“I think I am doing okay with Dad fading away, but the fact that he’s still here and can respond is huge. If that goes away, it really will be much harder. We have still more to lose.” – Memoir Author Christine Grote
As a health care provider with years of experience, I have witnessed from afar how devastating a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be on families. The families’ grief over the loss of loved ones’ abilities to connect in meaningful ways trumps any physical ailment. It’s as if the person disappears but the body remains. In sharing her story of her father’s decline from Alzheimer’s in her new memoir, Where Memories Meet: Reclaiming My Father After Alzheimer’s, Christine Grote offers us all a vivid and gripping look at the personal toll the disease has on loved ones that no textbook can offer, an insider’s view of the face of Alzheimer’s.
I am thrilled to feature Christine in this interview about her new memoir. Christine has been a guest before in this post, “How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss”,where she shared her memoir, Dancing in Heaven, a poignant tribute to her sister Annie and a window into a family’s life with a severely disabled family member.
Welcome back, Christine!
The Face of Alzheimer’s: Where Memories Meet
KP: Christine, it’s a pleasure to have you return to Memoir Writer’s Journey to discuss your new memoir, Where Memories Meet. I am struck by the challenges you have had to face within your family and how you have chosen to share your stories so openly with others. What made you decide to share your stories as memoirs?
CG: Thank you for having me, Kathy. Since the beginning of time, we have shared our stories with others for many reasons. Some are for personal gratification. We may want to be acknowledged for what we have accomplished or survived. We may seek sympathy, forgiveness, or understanding. Others are for the benefit of the listener, or reader. We may want to entertain, warn, educate, or form a bond of understanding. I had a couple of compelling reasons for sharing my stories. One was to help others who have a desire to know or to see, as you put it in this case, ‘The face of Alzheimer’s.’ I wanted to educate readers, who may not have first-hand experience with the disease, about some of the challenges we faced. I also wanted to reach out to those who have had, or are having, experience and let them know they are not alone. I think these two reasons are true for both of my books.
KP: Caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s is one of the most painful and difficult challenges faced by adult children. What would you highlight for others dealing with a similar situation?
GG: The very most important thing is to take care of yourself. Give yourself the breaks you need. Find support. Outside of this, the most important thing, and I think I learned this philosophy of life from living with my severely disabled sister as I wrote about in Dancing in Heaven, is to focus on the positive. Try to focus not so much on what someone cannot do, but rather, what he or she can do. It’s interesting. For those of us who have raised children from infants, we regularly and systematically add to their list of abilities. They smile, creep, hold a toy in their hand, crawl, then walk and so forth. With Alzheimer’s, the list regularly and systematically gets shorter and shorter. So we see it as a loss. If we can focus on what someone can still do, it may help us appreciate what we still have while we have it, even to the very end. I recognized this after my mother died. I wrote, “One thing I do know is that being with Dad is now a comfort instead of a sorrow, even though he can’t walk, can’t talk, and may not always know who I am.” He was still a living, breathing human being. I could see him and hug him. That was something.
KP: The structure of your memoir is very intriguing. The juxtaposition of alternating points-of-view between you and your father is very effective in engaging the reader in the process of his decline and your reaction to it. How did you decide on this structure and why?
CG: Dad wanted to tell me his life story. I actually started recording his stories before we knew he had Alzheimer’s. Then the disease started revealing itself, and Dad’s memories started to erode. When Dad got to the point in telling his story where I was an adult, he said, ‘You know the rest of the story.’ So I started thinking about our memories. His and mine. And I realized that there was overlap. I was intrigued by the idea of that place in time where our memories met. When I added that idea to the fact that I did not want the book to end at a sad place, the structure I wanted to use became clear to me. I think I took a risk with moving my storyline backwards in time, but it was a priority for me to leave the story with my dad whole and healthy.
KP: Anyone who has written a memoir knows how daunting it can be revealing intimate details about those we know and love. What was the writing process like for you? What helped you, hindered you in telling your story based upon your truth?
GG: Most of the scenes I wrote about being with Dad or doing an activity with him, I wrote very close to the time that they happened. I think this helped me capture the true emotion of the moments. I wrote and finished the story within a couple of years after Dad and Mom passed. My emotions were still fresh. That was both an aid and a hindrance. It helped me convey the range of strong emotions I was trying to work through, but it was a difficult task and overwhelming at times. I had to take several long breaks, months off, at several points during the process until I was able to face it again. The biggest hindrance in telling my truth, was probably in how I portrayed my mother. She struggled. And there were many bad days because of it. I censured myself and left out the most painful memories of her distress. After she died, I got a new perspective on her situation and came to a more generous, and what I believe to be truthful, understanding of her and what she was enduring. That understanding is still evolving.
KP: What is your main “takeaway” for your readers?
CG: I think you stated it well, although maybe you intended a slightly different interpretation of your words when you called the book, “The face of Alzheimer’s.” I think you meant a close-up, real-life look at the disease’s effect on loved ones. Where Memories Meets delivers that. And that was a main motivation for writing the book. But more important for me, was telling the story of the man behind the disease. I wanted to present the challenges we faced, but I did not want to sensationalize the disease. There was a man with a whole life who suffered from Alzheimer’s during his last years. I wanted the reader to see the man. In effect, I want readers to see each man and woman behind the disease.
KP: Your memoir is very relevant in our society as Alzheimer’s continue to take it’s toll with no cure in sight. Your story helps to increased awareness and provides a template for caregivers who may be faced with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Do you have any specific marketing plans for getting the word out and reaching your target audience?
CG: That’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? I wish I could explain step-by-step a marketing plan to follow. But the truth is, no. Like many others, I am a writer. But marketer? Not so much. I’m trying to find and contact people who blog about this or a related topic, like yourself, who might help spread the word that this book is available. It’s a slow process, but I believe Where Memories Meet will find its way to the readers who will appreciate it. I might be naïve, but I have a certain faith about it.
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Alzheimer’s or about writing a memoir?
CG: I hope I am alive to see a cure for Alzheimer’s. I think it can be done. If my book helps, even in an incremental way, to bring awareness to the topic, I will feel satisfied.
Thank you, Christine for sharing your story so openly. I love your focus on reclaiming your father and all the memories that shaped his life. It left me with a sense of hope that no matter how Alzheimer’s affects a loved one, we can still preserve and honor those precious memories. And as you have said, in the end, love is all that matters. I have no doubt your story will touch many in a positive and uplifting way. You have offered a guide for dealing with loved one who has Alzheimer’s. You also have educated us on the disease and its impact on families. My favorite line is: “If we can focus on what someone can still do, it may help us appreciate what we still have while we have it, even to the very end.”
Author Bio and contact information
Christine M. Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for several years in product development at a large corporation in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, Christine returned to school at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Written Communications in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati with her husband and their dog Arthur. She enjoys gardening, reading, traveling, and writing primarily nonfiction, human-interest stories.
Where Memories Meet—Reclaiming my father after Alzheimer’s is available at:
Brief Book Synopsis:
“I never thought it would be like this,” Jerry said a couple of years into his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The last years of his life, Jerry systematically lost his speech, mobility, independence, memories, and his self to this unrelenting disease.
The eldest son of an alcoholic and mentally ill father, a child during the Great Depression and WWII, and an army draftee during the Korean War, Jerry’s stories breathe life into pages from our history books.
Jerry survived his rocky childhood and overcame his humble beginnings to become a successful business owner. Throughout his adult life Jerry remained a loyal family man and the devoted father of five children, one of them a severely disabled daughter, Annie.
In interweaving her father’s story with her own, Christine moves past memories of the heartbreak of Jerry’s last years and, in effect, reclaims her father after Alzheimer’s.
How about you? Have you cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s? If so, do you have any thoughts to add?
Christine has graciously offered to give away a copy of Where Memories Meet: Reclaiming My Father After Alzheimer’s to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing.
We’d love to hear from you . Please leave your comments below~
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