Alzheimer’s: Through My Mother’s Eyes Book Review

Mothers eyes
Mrs. Suzette Brown makes good on her promise to allow the reader to see through the eyes of someone who has Alzheimer’s disease; or, at the very least, the eyes of someone whose loved one has this degenerative condition. To an unsophisticated reader, this book might seem repetitive, disjointed, fragmentary, and ambiguous. But therein lies the genius of it. Reading Mrs. Brown’s account is without a shadow of a doubt the closest you will ever get to experience what Alzheimer’s disease must really be like without actually being diagnosed with this illness.  

Take for instance this phrase which seems to be Mrs. Brown’s mantra: “I have since learned…,” that keeps cropping up here and there in the book. Not only does it convey the constant learning process that the author goes undergoes from the moment her mother is diagnosed, but it also provides a sort of hypnotic rhythm; the ticking of a mechanical metronome that may sound monotone on its own but which keeps the pace of the story being told. And make no mistake; this is a story full of leitmotifs and idées fixe.

In its own way, this technique harks back to Jorge Luis Borges’ 1949 short story The Zahir, in which the titular object that causes maddening obsession could perfectly be considered a placeholder for Alzheimer’s disease. Just like the protagonist of that tale obsesses over a single coin, so does Mrs. Brown’s mother obsesses over her money; where it is, how much of it is left, how it is being spent, &c. This pattern of constant repetition is present in many aspects within the book, but nowhere is it stronger than in the non-stop phone calls from mother to daughter. Isn’t that something everyone can identify with? We have all been driven out of our heads by the unrelenting ringing of a telephone at least once in our lives.

Now take that slight annoyance and multiply it by infinity and you’ll get nowhere near what it’s like having to deal with Alzheimer’s every single day for years on end. Mrs. Brown does a fine job of depicting the frustration, anger, confusion, and even denial that caregiving puts all involved parties through, as well as the emotional and physical toll it takes on the caretaker. It’s very satisfying to see that the author stresses the fact that caregivers must take care of themselves or they won’t be able to fulfill their duties. At this point that may sound trite, but it can never be said enough, especially when there are caregivers who still let themselves go even if only to escape the guilt of believing that they’re not doing enough, though they have given all they’ve got and then some. Those who remember the ending of Schindler's List will agree. It’s also worth mentioning that Mrs. Brown gives props to those caregivers who do resign their jobs, and move in with their diseased relatives, or move their relatives into their own homes.

Mrs. Brown is not a professional writer, and while this hurts the book it also adds to it. A little bit of editing -and even censorship, considering the unnecessary overuse of expletives- would have benefited the text a great deal. On the other hand, the sheer rawness of the author’s unbridled emotions lends the narrative a sense of urgency that compensates for the unavoidable lack of suspense. That’s not a criticism at all; the book’s ending is both a foregone conclusion and a moot point given the subject matter. We can’t expect a story about Alzheimer’s disease in particular or caregiving in general to have a happy ending; the more we can aspire to is a bittersweet coda that also provides a glimmer of hope, and Mrs. Brown’s tome accomplishes that in spades. In caregiving, as in life, it’s not the destination but the journey that counts.