Most people I know have been touched by this dreaded disease in some way. I asked Christoph to describe his motivation for the book, and he sent me the following that I wanted to share with all of you.
I grew up with only a few friends and with two older siblings who were miles ahead of me in their lives. My mother was a busy woman and so I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house. She had always wanted to have four children but lost one child at birth. Her other three children were much older and didn’t need her much anymore, so my visits to her house filled a gap for her, in the same way as her attention to me filled a need in me. A match made in heaven.
Philomena, or Minna, as we called her, remained a source of happiness and encouragement throughout my life. I was always welcome and treated like a precious gift. She smoked, but she outlived both of her sisters (taken in their 40s by cancer).
In her late 70s, Minna was diagnosed with Alzheimers’ disease. Well, I thought, at least she lives, belittling her misfortune without much awareness.
The next time I saw her, her trademark happiness however seemed far away. She was crying bitterly because she had lost her hearing aid, a very expensive one, too. Suddenly her life seemed to revolve around retrieving things. She was spared the physical pain of her sisters, but she suffered severe mental torture.
She fortunately reached a happier stage as medication and care helped reduce the misery in her life, but the attention she needed was a huge toll to the family. Despite her memory loss, she seemed to vaguely recognize me; me, the ‘child’ that lived abroad and who rarely came to visit. She had not lost her warmth and happiness, or maybe she had just regained it after the bad patch I mentioned earlier.
Very recently I saw her again, almost unrecognizable: withdrawn, very unresponsive and almost reduced to basic functioning. Surprisingly, she could still read, and when I came to see her for a second time her eyes shone as if she did recognize me. I spoke an emotional goodbye to her, and her hand was shaky and excited as she listened to my speech. She even responded by talking, using words that didn’t fit exactly but which expressed an emotion similar to what one would expect from a loving aunt in such a situation.
With her loving kindness in mind, I created Biddy, the mother in Time to let Go, a selfless, giving woman, who even in her illness manages to show her innate kindness. I know it would be wrong to praise her for a gift that many other patients do not have, through no fault of their own. Losing one’s memory and control of one’s life is a terrible thing that you can only understand when it happens to you.
Time to Let Go is partly meant as a tribute to my brave aunt and to the wonderful people who help in making her life dignified and as happy as is possible.
Time to Let Go will be out in May, and I'll let you know as soon as it is available. An admirable book for anyone to read, but especially worthwhile for those dealing with a serious illness of a loved one.
Til Next Time,