So since about Tuesday, Wednesday for sure, I’ve been really anxious. About nothing really. But a couple things that have happened since Wednesday; rough time at work, other….things, stuff like that culminating this weekend, I’ve been an emotional wreck. Enter Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This book may or may not been the start of my emotionalness. I really don’t know for sure if this is what started my funk. But it definitely attributed.
Okay first of all, I love the iridescent like white cover with blue lettering on it. So much better than the movie cover. Second of all, synopsis. Alice is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and is known for her work in linguistics. She finds out that her memory problem isn’t just her getting older. She has early onset Alzheimer’s. This book is mainly about her experience. It is a piece of fiction.
I was very nervous about starting this book. It’s a book that my book club in Budapest is doing for the month of August. I wasn’t nervous because I wasn’t going to be back for book club for this meeting or ever, for that fact. I was nervous because of my history with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. My mom has been a nurse in the same nursing home since I can remember. I remember her being at work and wondering around looking for her and seeing people with dementia and never really knowing how to deal with them. I did eventually get used to it. It’s different when you start working in a nursing home that has dementia residents. I have a different attitude towards dementia now that I’ve worked with it more closely. It’s this weird combination of being numb and broken heartedness. Some of the people I work with, I knew before the dementia kicked in and a lot of them, I’ve seen get worse. You deal with them so they’re settled but you hate seeing them not remember where they are and worried because they don’t know where their spouse is, so on and so forth. You also see people that you once knew as kind and loving people turn into mean people. Being at the nursing home and doing a little education, I understand that. How angry do you get if you misplace your keys? For people with dementia, their lives are ‘I can’t find my keys’ times everything. They can’t find anything in their minds. Of course they’re going to be angry. Even watching family members with these residents is rough because sometimes they come out of their family members rooms looking defeated because that’s not the person they grew up with. The children want a conversation of the past with their loved one and that loved one can’t remember that the person talking to them is their child.
And then there’s the fact there is a history of Alzheimer’s in my family. Watching the only man I knew as grandfather go downhill as a teenager was rough. I was grandpa’s little girl. My grandma has said, very openly since grandpa’s death, that I was always grandpa’s favorite. Being the younger of two girls and being near the end of the line of cousins, grandpa did dote on me and did spoil me probably more than the others. But the adoration was both ways. Near the end of his memory, my grandmother and I were the only two he remembered consistently. I was a month and a half away from graduation, coming home from a school trip when he passed. For a while I was angry that grandpa wasn’t alive and coherent for my graduation like he was for pretty much everyone else. (with the exception of my 2 younger cousins that grandpa never really got to know) So yes, this book was rough on me. I knew it would be. I read the synopsis, I didn’t go into reading this book blind.
So what did I think about this book? I don’t want to say I enjoyed it because you watch a woman’s journey to not remembering. It does hurt. You want to shake her and say ‘Alice, you put your Blackberry in the freezer. Don’t you remember?’ You so desperately want her to remember. I do think that this was very accurate portrayal of how things go. Genova definitely did her research. My book has book club questions and then an author interview at the end. Genova talks a lot about who she dealt with when she was working on this book. I admire her going through so much work for this book. I appreciate that work.
I definitely loved how the family reacted. Because everyone seemed to have their own take and their own opinions on what should happen with Alice and her care. And I feel like it would be very easy to write the family in a way that would make them all of like mind and all agree on what should happen. A lot of times, families will disagree. It’s what families do on a regular basis and the fact that a family member has dementia doesn’t always relieve the tension. Sometimes families agree, but not always. So I loved that there were arguments and tense moments. I also loved that this book showed the family’s sadness when Alice didn’t remember something. Which brings me to the point that this book is through Alice’s point of view. I wouldn’t have thought about writing a book through her eyes. But I think it got a stronger point across. It got the point across that people with dementia still see and can process things that are going on. They might not know who you are but they still know that there’s tension. And being from Alice’s point of view you see the slow but rapid decline. There always seems to be an area of life you forget faster or it doesn’t seem like you’re losing your memory as fast as you think you are. I feel like this book aptly describes the process of losing your memory from that person’s point of view. The confusion and the frustration.
I remember very clearly when my grandfather stopped driving. Grandpa was a trucker, so driving was a big deal, and his license expired and he had to go take the test because he didn’t renew it before it expired. He failed by 1 point. We all expected grandpa to not deal very well. But he dealt fine. When Alice stopped working as a professor, I feel like she dealt very well. I would want to deal that well. She did keep one of her students that she was close too and reading that student’s graduation scene made me want to cry.
Through all of this, I did appreciate this book. Will it be a book that I pull out all the time to reread again and again? Absolutely not. I have too many emotions that go along with dementia. It’s too heavy of a book for me. But it is one that I would loan out and tell people to read.