“The Genius of Marian”: Powerful T.V.

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PBS, POV logo, The Genies of Marian In 2009, Pam White, mother, wife, and social worker starts  writing a book to honor her mother, Marian Williams Steele,  an exceptional artist who passed away in 2001 from  Alzheimer’s.  Except, as Pam explains, “there is one little  glitch”: she herself has been diagnosed with early onset  Alzheimer’s disease.


This Monday night, September 8, 2014, PBS will broadcast a documentary on produced by her son and daughter in law, “The Genius of Marian”, which follows Pam and her family on their journey of coping with Pam’s changing abilities and needs as she progresses with Alzheimer’s.


One may wonder why those of us already touched by Alzheimer’s disease should tune in.  There is no question that there are parts of this documentary that will resonate and be painful to watch, but there are so many more moments that educate, reaffirm, and remind us that this disease does not rob people of their ability to respond to love, beauty, and the happiness of the moment.


“The Genius of Marian” doesn’t flinch.

It reflects with honesty the depth of the demands placed on a caregiver.  This documentary informs anyone who wants to know -or should know- friends, family, physicians, clergy , among others, of the constancy and increasing intensity of the care needs.  It also reflects the power of a family’s love, and the pain of watching your mother disappear while in plain sight.


“The Genius of Marian” educates.

Those dealing with similar challenges will  relate to the issues confronting the White family.  They may learn a few things about open communication, commiserate on the difficulties of being in the same mental space as the patient, and observe how one family finds new ways to share and be together as Pam’s illness steadily erodes her ability to do things for herself.


“The Genius of Marian” is honest.

Everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will have their own journey.  What happens to Pam and how her family responds may not be another’s journey .  However, for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, this documentary will resonate as an intimate, honest journal.  It offers a map of the continual incremental losses and the family’s struggle to accept those losses, to find new ways of being and sharing, and to make peace with that which cannot be changed.

The documentary airs at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night on most PBS stations, including WGHB in Boston.  Should you miss it, you may watch in online starting on September 9, at a POV special page, which will include additional footage, a follow-up on how Pam White is doing, and links to more resources.  Join the White family on their journey.  You won’t regret it.


Below is a clip of Pam’s Journey from “The Genius of Marian.”


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