Aliceheimer’s is a poetic little book about a daughter looking after an aged mother with alzheimer’s. Alice has a memory like swiss cheese. But her daughter Dana Walrath doesn’t focus on the loss. Instead she sees her mother as having special powers such as the ability to speak to dead people, to time travel and to accommodate simultaneous realities. This is how it works. At dinner one night when Alice remarks: ‘This meat is delicious..I don’t know where you got it?..Isn’t there rationing?’ Instead of contesting her mother’s time-dislocation, Dana asks gently: ‘Are you in World War 2?” And then simply tells her mother: ‘I’m here in 2010 where there is no rationing.’ Her mother isn’t distressed by this revelation, instead she looks at her son-in-law and asks: ‘And where is he?’
It is a remarkable and heartwarming book especially as Dana’s relationship with her mother was fraught. But since her mom’s alzheimer’s there has been a metamorphosis. Having forgotten who they were, Dana’s mother can now forge a new relationship with her daughter. When Alice asks fearfully one night ‘And if I just call, you come?’ Dana responds gently ‘It might not be me, but if you call, I promise you, someone nice will come.’ To which her mother says: ‘That’s good. Thank you. I’ll sleep well knowing that.’
The daughter is now the parent and she tends her mother with all the sweetness, tenderness and patience she probably wished for as a child. This cocoon of love allows her mother to feel safe and acknowledge her mistakes.’Why are you so good to me?’ she asks one day. To which Dana responds ‘Because you are my mother.’ And then Alice remembers. ‘Ah yes.. I wasn’t very good to you. I’m sorry.’
That apology must have seemed like an extraordinary gift. But I believe that being there and being open to the weird magic at the end of someone’s life is a process that showers us with unexpected gifts.