Nine years ago, Rita Stonecipher, a former nurse with an eidetic memory, found herself forgetting words in the middle of conversations and where she parked her car. She would get lost, and couldn’t figure out why she put saltines in the toaster. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and after losing her son three and a half years ago the thought of never being able to remember him added to her mounting fears.
Rita’s son Tanner Cochran did three tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine Corps helicopter mechanic, but when he returned in 2005, around the time Rita started to forget things, he seemed different. “…he didn’t laugh as much as he used to. He felt guilty when he heard that service members still overseas died.” He was also drinking more and got arrested a number of times for DUI.
But Rita counted on Tanner being there to protect her from what was happening, as he had always done in the past. “He could just come in and put his arms around me or sit down and hold my hand and I could just feel the anxiety and everything leave.”
Then, in early 2012, the unthinkable happened. Rita learned that her 29-year-old son, who was also a husband and a father to two daughters, had died of an apparent suicide. She didn’t want to believe it, but all investigations showed it to be the likely truth.
In keeping her son’s memory alive, now and into the future as her memory continues to deteriorate, Rita had a portrait of Tanner tattooed on her arm this past June. It’s her hope that having his permanent smiling face with her all the time will keep her from losing him again, this time from her Alzheimer’s disease.