After dementia, a time for goodbye

Elizabeth Cummings Browning died over the weekend. She was just 53, and suffered from dementia and ALS and died just two days after the musician was unable to play one of her favorite songs, according to her obituary in the Star Tribune, which presumably was written by her husband, Star Tribune reporter Dan Browning.

The last two years of her life were marked by a series of losses. She lost her job and alienated many friends and fellow musicians before anyone knew that a disease was twisting her personality into anger and bitterness.

As the disease progressed she lost her happy hour gig, her driver’s license, and her beloved bands. Liz said goodbye to Elsa as she moved off to college, and she often said how much she loved her.

In the last year of her life, Liz suddenly returned to her sweet, pleasant essence despite the pain and many indignities thrust upon her by her illness. She played piano almost until the very end, even as her mastery of daily activities slipped away.

Mr. Browning did an outstanding, if heartbreaking, job of documenting his wife’s illness in a series of columns on Next Avenue.

In his last blog post a month ago, he said when he started writing the columns, he wanted to shed light on frontotemporal dementia (FTD). But he realized by its end, that he was writing to seek forgiveness. Knowing she would develop pneumonia, he decided he would not seek the antibiotics to cure it, so as not to prolong her suffering.

Liz and I lived for today. She turned on a copy of our wedding video, as she often does now, and dropped an Al Green CD in her boombox and began swaying to his velvety voice.

“Let’s, let’s stay together…
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad…”

We danced in the living room, and to my surprise, she remembered the words and sang along in a raspy, hushed voice.

I sang a verse and began to cry. Liz laughed. I have no idea why, and she couldn’t begin to tell me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, smiling now. “Forgive me?”

Liz smiled back and nodded. Turning to the wedding video on the TV, she said, “We’ve been married 23 years.”

“Not long enough,” I said.

In February Browning and his wife’s sister, Margaret Cummings, appeared on TPT’s Almanac to talk about FTD, which affects people in their 40s and 50s. Go here and scroll ahead to 24:02. We should all be so lucky to have family members like these two.