To say that it is difficult to lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s is an understatement. The slow destruction of their mind is painful beyond words. It is an experience that I know all too well.
The new memoir, My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, by Martin J. Schreiber and Cathy Breitenbucher, was published in June. Schreiber was Governor of Wisconsin in the late 1970s. He was also the caregiver of his late wife, Elaine. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, he spent the last 18 years taking care of her.
The book tells the story of her disease and their life together. Meeting in high school, they married young and had four children. Martin would eventually get into politics while Elaine took on the traditional roles of wife and mother. She was also his biggest cheerleader and actively campaigned for him.
When it became apparent that something was off, Martin did everything he could to support her.
The best way to describe the book is part love story, part memoir, and part advice column. In between the story of their life together is guidance and information on how to deal with slow and painful mental decline.
What made the narrative stick for me were two distinct elements. The first is reading Elaine’s own words. The second is Martin’s perspective as the male caregiver. Normally, this role is fulfilled by a female, whether she is his wife, family member, or an aide who has been hired out from an agency.
The most important part for me (as a family member of someone who has the illness), is how important mental health is for the person who is taking care of their loved one. Taking time for themselves provides a much needed break from the stress that comes with this experience.
In providing his perspective, he shows that this experience is universal, regardless of gender. It also shows how powerful love can be, even during challenging times.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver is available wherever books are sold.