Friday, October 24, 2008

Powerful Pain Put on a Small Stamp

On October 17, 2008, in Morgantown, West Virginia, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 42-cent Alzheimer’s Disease commemorative stamp.

Art Director and Designer Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland, worked with illustrator Matt Mahurin to draw attention to the importance of the caregiver for those who have Alzheimer’s disease.

“For the person with Alzheimer’s,” Kessler says, “that interaction with the caregiver means everything.”

Three words — care, support, research — appear in the selvage in the upper right corner of the stamp sheet.
The stamps and related issuance keepsakes are available for purchase at The Postal Store.

Issuance of a stamp focusing on Alzheimer's Disease was anticipated, since the USPS first issued a Press Release on November 1, 2007, "
Alzheimer’s Disease to be Highlighted on Stamp Next Year," announcing it as the "Latest Addition to [the] Postal Service Social Awareness Stamp Series."

That announcement had also highlighted the first day in November as the beginning of both
National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month -- annual recognitions soon to be marked again.

Then, on September 19, 2008, the
USPS issued a Press Release, "New Alzheimer’s Social Awareness Postage Stamp Unveiled" recounting the stamp's public unveiling three days earlier, describing its commemorative purpose, and announcing its forthcoming availability.
The stamp recognizes the importance of knowing more about Alzheimer’s in an effort to help raise awareness. The 42-cent Alzheimer’s Awareness stamp will be available at Post Offices nationwide beginning October 17, 2008.

"For more than half a century, the Postal Service has issued special stamps to help raise public awareness about important health and social issues. Today, we are proud to use the program to call attention to Alzheimer’s disease," said Larkin.

"It is our goal — and our expectation — that the Alzheimer’s Awareness stamp will encourage the public to learn to recognize the symptoms of the disease, understand what to do for those who have the disease, and lend their support to find a cure." * * *
At the stamp's public unveiling in San Francisco, California, Eric J. Hall, president & CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, said, "We hope this heartfelt stamp will help spread the passion and commitment to the cause felt by caregivers around the world," noting that a cure is desperately needed for this "devastating disease."
Experts estimate that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

The disease initially affects the parts of the brain that control language, thought and memory, and progressively causes difficulty in carrying out daily activities.

It is the most common form of dementia among older people, and it the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. * * *
There are personal story behind the stamp's creation.

One of its designers, Art Director Ethel Kessler, tends her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Her story was the subject of a touching article published by The Washington Post on October 23, 2008, entitled "A Pain Vast and Personal, Writ Small" by Steve Hendrix.
[W]hen it came to reducing the vast and tragic issue of Alzheimer's disease to a one-inch canvas, that was tough. Because that was personal.

[Ethel] Kessler's mother is in the later stages of Alzheimer's. And it was just as the designer began working on an Alzheimer's awareness stamp three years ago that her mother began a steep decline, stopped recognizing her daughter and had to move to a nursing home.

"It's one of the most emotional projects I've ever worked on," Kessler said Friday, the day her Alzheimer's stamp was officially released. "I'm not even sure my mother remembers my name now. She hasn't said it in a long time."

Kessler's design portrays an elderly woman wearing an expression of soft emptiness, a hand laid comfortingly on her shoulder by an unseen companion. It's that loving touch from behind that stems from Kessler's experience, the recognition that Alzheimer's strikes not only its victims but their families. * * *
The stamp's other designer, Matt Mahurin, also found its creation over a year to be a fulfilling experience. See: "New Alzheimer's stamp by Northport artist" (10/16/08) by Deborah S. Morris posted by Newsday.
"I wanted to have a balance between the kindness of caregivers and the sadness of the disease," he said, "but also the message of hope that was indicated in making a stamp to bring attention to the disease."

The face on the stamp is that of Mahurin's aunt, and the arm is that of his wife, Lisa, an author and illustrator. * * *
For more information about Alzheimer’s Disease [NIH description updated 10/23/08], the USPS recommends contact with the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, or the Alzheimer’s Association.