Lynn Forbish: “I have dementia, not [expletive] herpes!”

When journalist Lynn Forbish was diagnosed with a fast-moving dementia in 2006, doctors said the end wouldn’t be pretty. She could expect to live about five more years, and chances were she’d die of an infection, curled up in a fetal position.

But Forbish, 67, died Wednesday in a Janesville, Wis., memory care facility in much the same way she lived — on her own terms.

She’d started refusing food last week, clamping her teeth tight and turning her head; pretending to fall asleep. Her final hours were pain-free, with hospice workers and her favorite cousin by her side.

“She was done,” recalled her daughter-in-law, Katie Forbish, of Botetourt County. “As headstrong as she was, by God she was gonna go on her own terms.”

Profiled in a 2007 newspaper story, Forbish was known for holding reporters to her exacting, sometimes copy-skewering standards. From 1993 until her 2005 retirement, she served as the The Roanoke Times’ chief copy desk editor, the final arbiter on stories before they went to press.

When news broke at night or on weekends, her command presence enabled her to pull off coordinating phones, photographers and reporters.

Former reporter Lois Caliri described working with her on a sensitive story about opponents of a proposed AEP power line. Forbish questioned Caliri repeatedly before the story ran, weighing its merits and double-checking every name and detail.

Caliri recalled once telling her: “I love the way that. . . when you speak or need something, people come running.”

Forbish raised her eyebrows, as if to say: “They better.”

To live nearer her son, Forbish moved to Roanoke after copy editing for The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, where she also reviewed entertainers and minced characteristically few words, telling Milton Berle in print, for instance, that he needed a new shtick.

Divorced in the mid-‘60s, she began newspapering in her Janesville hometown, where she advanced from clerk-typist to reporter, covering cops and schools and writing features — while raising two small children on her own. To pay for braces for her son, she once worked three jobs.

“She loved newspapers because she loved to learn new things, and she thrived on that deadline rush,” her son, Larry Forbish, said.

She believed, too, in newspapers’ responsibility to educate and help readers, which was why she approached a reporter in 2006 with a request to write her story — before she could no longer tell it.

As the disease progressed, her personality mellowed. Forbish joined a church, took a boyfriend and stopped snapping at people who “patronized” her by trying to guess a word she couldn’t recall.

To tease her old coworkers about not visiting her more, she threatened to send them a Christmas card that read: “I have dementia, not [expletive] herpes!”

In July 2007, she moved to a facility in Janesville, where her daughter and many other relatives live. Before she became immobile, she liked to wander into other patients’ rooms to socialize and watch television. She loved laughing with people, even after she could no longer talk.

Not long ago, she re-asserted her legendary will by refusing to roll balls of yarn — she never was the crafty type. Relatives suggested music therapy instead.

“It was down with the yarn, up with the Beatles!” Katie Forbish recalled, laughing. “I’m just so proud that she kept her spunk until the very end.”

— Roanoke Times, April 16, 2010

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13 Comments

  1. martiw

     /  April 18, 2010

    Your blog has been a joy to read. I heard about it months ago when I was in Cambridge visiting my daughter. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for telling Lynn’s story, both here, through your paper, and via O Magazine. Would love to connect to tell the LBD story further!

    Reply
  3. MaryB

     /  February 25, 2011

    Beth,
    I read your Lynn Forbish story with great empathy. I have an uncle who passed from Alzheimers. I saw something that seemed to click in my mind. As an editor, Lynn sounds like she would have benefitted from ADD/ADHD, as that condition works very well for people who work in any field requiring juggling of thoughts, projects, etc. I, also, am ADD. I have wondered about the genetic links, too. ADD/ADHA people may often have high intelligence, and the lack of inhibition in the brain, allows them the skill of mental and verbal speed and association. I saw a link, that Adult ADD/ADHD may have a common connection to LBD – Lew Body Dementia. For anyone like Lynn, who wondered “why me?”, it’s a potential explanation. If this eventually bears out, then we can all hope this is a road to the development of treatment or cure. But we all grieve the loss of a person with so much to offer to others. Even in her journey to the end, it is clear that she did that. Thank you for highlighting her story. It was a courageous piece of journalism.

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  February 25, 2011

      Thanks so much for the kind and thoughtful comment, Mary, and for sending the link! Best, Beth

      Reply
  4. Pat

     /  March 3, 2011

    I just read your story in O Magazine from a link in the Kaiser Health News Daily Report. It’s an amazing story told with warmth and compassion. Thank you! My 70 year old husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease 2 years ago; his mother, his maternal grandmother, and my father all had Alzheimer’s. We have become Alzheimer’s advocates and activists and will talk to anyone who will listen about the disease and why it should no longer be considered a shameful stigma. Denial is not an option! Talking and educating others is going to be the key to finding more effective treatments and prevention. Your article in such a highly visible publication will go far toward that goal. We appreciate your skilled telling of Lynn’s story. I can only hope and pray that none of our 3 adult children nor our 6 grandchildren will ever have to hear the words that my husband heard on February 6, 2009: You have Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  March 5, 2011

      Thanks for this wonderful note. I really appreciate it and wish you all well. Best, Beth

      Reply
  5. ellen doran

     /  March 26, 2011

    I received the newest on-line Lewy Body Dementia Association, Inc. newletter that highlighted your article in Oprah’s magazine.
    Working with clients in a Day Center that focuses on cognitive challenges, this was wonderfully written and so full of dignity for the individual who lived with this disease.
    Do you have any plans to do a book? Thank you for honoring your colleague’s wishes. May I share this article at our center with others? I work at Augustana Open Circle Adult Day Center, Hopkins, MN.

    Reply
  6. Bob Parr

     /  September 20, 2014

    Great story about Lynn, it brought back wonderful memories of her, and it detailed how she was, I could visualize being with her as I read the article. THANKS.

    Reply
  7. bethmacy

     /  April 18, 2010

    Thanks for this very kind mention. I’ll be following your blog, too. Best, Beth

    Reply
  1. Dementia: Choosing Her Own End-of-Life Strategy « As Our Parents Age

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