Tallulah Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, recently wrote an essay for Vogue detailing her family’s reaction to Willis’ diagnosis of dementia earlier this year.
Last year, Willis announced that he would step away from the world of acting after being diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder that affects the ability to communicate. In an update earlier this year, Willis’ daughter, Rumer, announced that his diagnosis had progressed into frontotemporal dementia.
In Tallulah’s essay (via Variety), she called the ongoing period for the family “the beginning of grief,” and she noted that she and the rest of the family noticed that something wasn’t right with Willis “for a long time,” but that it had been chalked up to Willis’ hearing damage that he suffered throughout his long career in the world of action films.
“I’ve known that something was wrong for a long time,” Tallulah said. “It started out with a kind of vague unresponsiveness, which the family chalked up to Hollywood hearing loss: ‘Speak up! “Die Hard” messed with Dad’s ears.’ Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally.”
Tallulah went on to note that Willis’ “unresponsiveness” to certain things broadened. She initially didn’t understand, and thought that her father had lost interest in her after the birth of his children with then-current wife, Emma Heming Willis.
“Later that unresponsiveness broadened, and I sometimes took it personally,” said Tallulah. “He had had two babies with my stepmother, Emma Heming Willis, and I thought he’d lost interest in me. Though this couldn’t have been further from the truth, my adolescent brain tortured itself with some faulty math: I’m not beautiful enough for my mother, I’m not interesting enough for my father.”
Willis’ daughter also recounts a moment where her father’s diagnosis hit her. At a wedding where the bride’s father was giving a speech, Tallulah realized she may not be able to have that same moment.
“I admit that I have met Bruce’s decline in recent years with a share of avoidance and denial that I’m not proud of [but] the truth is that I was too sick myself to handle it,” Willis said. “I remember a moment when it hit me painfully: I was at a wedding… and the bride’s father made a moving speech. Suddenly I realized that I would never get that moment, my dad speaking about me in adulthood at my wedding. It was devastating.”
Despite the diagnosis, Tallulah says that her father still recognizes her, and that she has begun taking tons of photos and saving voicemails to preserve and “build a record” to remind both herself and their family of what Willis was like.
“Every time I go to my dad’s house, I take tons of photos searching for treasure in stuff that I never used to pay much attention to,” said Willis. “I have every voicemail from him saved on a hard drive. I find that I’m trying to document, to build a record for the day when he isn’t there to remind me of him and of us. He still knows who I am and lights up when I enter the room.”
“And now that I’m feeling better I ask myself, ‘How I can make him more comfortable?’” she adds. “It feels like a unique and special time in my family, and I’m just so glad to be here for it.”