I read 'Still Alice' a few weeks ago and am still feeling its impact. It was a book club choice for August's meeting and I have not yet been able to put this book to sleep and move on to another story.
'Still Alice' is a novel about a fifty year old Harvard professor who is diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease. She is in the prime of her life, at the peak of her academic career, happily married, with three grown children.
An avid runner, she finds herself in the middle of Harvard Square on a run one afternoon, confused and unable to recall the way home from a place she has known for 25 years. That is the beginning of her story, a tale of her rather rapid descent into forgetfulness.
The author, Lisa Genova, herself a Harvard professor, takes a calculated risk in choosing to tell this heart-breaking story from Alice's point of view, but it pays off in dividends for the reader.
I both loved and hated this book.
During my nursing career I cared for many people with Alzheimer's but never fully understood what might be going on inside their minds. This story, in presented from Alice's perspective, gives insight into what it may be like for the person losing her ability to speak, her memory , indeed, her very self.
As someone who is watching a parent lose large parts of her memory to dementia, I felt this story keenly from the point of view of the spouse and children. It is truly a painful thing to witness and often there seems to be no way to comfort.
But....I also loved the book and here is why. Ultimately, Alice lives only in the present moment, her past is gone and she doesn't understand the future. Her family, especially her children, have an opportunity to make each day calm, comfortable and ultimately joyful for Alice.
Since reading this book, I look at my own situation in a slightly different way. I have let go of the sadness that my mother is forgetting things that seem unthinkable for her to forget.
Instead, I hold on to the thought that only this day, this moment, filled with laughter or quiet conversation about the family or a new photo of her beloved great grandson, or the anticipation of trying a new recipe, is all that matters. She doesn't have to recall today ever, because tomorrow will bring it's own moments.
My book club, with members from thirty-four to seventy-one, agreed this was a terrific read and we gave it one of our higher ratings. The story is compelling and, at the same time, provides so much information about a little understood illness, without hitting the reader over the head. It is a gripping page-turner, guaranteed to give a reader much food for thought.
Take-Away for Today - 'Still Alice' is a provocative read.