I’m reading mostly novels these days. For most of my adult life, I’ve read serious non-fiction: politics, religion, economics, philosophy, and so on. I might have read two novels a year if someone pressed them on me. I still do read an occasional non-fiction, but I’m trying to spend most of my reading time with novels.
Part of it is that I have a little trouble staying with fairly abstract readings (as I mentioned in Abstractions a couple of weeks ago). Another part is that I just don’t find myself as interested in the intellectual world any more. (It doesn’t help, of course, that our national politics has become so dysfunctional, corporate power so overwhelming, media so subservient, the free market so dominating, and consumerism so unexamined … whoops, there I go again. Perhaps I’m not so disinterested.) Intellectual work is getting to be less and less a part of my self-identity. That phase of my life seems to be over: Been there, done that! I’m not even reading much about Alzheimer’s.
But perhaps the most important part is that I just want to read novels. They’re usually less abstract, of course. They tell stories of people who are different from me. They speak to my heart, not just my head. It’s part of the increasing emotional openness I’m experiencing. I greatly look forward to my reading time just before bed. Fortunately, I don’t have a set time to get up every day: A novel can keep me up hours past my bedtime.
I don’t ordinarily read children’s books. But seventeen-year-old Max Wallack sent me the little book he authored: Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? It was short, so I looked at it.
It’s a great book! Seven-year-old Julie is the narrator, but even older children who are faced with someone who has Alzheimer’s will find it helpful, I think. Grandma comes to live with Julie’s family. Not too long after, Julie notices that Grandma is starting to lose things. Julie’s worried she might be responsible for Grandma’s trouble; maybe Julie’s own messiness has caused the problem. Her mom explains simply that Grandma can’t remember because she has Alzheimer’s disease. After Julie finds Grandma’s panties in the refrigerator, she asks her mom about it. She’s afraid Alzheimer’s might be contagious. Her mom reassures her and describes very briefly the neuronal dysfunction in Alzheimer’s. The rest of the book follows the deepening and wonderful relationship between the Julie and her grandmother.
Although I’m much earlier in the disease than Grandma, the book reminds me of my relationship with my grandchildren. My daughter told them I was having trouble with my memory, which didn’t seem like a big deal to them. When I’d lose something or forget how to play a game, they’d sometimes ask me matter-of-factly: “Is that your memory problem?” I’d say, “Yes” and that was pretty much the end of the discussion.
We don’t need to protect our children from Grandma’s diagnosis. If you’re okay with it, they’ll be okay with it. And, at least for the younger children, Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? might be a good way to start the conversation.