Right now more than 10.9 million Americans are caring for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. Worldwide, the number of Alzheimer's cases is expected to double by 2030.

And yet our culture often tells us that old age is something to run from rather than prepare for or discuss—until we get a jarring midnight call from a policeman, as Larry Forbish did in 2006: Your mom crashed her car, she says the street sign "jumped out" in front of her; please come and take her home.

I like to think that's the story Lynn meant for me to tell, the one that ends with each of us asking our own aging parents: What are your plans? How will we pay? What can we do?

As I write this, the smoke tree in my front yard back in Virginia is 15 feet tall, gorgeous enough that strangers sometimes stop to ask for cuttings. I think of Lynn and happily oblige.

It's high summer now, and the white plumes have just turned sepia. When a breeze kicks up, one by one they detach and drift into the ether, and before I know it the tree has transformed again, each rendering more beautiful than the last.

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