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Maria Shriver appears on Hardball to discuss her father Sargent Shriver with Chris Matthews
Maria Shriver appears on Hardball to discuss her father Sargent Shriver with Chris Matthews
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Maria Shriver is the first lady of California. She is the author of a new children‘s book—yes, you are—on Alzheimer‘s disease, “What‘s Happening to Grandpa?”
I want to talk about this, because I think a lot of people who watch this show, based upon people I bump into, are of the age—middle age, I guess. It‘s such a boring term.
MARIA SHRIVER, FIRST LADY OF CALIFORNIA: Baby boomers.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but they‘re of the age that they‘re taking care of parents.
MATTHEWS: And the other people that watch this show, like Mrs. Ronald Reagan, are taking care of their spouses. And they watch the show a lot. It‘s a lot of intellectual stimulation, I would like to think, and it‘s good company because the one thing you lose when you lose your partner is company.
SHRIVER: Absolutely. And Mrs. Reagan says that, and my mom has said that, and I think everybody that I have talked to who is a spouse or a child has a different experience with this disease.
But it really affects the entire family emotionally, financially, from the caregiver point of view. I have the utmost respect for Mrs. Reagan and the way she‘s caring for her husband. And I have met so many people who are dealing with this who are emotionally drained from having this go on in their family.
SHRIVER: And from the decisions that they find themselves having to make so that they can survive.
MATTHEWS: You know, my dad took care of my mom for years for this.
So I know...
SHRIVER: Oh, really?
MATTHEWS: I mean, he knows all of it. I know a bit of it. And it is usually the caregiver who not only takes care of the person who has Alzheimer‘s, but keeps the secrets of the worst of it, because the worst of it is what they do try to keep from the rest of the family, the anger, the out-of-control behavior. It‘s not just that you get slower or you lose memory. It‘s what replaces it, you know, the anger and all the rest of that stuff.
I tried to make this book, Chris, though, very optimistic.
MATTHEWS: OK, tell me about this book.
SHRIVER: Well, I wanted to write is because it was really the questions that I as a child of someone with Alzheimer‘s was having. It was also the questions that our children were asking me.
SHRIVER: You know, grandpa keeps repeating. What‘s happening?
And it was a way for me to kind of come to terms with what was going on with my dad. But my dad, as you know, is one of the most optimistic human beings on the planet.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.
SHRIVER: And when he wrote a letter to his friends announcing that he had been diagnosed with this disease, he put in the letter: This means one thing and one thing to me only. It means that my memory is lousy. I still want to challenge the world. I still want to fight for peace. I want to challenge each and every one of you to make a difference. And so he is in the early stages of Alzheimer‘s.
MATTHEWS: When did he get it, at what age?
SHRIVER: Well, you know, these things are always hard
MATTHEWS: When did you first notice it?
SHRIVER: About two years ago.
MATTHEWS: How old was he two years ago?
MATTHEWS: So he can‘t really complain that much. This is late.
SHRIVER: And he doesn‘t. He does not complain.
MATTHEWS: This is a late incidence of it.
SHRIVER: But it doesn‘t—it‘s kind of like when people say someone passes away and they‘re older age and then you go, well, they had a great life. That doesn‘t mean it doesn‘t hurt.
MATTHEWS: Are we outliving our brains now? Is that‘s what is going on?
SHRIVER: Everybody is getting older. That‘s for sure.
SHRIVER: And, as you said, our generation is dealing with aging parents.
And I think that whether they have Alzheimer‘s, if they have cancer, if they have something else, this book to me also is about forging a relationship between our parents or the grandparents of our children. I‘m a big believer in that relationship. And so I wanted this book to be inviting to children. I wanted it to explain the disease in very simple terms to them. And I wanted to make sure that they understood that they could be active in helping their grandparents through this.
The little girl in this book comes up with the idea of making a scrapbook and—which she hopes will jog her grandpa‘s memory about people whose names he can‘t remember or events that he might not be able to remember. And kids, I have discovered, being the parent of four—you‘re a parent—they like to be feeling like they‘re involved, that they can be of help, that they can understand.
And that‘s what I wanted this book—I wanted it to be optimistic because that‘s the way daddy is. And I didn‘t want to dwell on what‘s down the road, because we know what‘s down the road.
MATTHEWS: It gets worse.
SHRIVER: I want to do—is celebrate him for who he is today. I want to celebrate the optimism that he deals with this disease, the courage that he has, that my mother has, and that my whole family has.
MATTHEWS: You know, when you walk into a room and you‘re 8 years old or some—your kid‘s age, you‘re a teen or younger, and you walk into the grandfather you always could kid around with and he would buy you ice cream or whatever, take you for walks, the usual things.
My grandfather always took us for walks, his cigar and our ice cream cones, you know?
MATTHEWS: And I remember being older than a kid when he got it. And I used to also politics with him. And then you couldn‘t talk politics anymore. You couldn‘t talk anything with him.
But what does your book do to a kid that makes it better? How does it help?
SHRIVER: Well, I think it makes a child feel that they be—first, that they can understand it.
SHRIVER: And I think that‘s really important, and that it‘s not something that anybody needs to be embarrassed about. There‘s no stigma here. Everybody has all kinds of grandparents. I think there‘s still a lot of stigma associated with Alzheimer‘s.
I think the Reagans did an incredible thing by coming forward and being open about it and sharing their journey, sharing their long goodbye.
SHRIVER: And I think obviously other people have come forward. But I think children still have huge questions.
SHRIVER: And I‘ve been doing a couple book signings with this book and people come up to me in tears, and saying I cared for my mother for 10 years.
SHRIVER: I cared for my father for 12 years, and I never wanted to tell anybody. And I am so grateful that now we can talk about this, that I can explain it to my children or my grandchildren.
MATTHEWS: You know, I had lunch with him a couple years ago, your dad, and he‘s the best lunch in town because he is one of these guys, he is totally wide awake around noon, for some reason. And, as people get older, they‘re better at lunch than any other time of day.
But I did notice when he was talking about writing his book—we‘ll talk about that.
MATTHEWS: He started to have trouble with that book. You could tell he wasn‘t remembering a lot of things.
SHRIVER: Right. This book became a biography. And Scott Stossel did a great job.
MATTHEWS: He picked up on it.
SHRIVER: He picked up on it and he devoted about six years of his life to writing daddy‘s life story. And he did a brilliant job. and I certainly hope—I am adamant, adamant, that everybody knows Sergeant Shriver‘s story.
I gave it out to every member of the legislature in California.
SHRIVER: I think every person in public service should read this book, because I think daddy is a man of ideas, of innovation, of drive, of passion, and I think that‘s sorely missing in politics today.
MATTHEWS: How come he looked so damn good the night that your husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, won the election? He came out on the stage looking like I don‘t know what, Mr. Right. He had everything about him. The kerchief was right. The tie was right.
MATTHEWS: And I kept saying, doesn‘t he have always Alzheimer‘s? And what‘s going on here?
SHRIVER: Daddy is an elegant man. He is charming.
SHRIVER: He is old school in that way. I have never not seen my father be elegant. I have never not seen my father...
MATTHEWS: Even now?
SHRIVER: Even now—be charming.
And we had a great event where we honored his legacy and people came and talked about it and he spoke. And he was elegant. He was charming.
MATTHEWS: What did he have to say today?
SHRIVER: He talked about how everybody in the room had something to give their country. He talked about how we should all be peace builders and that that was more important now than in any time in this world‘s future, that we needed to understand other cultures, other religions, and go in and sell what was great about America.
SHRIVER: People talked about his idealism, about his optimism, about his courage, and really about his legacy and why the lessons of this book and of Sergeant Shriver are critical in today‘s world. And I believe that.
MATTHEWS: I was reading—I was reading a part of the new book called “Sarge: The Life and Times of Sergeant Shriver” by—as you said, Scott Stossel has finished the book your father began.
MATTHEWS: And I was in the Peace Corps. I got to tell you something.
SHRIVER: I know. I know.
MATTHEWS: There‘s 170,000 people that in the Peace Corps starting in the ‘60s. And I got to tell you, there‘s not one of them whose life wasn‘t changed.
MATTHEWS: I got to hitchhike all through Africa alone. I did stuff, wild things that I would never imagine doing now because of that experience.
MATTHEWS: And also, it does take you out of your cocoon into the world.
MATTHEWS: It gets you out of your rut.
MATTHEWS: It makes you want to be different. And I‘m not sure better, but certainly different. And it‘s a different world once you come of two years over there in the bush.
SHRIVER: But it gives you a bigger view, doesn‘t it? It gives you a bigger view of the world.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.
SHRIVER: Maury North (ph) talked today about
SHRIVER: Really about also the Peace Corps when she was in it. It was probably about maybe the same time that you were.
MATTHEWS: It was.
SHRIVER: That women were treated equally in the Peace Corps. They were given the same job opportunities as the guys were, that that was really different.
MATTHEWS: The same bathing arrangements, too, because we were living
SHRIVER: The same housing.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s come back to talk to the former colleague of mine at NBC News, Maria Shriver.
SHRIVER: Not former. Don‘t call me about former.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll talk about that. I might have a plan for her here—and her life as California‘s first. I wonder what it‘s like to come from a Kennedy world and to be in a Schwarzenegger world.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, much more with Maria Shriver, California‘s first lady. Plus, the latest polls on President Bush. They‘re interesting. And the war in Iraq, those numbers are very interesting—when HARDBALL returns.