My friend Max Wallack and his former middle school English teacher Carolyn Given have written a book I hope everyone will buy. Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear In the Refrigerator? An Explanation of Alzheimer’s Disease for Children, is a beautifully written and illustrated guide dedicated to teaching children about what it’s like to care for a family member who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
I used to be a contributing writer for the Alzheimer’s Reading Room. The brand I chose for my posts was “Keeping The Love Alive.” Learning how to focus on the love instead of the illness was a gradual process, yet a necessary one to keep my mom and me and my aunt and me connected while they were living with dementia. My mom was always my mom. My aunt was always my aunt. They both had dementia, and they were still my mom and my aunt. They both had dementia, and we still loved each other. Max and Carolyn have also placed their focus on keeping the love alive, which is why I so love this book.
Julie, the narrator, is seven years old. Her beloved grandmother came to live with her family after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She carries us with her as she describes how much fun she and her grandmother had together at the zoo on the good days. She carries us with her as she describes how upset she felt when her witch’s Halloween costume scared her grandmother so much she had to change into something else she didn’t like as much. She carries us with her as she shares her idea of maybe being an Alzheimer’s researcher when she grows up, helping lots of other peoples’ grandmothers and grandfathers to live easier lives in their final years.
I cry every time I read this book. I cry because I wish I’d had it when I was struggling all by myself with learning how to become an effective full time caregiver for someone I loved whose erratic behavior made no sense to me. I cry because I can feel the love shared by Julie and her grandmother. I cry because it brings back wonderful memories of caring for my mom and my aunt. Focusing on the love we shared while it was all happening has left me with dozens of beautiful memories I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.
I know this book is written for children. I feel it’s just as useful for adults to read. I see this book as a guide to learning how to treat other people, with or without Alzheimer’s Disease. This book quietly teaches us how to love unconditionally, to accept others as they are instead of trying to get them to be how we might want them to be, and to focus on enjoying each precious moment with them as much as possible.
Fifty percent of the book’s proceeds will go towards Alzheimer’s research and caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Yay, Max, and yay, Carolyn!
If you don’t already know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, chances are you will. It might be your father, it might be your aging son, it might be your wife, it might be your neighbor. I first learned about Alzheimer’s Disease from my neighbor. Remembering how his daughter and son-in-law learned to handle his unexpected excursions into nearby unlocked houses turned out to be great training for later life. Who knew?
September is World Alzheimer’s Month. If you know a caregiver, offer to sit with their loved one when they take a much needed break. If you are a caregiver, share the news about this book with other caregivers. If you are interested in learning how to keep the love alive between you and someone who’s dealing with a debilitating illness, I encourage you to buy this book.
Thank you, Max and Carolyn, for writing this wonderful book.
Thank you for teaching us, through the experiences of a seven year old girl, how to keep the love alive.
Dad said, “It’s like when you look at yourself in a fun house mirror. You’re still the same, but the mirror makes you look different.” Max Wallack and Carolyn Given, Why Did Grandmother Put Her Underwear In The Refrigerator?
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