Last year, while I was back in England, I had the good fortune to be able to assist a friend of the family, Maggie La Tourelle, with the writing and editing of her memoir / spiritual reflection, The Gift of Alzheimer's: Heart and Soul Journey. She has generously listed me, on Amazon, as one of her editors.
The book describes Maggie's mother's long decline and death from Alzheimer's. When her mother was first diagnosed, Maggie was terrified and fearful for her mum's remaining years, but also saddened that she and her parents, who had spent their lives within a very conservative part of Scottish society, would now never be able to talk through and make sense of the unhappiness and failure to communicate that had characterised so much of of Maggie's childhood.
Fortunately, Maggie's mum was able to move to a care home just next door to her old house. Maggie began commuting between London and Scotland, visiting her mother as often as she could. Most of their conversations were erratic and repetitive. Her mother knew who Maggie was, and in fact retained a surprising amount of her faculties. She was, as Alzheimer's patients go, quite “lucky.” But she could not remember much, and tended to repeat herself.
However, as those conversations progressed, something changed. At times, Maggie's mother spoke differently. It seemed to Maggie that her mother was opening up, both to her family members, present and absent, and to the process of death and transformation going on inside her. She spoke of being prepared for the next world by several guides–including, among them, another version of Maggie herself.
To Maggie's amazement, her mother, although utterly incapable on a physical, everyday level, and unable to remember in the afternoon what she had done each morning, began to work the healing of her whole family, reaching to Maggie, her husband (Maggie's father), and to members of the family who had long passed away.
The memoir presents the conversations Maggie had with her mother during those final years, Maggie's later reflections on their significance, and suggestions and advice for people who are caring for a relative or loved one with Alzheimer's. The point of the book is simply that Alzheimer's patients have things to say, things worth listening to.
Her mother's experience was not every sufferer's experience. Alzheimer's affects different people differently, and some people will be devastated by it in ways that will make the suggestions in Maggie's book hard to put into practice. Nevertheless, the book offers a story and a set of good practices that may help.
The book's website is here.