Blog of the Week: Living in the Shadow of Alzheimer
With one finger in his belt loop stretching out Bob's back in his usual way.”
That phrase is pure, unadulterated genius. That right there could be the opening sentence of an existentialist, stream-of-consciousness novel, sort of a Kafka-meets-Sartre-by-way-of-Faulkner deal. But Sheri – the person who wrote it, and author of the Living in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s Blog – does not have such high literary ambition, even if her writing style is could perfectly be construed as a masterpiece of absurdism. In fact, she treasures the little things in life. She wants to choose joy. She wants to pause, praise, and pray. She wants to converse. She wants a little romance.
Sheri likes to take pictures. She hates Alzheimer’s disease. And she writes a blog. The word blog is a truncation of web log, but in this particular case it’s more a log that happens to be on the Web. By that I mean that Sheri has something to share each and every single day, even if it’s just a short sentence… and why shouldn’t she? She does live with Alzheimer’s everyday; if the disease doesn’t take a break, why should she?
The mostly short, daily blurbs are by far the most complete representation I’ve seen of what caring for a spouse with cognitive problems is like. I haven’t worked my way down to the very first post, but if they do go back to 2010 (at the bottom of the page there are the words “Copyright 2010 All rights reserved”) that would mean it’s even more thorough than I thought.
Either way, it goes without saying that Sheri is a very prolific blogger. However, she’s more J.D. Salinger than James Joyce, in the sense that for her writing is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The writing experience is cathartic for her, as it allows her to open up and not bottle up her feelings and thoughts inside of her. And yet, I wouldn’t say that she writes only for herself. Obviously, everyone who has gone or is going through the ordeal providing care for a patient with Alzheimer’s will see a bit –or a lot – of themselves here. But others will still find a riveting read. There is poignancy, an urgency displayed on this blog that the fact that the entries are unabashedly unedited only adds to. This is slice-of-life in full adherence to the definition of it being “a storytelling technique that presents a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character's life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending.” Most authors use that technique by design, but with Alzheimer’s disease it’s not so much a literary device but life itself.
Living in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s consists of two people with dual roles. They are Sheri and Bob, parents of three who have been married for 25 years, the last seven of which have been spent coping with Alzheimer’s disease. Their counterparts are “Al” and the Narrator, as I like to call her. As can be easily surmised, Al is short for Alzheimer’s, but can easily – though probably not on purpose – bring to mind an association with HAL 9000, the sentient computer gone rogue in 2001: A Space Odyssey; just remember how as astronaut David Bowman shuts it down, HAL’s consciousness degrades and its memory regresses. The Narrator, on the other hand, is none other than Sheri, who in another stroke of genius decided to write her blog in the third person.
This splitting of her character not only provides Sheri, in a narrative sense, with her own alter ego in response to that of Bob’s but, more practically speaking, allows her in a way to become a fly on the wall, observing the events of her own life from the vantage point of an outsider, effectively putting herself in our place as readers. At the same time she checks another box in the literary manual by offering us a classic example of an ‘unreliable narrator.’ Of course Sheri is not an objective narrator; she loves her characters too much for that. She even loves Al; not the disease, which we already established she hates, but the extension of her husband that has developed in the past seven years. The Bob who goes to “work” every day (her code for the Adult Day Center), who leans on a cane with a saw handle, the one who thinks of building a birdhouse neighborhood. I could finish by making another comparison to an auteur, this time Ingmar Bergman, in relation to the silence of God. But Sheri does believe God has a plan, for better or worse.
About The Writer: