If you know or have known an individual with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s fair to say you have known one too many.
Sooner than later, the ravenous disease eventually claims all their memories. All the while, we must be determined not to show our despair as the degenerative process gradually devours our loved one’s history, including the relationship with us.
For a brief period when the disease first launches the random brain attacks, the individual is aware enough to be both frustrated in the moment and fearful of the inevitable next siege. This must be by far the most difficult time of life for dementia sufferers — when they know what’s happening and what’s yet to come … and go.
While we hope to no more than imagine and never realize the horrors of dementia, novelist Fredrik Backman helps the uninitiated feel the experience — for better and worse. In And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, he tells of a grandfather who shares with his grandson the experience of trying to hold on to his memory.
“What does it feel like?” the boy asks in one passage.
“Like constantly searching for something in your pockets. First you lose the small things, then it’s the big ones. It starts with keys and ends with people,” the grandfather responds.
“When you’ve forgotten a person, do you forget you’ve forgotten?” the boy asks.
“No, sometimes I remember that I’ve forgotten. That’s the worst kind of forgetting. Like being locked out in a storm.”
Backman’s storytelling respectfully asks and answers the most confounding questions about dementia.
“’Horrible,’ says the boy.”
“Yes. Very, very, very horrible. For some reason places and directions seem to be the first thing to disappear. First you forget where you’re going, then where you’ve been, and eventually where you are … or … maybe it was the other way around …”
Backman also writes of the old man’s desperation in trying to keep hold of his most important thoughts, especially those with his long-gone wife: “He remembers each of the very first times he saw her, he hides those pictures as far from the rain as he can.”
Poignant, insightful, unforgettable. While nothing can prepare us for a life with dementia, Backman’s short 76-page novella can teach us to better understand and empathize with those who suffer the devastation.