Last month, I was browsing Amazon Kindle book deals, and I came across An Absent Mind by Eric Rill, a novel about an elderly man, Saul, developing Alzheimer’s. What pushed me to buy the book was reading this review by one Anne D.:
I was unaware that the author secretly moved into my home and observed my family for several difficult years as my late husband faded away toward oblivion.
The only experience I’ve had in my own life with any type of dementia was in high school, when I heard that my 7th grade math teacher, who had been perfectly cognizant while teaching our class, had wandered off and gone missing due to his dementia. I remember feeling shocked that someone who had led a class just a few years ago could now be in a state where he couldn’t even tell where he was. Luckily, he was found safe but disoriented several days later.
I thought An Absent Mind would help me understand the complex disease of Alzheimer’s better, and what it’s like not only for those suffering from it, but also their caretakers. And it did express that, beautifully I thought. What I didn’t expect was to also see myself and my family in the narratives written from the perspective of Saul and his family members/caretakers. Keeping with my promise to myself to be more transparent with this blog, I think now’s a good time to mention that I lost my mother to lung cancer in 2009 after she fought bravely for a little over 2 years after diagnosis. As I kept reading, I marveled at how two unrelated diseases could conjure up such similar emotions among families who are affected. The terminal nature of Alzheimer’s and lung cancer is what connects the two experiences so tightly, and I admit it was pretty cathartic to read that other people, even if they are fictional characters, felt the same as I did while my mom was sick.
One last thing – one small section toward the end of this book where Joey, Saul’s son, decides to take greater responsibility in caring for his parents, gave me an intense feeling of gratitude that I got to live at home during this gap year before med school, allowing me to see my dad, my younger brother, and my stepmom everyday before I go off to pursue my career further. I know we all have to grow up and build our own lives/families, but I think I’ll always want more and more time to spend with them, to enjoy each other’s company in good health.