Losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease is akin to a slow and painful torture. Watching this person deteriorate into a shell of their former selves is infinitely one of the most difficult experiences anyone could have.
Actress and writer Patti Davis knows about this all too well. Davis, the daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, watched as her father wasted away to become someone who was physically recognizable, but emotionally different. Her new book, Floating in the Deep End: How Caregivers can See Beyond Alzheimer’s, was published in September. In addition to her writing and acting, Davis also runs a support group for family members of those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. Combining everything she has been through, Davis walks the reader through all of the stages of this disease and the effects it can have on both the person who has been diagnosed and those they care about.
This is a topic that is unfortunately, hitting a little too close to home for me. The thing that popped out was that she kept stressing how important mental health is for everyone involved. Not just for the person whose life is forever altered, but for the caregivers whose entire world has just been turned upside down. She encourages the reader to be compassionate and forgiving, not just of themselves, but any anger/resentment they may have against the person whose mind is being slowly destroyed.
Balancing the clinical aspects and the complicated emotions involved, Davis’s approach is gentle and understanding. She encourages the reader to take things day by day and not let everything that is happening overwhelm them. In doing so, it takes some of the weight off of everyone involved and allow them to take a deep breath before moving forward.
A stamp can be one of two things. It can be the postage on a letter. Or, it can be something more.
Jillian Cantor‘s 2017 book, The Lost Letter: A Novel, takes place in two different time periods. In 1989, in Los Angeles, Katie is dealing with the one-two punch of her broken marriage and putting her Alzheimer’s stricken father into a nursing home. While going through his things, she discovers a World War II era stamp. Taking it to Benjamin, an appraiser, Katie starts on a journey across time and the continents to discover decades old secrets.
Fifty years earlier, Kristoff is a young orphan in Austria. He is apprenticed to a master stamp engraver and in love with Elena, his teacher’s eldest daughter. The master engraver and his family are Jewish, Kristoff is Christian. When the engraver disappears during Kristallnacht, he joins the resistance and makes a promise that he and Elena will somehow survive.
I loved this book. It was engaging and powerful. It was ultimately the story of love. Not just romantic love between Kristoff and Elena, but the love that a daughter feels for her father. If there was one thing that rang true, it was the image of how emotionally destructive Alzheimer’s disease is. The slow and painful process of watching someone you love being replaced by a shell of their former selves is beyond difficult and requires strength that you may not think you have.
Living with Alzheimer’s is not easy for both the person is who is suffering and their loved ones.
The TV movie, Elizabeth is Missing, premiered last night on PBS. Maude Horsham (Glenda Jackson) is a woman in her later years who has been diagnosed with with early onset Alzheimer’s. When her friend and neighbor, Elizabeth (Maggie Steed) disappears, Maud is convinced that something sinister has happened to her. While she doggedly tries to put the pieces together, everyone around her thinks that Maud has lost her marbles. There is also the question of what happened to Maude’s older sister, Sukey (Sophie Rundle), who went missing decades ago.
What I liked about this TV movie is that is that we see the world through Maud’s eyes. When it comes to narratives where one of the characters has Alzheimer’s, the perspective is usually on the family members, not the person who is living with the disease. As a viewer, it made me sympathetic to Maud because I saw and heard what she saw and heard.
The problem is, however, is that the drama is not as high stakes as it is made out to be. Granted, in terms of mystery dramas, it is low key. But I wish that there was just a little more meat on the narrative bones.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
Elizabeth is Missing is available for streaming on the PBS website.