Alzheimer’s disease is cruel to a vibrant life and rarely experienced by the afflicted alone. Loved ones painfully bear witness to the decline while grappling to keep alive the essence of who that person once was. Connie Ruben’s memoir of her years as caregiver to Grace, her afflicted stepmother, is at once tender, absorbing and enlightening.
Ruben and co-writer O’Neill offer the book not as a clinical guide but to show readers they aren’t alone in dealing with the challenges and surprises of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Ruben begins by sharing how she came to meet and admire the “intelligent, kind and self-effacing” mother of her husband, Peter, in Calgary some 20 years earlier. The two hit it off from the start, and Ruben quickly came to consider Grace her “best friend.”
It wasn’t until about 2002 when Grace, at 82, began showing worrisome signs, such as thinking someone had rearranged her closet and, soon after, driving erratically. After Grace’s diagnosis, Ruben agreed to be her primary caretaker, with help from hired aides. The balance of the book shares Ruben’s struggles in dealing with Grace’s increasing bouts of anger, anxiousness and confusion as the disease progresses over the next 10 years, and also shows how sparks of humor, love, and cleverness kept them connected.
This beautifully crafted, nearly flawless book is powerful in small moments as Ruben shares her efforts to enrich what she could of Grace’s fading memories and to learn not to take it personally when Grace lashed out. The story’s vivid vignettes are moving and illuminating, portraying Ruben’s fears as well as triumphs in learning to manage “the chaos of Grace’s mind.” “Control is an illusion,” she writes with characteristic wisdom. “….The goal is flawed. And when we relinquish control, we can discover something more valuable: the strength to accommodate change without breaking.”
A richly told memoir, The Stages of Grace deserves a prominent place on the bookshelves of caregivers and general readers alike.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.