Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease
by Holly J. Hughes

The Kent State University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-606-53007-2.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 06/17/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

Alzheimer's steals brains. It destroys its victims and isolates their caregivers. Holly J. Hughes's Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease shares the writings of 100 contemporary authors who have personal experience with the disease. These nurses, doctors, social workers, sons, daughters, and spouses take the reader "beyond forgetting" and into unexpected discoveries. Hughes's book would have given me a community when I thought my mother was dying one cell at a time—two years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

The poems and prose tell stories of hope, love, loss, fear, bewilderment, desperation, amazement, amusement, delight and more. Each piece captures a specific memory and reflects on the impact of that moment on the patient, the caregiver, and the relationship. Candace Pearson writes about loss of language in "Another Country." Len Roberts recalls his aunt's hilarious antics in "My Uncle Chauncey drove my Aunt Eleanor." Nancy Dahlberg gives us love and role reversal in "We All Fall Down." Sybil Lockhart rediscovers her mother's physical beauty in "Naked." Donna Wahlert shares the acceptance that Alzheimer's brought her in "Late Middle Alzheimer's Disease."

The experiences of these spouses, daughters, sons, doctors, nurses, and caregivers touch on nearly every emotion imaginable. The authors have been transformed by their experiences. Readers will be transformed too. Caregivers will identify. Former caregivers will remember. Prospective caregivers will get a glimpse into the joy and beauty that often emerges from pain. This inspiring book reads like a 100 snippets of memoir.

Each author's brief personal story, found in italics at the end of the piece, adds a layer of context that strengthens the message. They added a level of humanity and grace that is important for other caregivers to witness.

Throughout, the writing is clear, heart-felt, multi-layered, and reflective. It embraced me and made me proud of my time as my mother's caregiver.

Kudos to editor Holly J. Hughes for her concept; to Tess Gallagher, who wrote the foreword; and to the women and men who shared their stories, perceptions, and memories in Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease.

Holly J. Hughes' chapbook Boxing the Compass was published in 2007, and her poems and essays have appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems. A graduate of the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, she teaches writing at Edmonds Community College in Washington, where she codirects the Convergence Writers Series.

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