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Every Day is An Opportunity: How Eugenia Zukerman Finds Joy During the COVID-19 Crisis

Every Day is An Opportunity: How Eugenia Zukerman Finds Joy During the COVID-19 Crisis
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July 13, 2020
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Former CBS News correspondent, flutist and author of "Like Falling Through a Cloud," Eugenia Zukerman has documented her experience as a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's and her gratitude for the life she continues to lead. We spoke with her about how she is socially distancing, her advice for others living with Alzheimers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the writing she has been doing during this time of crisis.

If you were to drive past Eugenia Zukerman’s house, you may see her sitting on a tractor, waving at your car as you pass. “When I have the chance to feel childlike, I do. I will sit on my husband Dick’s tractor in the field. It has no seats, so I will just climb to the top and look at the world. It’s a joyous moment, to feel like a kid again.”

The COVID-19 crisis has been a strange yet active time for Eugenia, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's three years ago. “I’m lucky to live with my husband in upstate New York with plenty of countryside to walk during the shelter-in-place orders of the state. We spent our spring and now summer weaving through the farms on a four-mile loop. We invite local friends to meet at the starting point, keeping social distance in place, then walk leisurely for an hour through the farmland. Together, but apart.” 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Eugenia and Dick feel very blessed to have this safe space. “There has never been more gorgeous yellow forsythia here: poofs of incredible yellow.” As she observes the beauty around her, Eugenia embraces each day and encourages others living with early-stage Alzheimer’s to try and do the same. “People are afraid right now, whether they have Alzheimer’s or not. We have to keep going, keep learning, keep figuring things out. I’m always looking to the future and what I will be doing when people can gather again.”

Eugenia keeps this upbeat point of view despite the current circumstances, calling it “difficult but important.” This also speaks to the way she has been coping with her diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s. “I decided to keep on living well, despite all the circumstances. It is understandable, with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, to feel like your body and the world is betraying you. COVID-19 is a double whammy. But I continue to wake up and see the world in a bright light and carry on, safely.”

Eugenia also believes that we can generate hope within ourselves. “As someone who is living with early-stage Alzheimers, I sure as hell know that there are things I can’t do, but there are plenty of things I can! I don’t make excuses for myself. If I don't understand one book, I move on to reading another book, and I try to adapt to what my mind can handle.”

Whether living in a secluded area, a big city or somewhere in between, the pandemic is being felt by all of us. “I wish someone would wave a magic wand and bring back some sense of normalcy, but I look at every day as an opportunity. Alzheimer’s has no cure. But it is such a privilege to be on this planet for however long I get to be. There is so much beauty and joy and hope to experience. I don’t lie awake worrying about my brain and what state it is in today. If self-pity makes an appearance, I will take the dog for a run, or listen to the birds sing.”

With her music as a lifelong outlet in times good and bad, Eugenia feels lucky. “I’ve played the flute every day since I was 10 years old. It brings truth and joy and is just one way I keep active.” And at age 75, Eugenia also runs every day. 

When asked what keeps her going, Eugenia shares, “I look out the window, rain or shine. I say to myself: ‘You are part of this life, and you won’t bow down to it.’ The crisis we are all living through is something we will beat if we stick together. Spring is a time of rebirth and the warmth of summer follows.”

People have different ways of coping during times of crisis. One of Eugenia's ways of coping is through writing. Enjoy two new poems she has written, which will be included in her next book, “After Falling Through the Cloud”:

AFTER FALLING THROUGH THE CLOUD 

I AM NOW LIVING WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
IT IS INSIDE ME           IT INHABITS ME
        
I DID NOT CHOOSE IT    I DO NOT WANT IT                
I HAVE LIVED WITH IT FOR THREE YEARS
BUT I DEFY IT
            
IT CANNOT BREAK ME
TRY AS IT MIGHT  
                  
I WILL NOT BE DEFINED BY MY DIAGNOSIS
I WILL LIVE EVERY DAY AT A TIME
I WILL KEEP ON KEEPING ON

IT IS NOT THE END FOR ME
NOT WHILE I CAN STILL PLAY THE FLUTE
NOT WHILE I CAN SEE THE FLOWERS AND RUN WITH 
THE DOGS AND LOVE AND BE LOVED

LIFE IS A SACRED GIFT TO BE TREASURED
AND I DO TREASURE IT

WITH ALL MY
HEART AND SOUL
                                        
FORSYTHIA

OVERNIGHT
THEY APPEARED
LIKE BURNING BUSHES
ON THE HILLS
 
IN FRONT OF THE BARN
BEHIND THE HOUSE
PERFECT GOLDEN BLOSSOMS  
 
BALANCED ON THE BOUGHS, BOBBING IN THE WIND
WE COUNT ON THEM
TO ANNOUNCE A SEASON OF BEAUTY AND JOY
 
A TIME FOR DIGGING AND PLANTING  
WATCHING THE MAGIC
OF GROWTH
 
AND ALTHOUGH I CAN FEEL DANGER EVERYWHERE
I WILL NOT CLOSE MY EYES
I WILL BASK IN THE GLORY THAT ABOUNDS
        
I WILL NOT CLOSE MY EYES
DO NOT CLOSE YOURS
 
AND MOST OF ALL
REFUSE TO BE AFRAID

About: Eugenia Zukerman graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. She served as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for 13 years. Eugenia also interviewed and created more than three hundred portraits as the Arts Correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, for which she received an Emmy nomination for broadcast journalism. She is currently the artistic director of Classics on Hudson in Hudson, NY, engaging artists, performing and working in partnership with the administration of the Hudson Opera House.

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