My mom recently lent me a book to read. I never ask her for suggested reading, and yet she never fails to show up at my house with my next book in hand. Mom and I have very different taste in reading. She loves nonfiction. She loves hearing about people going through horrible, awful things (perhaps that is why she also loves the Lifetime network) and then coming through the struggle with new found strength. I do not enjoy reading about all of the atrocities going on in the world. I have enough nightmares, I do not need more. I like novels. They are an escape for me. Still, when mom brings over a book I read it. Because she wants me to. And once in a while I'm actually thankful that I read it (Left To Tell).
Since dad passed away last year from Alzheimer's many of mom's friends have been passing on Alzheimer's related books for her to read. Because they happen to be novels mom thinks I would enjoy reading them too (Leisure Seeker). This past week she casually dropped off another one. Still Alice.
I am only halfway through and I resent this book. I don't like it. Sure it is smart, well written, researched, and heartfelt. But I don't like it. It has me gasping for breath. It feels like someone is stepping on my chest. This book makes me swallow every few minutes, trying to choke down the lump residing in my throat.
The woman in the book is Alice. She is 50 and has just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. The book gives such a glimpse into how the person with Alzheimer's feels that all I want to do is cry. It makes me sick to my stomach thinking of the internal struggle my father was going through. And it makes me question every conversation I had with my dad in his last few years. Was I kind enough? Was I too kind? Was I condescending in my concern? Did I make his last few years easier or was I irritatingly cheerful/cautious/chastising/babying/supportive? What was dad thinking? What could I have done better?
And then there is the subject that I have been so careful to avoid. Alzheimer's can be genetic. In the book Alice's Alzheimer's is genetic and her daughter also has the gene. She will also have Alzheimer's. A whole other subject that I never let myself think about is brought to the forefront of my mind by this stinking book.
And now. Now Todd's dad has Alzheimer's as well. We've known this for a while. This is not new information. But this past weekend while Todd's mom was away Todd was staying with his father and he had absolutely no clue who Todd was. He also had no idea he was married or that he had any children. It was the first time he ever forgot Todd. Todd has always been his father's pride and joy. If he was in a stubborn Alzheimer's fit Todd was the only person he would listen too. Whatever Todd said, he believed. And this weekend he didn't know who he was. It was incredibly hard for Todd.
I remember when my dad forgot who I was. It didn't sting me. I expected it and I didn't take it personally. It just didn't hit me. Perhaps because even when dad didn't know who I was it still felt like he knew that he should know me. And I guess in my heart I knew that he really did know me. His mind just wasn't allowing him to see it. But this is new for Todd. And though he went through all of this with me, it is different when it is your own father.
So, here we go again. The stress. The heartbreak. The worry. It is happening all over again. And reading this book, making me think of the what ifs for my own chances of getting Alzheimer's, Todd's chances, I have the urge to chuck it out the window. I can do without those thoughts. And what good do they do anyway? We will do the best with whatever we're given. That's all we can do.
And yet I keep reading this dumb book. Hoping for some happy ending, but knowing it will just get worse. I know Alzheimer's too well to believe it will end any other way. But I keep reading anyway. Hopeful.