasy that I’m sure is shared by many who are close to those in the grips of dementia that for just 10 minutes she’ll snap back to the mental state she was in 10 years ago so just once more we could have a snippet of the conversations we used to have and say our proper goodbyes.

Then again, her general lack of awareness of what’s happened to her is virtually the only compensatory blessing of her condition.

So many families go through this. And it’s not that they don’t want to talk about it, it’s just that there’s so little anyone can say.

It’s horrible. It’s heartbreaking. And then it gets worse. It always just gets worse.

In my down time here in Ann Arbor, where I’m typing this somewhat abbreviate PS, I finished sending individual emails to the more than 4,000 people who asked to be put on my post-Tribune mailing list last June. Most were cut-and-paste form letters, of course, otherwise I’d be at this task until Christmas. The notes were to thank these loyal volunteers and also to instruct them how to help me evade the busybody filters that cause newsletters they subscribe to be dumped into spam filters or otherwise hidden into sub-folders.

Tom Fowler’s “whitelisting instructions” for Gmail users is a good resource, as is Popular Science’s “Four ways to keep newsletters from destroying your in-box.”

In Gmail on the web, for example, open a newsletter, click the three dots in the top right, then choose Filter messages like these to get started. In Outlook on the web, open one of your newsletters, click the three dots just above it, then select Create rule. And in iCloud on the web, select a newsletter, click the cog icon (bottom left), and pick Rules, followed by Add a Rule. Most email programs on most platforms offer a similar feature.

It can also help to shoot a quick email to ericzorn@substack.com.

Mail to: Eric Zorn @ substack

I’m still fussing with the format. I’m putting the winning Tweet up top but the nominees for the poll is further down.

Last week’s winning tweet

Scroll down for this week’s nominees or click here to vote in the poll.

Land of Linkin’

Readers rejected half of my great ideas to improve sports. So what are their ideas?

I floated 10 absolutely terrific ideas to improve sports last week — full details on my proposals are here — and asked readers to vote them up or down. Here are the approval numbers for each idea from a click poll with more than 300 respondents:

  • Crack down on intentional fouls at the ends of basketball games — 83%

  • Use the college football overtime rules in the NFL —70%

  • It’s time to have robo-umps call balls and strikes in the major leagues — 69%

  • No time outs in the last minute of a basketball game — 60 %

  • Cut halftime and other intermission periods in half —52%

  • The clock should stop at every whistle in the last minute of a football game to defeat the "victory formation" charade — 49%

  • Eliminate the concept of fouling out of a basketball game and instead increase the penalties for each foul over the current limit — 43%

  • Forbid punting once a team crosses the 50 yard line on offense — 41 %

  • Relief pitchers should not be allowed warm-up throws — 31%

  • Eliminate the opening jump ball, face-off and coin toss — 31%

So here are 10 more ideas as submitted by readers in response to my request for proposals:

  1.  In the last two minutes of a basketball game, when a player is fouled, his or her team can either shoot two free throws or choose to shoot one free throw and keep the ball.

  2. To slightly increase the penalty of hitting a batter with a pitch, the batter can be replaced by a pinch runner for the duration of that inning, but then return to the game.

  3. Once a batter steps into the batter’s box, he should incur an automatic strike if he steps out before completing the at bat.

  4. Eject every knucklehead fan at major golf tournament who shouts “Get in the hole! ,“You da man!”or “Ba-ba Booey!” right after a player hits the ball.

  5. Standardize the designated-hitter rule across Major League Baseball.

  6. Eliminate the extra point kick in favor of a three yard play for one point, a six yard play for two points and a nine yard play for three points.

  7. Eliminate shootouts in hockey and soccer in favor of overtimes in which the number of participating players gradually shrinks until one team scores.

  8. Turn off the clock with four minutes left in basketball games and have the teams play to a certain point total.

  9. Put RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips into footballs to instantly award first downs and determine the spot of the ball.

  10. Get rid of the “break the plane of the goal-line” touchdown and require players to literally touch a part of their body down in the end-zone while in possession of the ball to be awarded six points.

The dysfunctional, tedious way in which so many basketball games end seems to be a particular peeve. And while some baseball fans favor the designated-hitter rule and others despise it, nearly every fan seems to want the rule to be the same in both the American League (which has it) and the National League (which doesn’t).

Vote these ideas up or down

Minced Words

Yes, the podcast panel ganged up on me this week, a pile-on I believe was motivated by their jealousy over how spot on my predictions were for the White Sox/Astros series and the Sky/Mercury series.


  • Mayor Lori Lightfoot & Common Sense vs. Police union head John Catanzara and Churlishness

  • Could Donald Trump persuade millions of his followers to get vaccinated?

  • Would-be Ambassador Rahm Emanuel and the lingering issue of the murder of Laquan McDonald

  • The proposed, highly gerrymandered political maps in Illinois

Our live recording Oct. 30 in Downers Grove is sold out. If you’d be favorably inclined to attend such an event in the future, click here to encourage host John Williams to make it happen.

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News & Views

Illinois Democrats appear eager to approve redistricting maps highly favorable to… Illinois Democrats

After all the posturing and squabbling in court is over, Illinois Democrats are likely to approve a U.S. Congressional district map intended to give their party a 14-3 advantage in the state delegation.

That would give them roughly 82% of the seats in a state where they won just 57% of the overall number of votes cast for congressional candidates the 2020 election and 58% of the votes cast for president.

Devious and extreme gerrymandering offends the ideals of democracy and effectively disenfranchises millions of voters. Good-government reformers are forever insisting that politicians cede mapmaking authority to independent redistricting commissions charged with drawing maps that don’t favor any political party, and polls show 2 in 3 voters support that idea.

I don’t.

I’m glad that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has backed away from his 2018 campaign pledge to veto district boundaries “in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies.”

Because Republicans pull the same trick in state after state, gaining an overall national advantage of between 16 and 22 seats depending on which of three major recent studies you consult. And it would be political malpractice for Democrats in Illinois to unilaterally disarm in the name of leading by example.

This is a national problem that demands a national solution based on national standards.

See my May 18 column, When ‘fair’ isn’t fair: A baseball analogy for Illinois Democrats redrawing state’s political maps

For Illinois Democrats, in the name of principle and setting a good example for the nation, to cede four seats to the Republicans in a narrowly divided House instead of waiting for a national law to limit partisan influence on political mapmaking would be like the White Sox sending their pitchers to the plate and keeping their infielders in their customary spots all season instead of waiting for the American League to abandon the DH and baseball’s grandees to ban the shift.

Noble, perhaps, but potentially ruinous to achieving bigger goals.

Contact me


Your comments on women’s basketball have been eating at me all day.  Why do you think that everyone should appreciate the NBA as the only measure of how good/interesting any basketball game is? This is why more women need to be editors and lead companies - because men assume that their way is the only way. 

The NBA plays a different game. It does not make that version superior to the other. As a woman, long past her prime, I can still appreciate the athleticism of the players of the WNBA, without taking anything away from the NBA. Why can’t you do the same? Can you really only appreciate a game when there are men playing? 

The WNBA playoff games have been excellent sport watching. It’s your loss that you cannot enjoy it. However, for those of us who do, we would like to see the games get fair coverage - surely we’ll never get anything equal to men’s sports but seriously, they are in the playoffs! Can’t we get as much coverage as an out of state college football game? 

I feel better now. Thanks! — Barb

Don’t get me wrong. Many readers did. I hopped eagerly and with enthusiasm onto the Sky bandwagon this year and enjoyed their run to the WNBA championship, particularly that thrilling fourth quarter against the Mercury. They are very skilled and play as a team in ways you seldom see anymore in men’s hoops.

The assertion I was combatting last week, though, was Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s gripe that gender bias in the media is the reason the Sky hasn’t gotten more attention and drawn more fans than it has. I contend this a shallow explanation that disregards the many reasons fans follow certain sports and teams more than they follow others and the many rea$on$ that sports assignment editors deploy their reporters and columnist to the venues they do.

Re: Tweets

This week’s nominees for Tweet of the Week:

  • From now on when people ask why I'm not married, I'll just say it's a supply chain issue. … @RuthMBuchanan

  • If you were in a hypothetical situation, what would you do?... @abbycohenwl

  • My family crest is just a plate with a knife and fork crossed over it and the words ‘are you going to eat that?’….@visionbored2

  • Technically it's legal to eat baby food or dog food anytime. It just makes you "that guy" at work parties….@ …Home_Halfway

  • Saw Orion's belt last night. It was ok but not great. Three stars … @KnownComment

  • Always run jokes into the ground. If you don’t run a joke into the ground you may have left some funny on the table …. @dan_wickes

  • Protect your delicious leftovers from others by writing ‘Vegan’ on them … @Melchievous

  • We don't fix things anymore, now the squeaky wheel gets replaced. …@a_simpl_man

  • Instead of ordering anvils why doesn't Wile E Coyote just order food?...@Bob_Janke

  • I made lemonade. Life didn’t give me lemons. I bought them at the supermarket. The lesson here is, stop waiting for handouts, losers. …. @UnFitz

I don’t know if the one about running a joke into the ground will attract many votes, but it’s definitely the unofficial motto of groups of many male friends.

Click here to fill out the poll

For poll instructions and guidelines if you need them, click here.

Today’s tune

I have a weakness for bluegrass versions of non-bluegrass songs, a weakness very few of you share, I’m sure. But consider this undeniably skillful take on “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the wholesome Petersens, a family band from kitschy Branson, Mo.

I will seriously consider objections from those who prefer the Hayseed Dixie bluegrass Bohemian Rhapsody and from those who think that if I wanted to promote genre-bending bluegrass I ought have featured The Cleverlys’ version of “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Thanks for reading. Spread the word!