Have you ever sung a hymn in church and puzzled over the lyrics? For years I’ve sung about being covered by the blood of Jesus, knowing in my head it refers to God’s sacrifice of his Son on the cross to save me from my sin, but feeling in my heart like an accidental bystander sprayed with the blood of a luckless victim.
This morning I finished Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (see my review) and had an epiphany. As Alice descends into the fog of early onset Alzheimer’s, her husband John struggles with all he is losing. Alice plants her feet firmly on the plateau of what she still has, but she fears that John would just as soon help her jump to her inevitable death to save himself the pain of her lengthy demise. I know that pain.
I knew less about Alzheimer’s during my father’s final years with the disease than I do now. I will admit that I just wanted it to be over, for him and for me. I loved him, but I truly had no desire to stand with him in those long days of confusion and inactivity.
Genova heightens the tension of Alice’s situation with a career opportunity of a lifetime for John that would remove him, physically and emotionally, from the family. It is a move he can justify. Being a master at rationalization, I am in no position judge him for what might look like insensitivity, though I wonder how faith factors into his decision, if it does.
To turn down an opportunity to use your knowledge and talent in a (largely) selfless attempt to better mankind seems foolish. But then, God has a history of asking people to do foolish things. Example: He gave Abraham a son and then told him to offer the boy as a sacrifice; kill him. That is just one tree in a forest of God’s expectations. His appetite for sacrifice culminates with the requirement that Jesus die a painful death on a cross to save our souls.
To look beyond reason is to see that the tempting job opportunity may in fact not be John’s last chance to make his mark in life. When we yield our highest ambitions and closely held beliefs about our identity to the way of love, we avail ourselves of the Christ who has gone before us and now stands on the plateau, ready to walk with us through the shadows and valleys into the light. What appears to be
senseless blood-letting turns out to be life giving.
Lisa Genova tells the story of Alice from her unique point of view as a neuroscientist. More important, she tells a human story with a heart of compassion. Still Alice puts readers in the position of the afflicted and asks the deep questions: When we lose memory, do we lose our identity? What is our identity really based on?
I have been outside this window looking in, so I understood the struggle between Alice, who is losing herself, and her husband John, who suffers the pain of watching her disappear and wonders how much of his life he wants to give up to go on the journey with her. The author expresses it as a choice to stand on the plateau with the afflicted, or to push them off the precipice.
This thought led me to some soul searching. Without faith, the temptation of give circumstances a push to end the pain is strong. Genova does readers a service by revealing the issues and inviting us to think deeply about our existence.
Our son visits on Father’s Day, pokes around in the refrigerator, and pulls out a bottle of BBQ sauce with an expiration date of 2002. He holds the bottle up in front of me and points to the offending date.“Seriously, Mom?
Time to clear out the fridge.
In yoga class the teacher invites us to clear all thoughts of the day’s activities from our heads. I tick through my “to do” list and wish for a “Clear All” button to press. I visualize a screen full of “to dos” disappearing. Then the screen in my mind’s eye refreshes with the next fity items on the list.
Time to clear out of town and go on vacation?
I’d like to tell you a story of a time when I cleared out the clutter and lovely whitespace appeared, but like an ocean tide, chaos goes out and comes back in again. For one small moment, sun glistens on empty sand and catches the light of bubbles that mark the spot where tiny sea creatures burrow. Then the sea rushes back.
For one small moment my refrigerator is clean and I can see my choices; my mind is free and I can focus on my body; the beach is quiet and my soul is at rest.Sydney Avey GROVELAND, CA
When you find yourself the point person for relocating your aging mother, the bottom line is that you now manage her life. It becomes your responsibility to ensure that her bills get paid, she gets to her medical appointments, and she has appropriate clothing. (Older people can’t deal with clothes that challenge their agility.)
Here are some steps we took that made the process work.Read More»
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked this up in vacation off a B&B bookshelf because I’m interested in artists who work in more than one field and because I was born and raised and raised my children near Palo Alto, but a world away.
Writers sometimes write to process their experiences. This appears to be Franco’s motivation for penning this memoir turned short story collection. I found myself having difficulty sorting out the voices of the different disaffected teenagers as they told their stories. It occurred to me that this may be the point. Perhaps disaffection speaks with one voice. Rich or poor, male or female, perhaps dissatisfied and disconnected speaks with one voice.
I also wonder how Franco overcame the soullessness of the aimless existence he portrays to achieve acclaim as an actor and then to enter an MFA program and write a book. That’s the story I’d like to read.
When you move in to give assistance to an aging parent, the dividing lines between parent and child, yours and mine, begin to blur. At the same time, the divide between cultures and generations sharpens.
No matter your situation, whether you are nobly stepping up to your responsibility or bravely wrestling control away from a parent who does not recognize their peril, you are bound to feel like the bad guy at some point.
The role reversal is uncomfortable. You look for ways to respect the dignity of the person whose life you are raiding. You try to involve them in decision making, help them feel a sense of power and control they no longer have, and you run smack into the problem that brought you to this place. Grandma can no longer make a decision. Any decision.
Case in point, it appeared that the neighbors had been using grandma’s closet at their personal recycling center. Her closet was stuffed full of torn, stained size 14 clothes. (She is a size 6.) Before I caught on, I sat her on the bed, whipped one article of clothing after another out of the abyss, and held it up. She had one of two responses.
“I might wear that someday.”
“I don’t remember who gave that to me, so I better keep it.”
I sent her to the kitchen to eat her lunch and began making heartless decisions. Into the trash went the “gift” clothing. I set aside the lovely suits she no longer wears to give to the consignment store, but when time got tight and I pictured someone in town showing up at her church in her clothes, they went in the dumpster.Read More»