aka The Frazzled Mom
Still Alice is the story of a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As the story begins, the reader is giving some hints and clues to the upcoming diagnosis through incidences in Alice’s life: forgetting a word in a lecture, getting lost on a familiar run near her home, and so on. As Alice tries to privately cope with the mind-numbing news, it is her doctor that painfully reminds her that taking on this diagnosis alone isn’t an option. Unlike other illnesses, where the patient can keep it private for years, Alzheimer’s really requires the unconditional love and support of others.
And as Alice progresses, the reader is giving glimpses, sometimes a little painful, where Alice believes her mind is fine, but reality is completely different. And when she’s finally sat down to go over student evaluations of her Spring semester course, it is only then that she realizes how much the disease has affected her daily life. She’d only been partially aware. Medications available and a clinical trial are no match for the disease, which continues to eat away at her life’s work and who she was and is.
A heartbreaking disease, Alzheimer’s steals random memories rather than working chronologically. Alice even mentions that if given the choice she’d gladly give up the memory of the US presidents in exchange for the memories of her daughter’s names.
So how does it end? I decided to add this because of one thing: Alice had put in place a plan to end her life before the disease took near complete control of her mind. Though she had it worked out, by the time she read over the instructions, her thoughts were interrupted and she forgot. The story ends with Alice in the care of her daughters and caregiver. Though her memory of her family is almost totally gone, she seems content.
When I was a child, I sat in front of an eighty year old man who had Alzheimer’s. Every Sunday, he’d tug on my ponytail. I’d turn to him and smile. Years later, after his passed, his wife said that was one of the things she remembered most. Although his tugging was childish, it was never called attention to other than for him to receive a kind smile. She said she thought that’s why he did it every Sunday, to receive that same smile.
The take away? Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are not to be feared or avoided. They make mistakes and rightfully so. Repeating a thought or forgetting a name: are these not forgivable offenses? I believe that by avoiding those with Alzheimer’s or acting awkward or uncomfortable, may unintentionally cause more pain not only for the sufferer, but also for the loved ones as well.
I enjoyed Lisa Genova’s writing style and plan to pick up her next book when it becomes available.