<B>Battling the Alzheimer's beast</B> There may be little grace mined from the back-breaking, ever-shifting process of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, but searing, sometimes soulful nuggets of epiphany occasionally surface during the process. Novelist Eleanor Cooney has woven keen insights, beloved memories and painful despair into a new memoir, <B>Death in Slow Motion: My Mother's Descent into Alzheimer's</B>. This brutally honest chronicle, rich with darkly humorous metaphor, relates the author's desperate battle to save her mother from "the beast called Alzheimer's."Cooney's movable lens of memoir switches between her childhood and adult years, and we come to know her beautiful, brilliant and witty mother, East Coast writer Mary Durant. She "was a racehorse raring to run. She wanted action. She wanted flash and glamour." Complex, charming and gifted, she was also a woman who very much desired and was desired by men. After the heartbreaking early death of her third husband, the love of her life, Durant was profoundly depressed and chronically grieving. This, Cooney believes, was the true fundament of her mother's disease: "I think grief literally burned out the circuits of my mother's brain." We travel with Cooney as she navigates, with the dubious help of drugs and alcohol, the rough road deep into Alzheimer's territory: the stunned initial coping, the difficult but hopeful care-giving and the agonizing realization of defeat ending in a beloved mother's institutionalization. This is not a self-help book for those dealing with Alzheimer's, but a truthful portrayal of the dreary and heartbreaking realities of the disease, especially the confusing search for caregiver support and an affordable, compassionate and clean care facility.
Cooney's memoir does not end in death, but with an affirmation of life. At one point, the nursing facility calls to relate that Mary Durant has been found sharing the bed of a male resident, sleeping soundly and attired only in a shirt. Says the nurse, " . . . they're adults, and they still have desires." Cooney laughs, giddily exuberant that part of her mother's organic essence, her physical desire, has resurfaced. Another light still shining, not yet extinguished.
<I>Alison Hood writes from San Rafael, California.</I>