Finding the pockets of grace in a heartbreaking disease.
This is not just a book, it’s a real-life passport into the unpredictable world of Alzheimer’s disease. Most of the books I’ve read on this subject are descriptions of a loved one’s reaction to the progression of the disease. This book pulls back the curtain as never before from the very moment of impact when the author first hears the diagnosis. The dialogue is real because it is based on actual transcripts of audio and video recordings between the author and his mother. Because they are uncensored, they provide a rare glimpse into this waxing and waning condition. We hear the angry phone calls Mary makes to her son early on in the illness. They seem deeply disturbing until we realize, through the author’s guidance, that they are proof she remembers him when he is not physically there. The threatening calls are even more worrisome when they stop. Dr. Page is a psychologist who took scrupulous notes throughout Mary’s battle to retain her memory and humor. His expertise as a mental health professional allows us to witness how he tracks her memory using tests so simple, anyone could do them. His conversations also seem deceptively simple, but his mother manages to stave off this insidious disease better than most of her peers. I think it’s because he knew how to engage her, how to exercise her mind through their frequent dialogues. Here are two examples: “If you are my mother than I am your …” She answers “son”. “If you had a chance to talk to anybody right now, who would you talk to?” It’s not rocket science but because he did it consistently, he was able to transform ordinary visits into healing moments. As Mary mind becomes steadily confused, he reminds us that words are not the only means of maintaining connection. By providing a window into his mother’s reaction to a gentle back massage we understand the power of touch as a more immediate and basic form of communication. The story is a vehicle for learning how to treasure the lucid moments, for mapping our own course with our aging parents and not just relying on medical personnel to determine the specifics of our journey and destination. The reversal of roles between mother and son is sometimes hard to take, but it proves that when we accept rather than fight the pain of a devastating illness, the result can be transformative. I recommend this book to anyone with an ailing parent, not just those suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you’re like me, you’ll cry at the end but only because the author was so expert at creating a vivid bond between the reader and Mary. Here is the link to the book on Amazon if you’d like to preview it yourself.