I’m often asked to review books on the topic of Alzheimer’s/dementia caregiving. I’d love to have time to get to all of them, but with limited bandwidth, I’m forced to pick and choose. Today, I’m happy to share Elegy for Mom: A Memoir of Family Caregiving, Alzheimer’s, and Devotion, by Vicki M. Kaufmann. At just over 100 pages, it’s a quick, easy read, yet covers a lot of ground!
In writing Elegy for Mom, Kaufmann’s goal was to share useful ideas and resources based on her own experience caring for her mother. To the degree possible, she wanted not only to offer support, but also to help bring meaning to the journey and reveal some of the blessings that can be found along the way.
Although the author has a background as a counselor, the book is really a very personal look at caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. In fact, Kaufmann states early on that despite her clinical experience, she was unprepared for the job of caregiver.
She describes feeling emotions so many of us can relate to: first comes denial, followed by anger and depression, and finally, resignation. Kaufmann believes caring for a family member is a spiritual calling and often a “pathway to new levels of grace, courage, creativity, and love.” This resonates with me; through my own journey with my mother, I found courage I didn’t know I had, became a more compassionate human being, and felt a depth of love I didn’t know existed. Ultimately, like the author, I found purpose in sharing our story to help other families.
While no one would choose this journey, I truly appreciate those who can find something positive in the experience. Long-time caregiver and leading advocate Meryl Comer refers to this as “flipping the pain,” which is so fitting. We can wallow in grief and sorrow, or we can find something to be grateful for and even use our experience to ease the pain of others and affect change. Choosing the latter doesn’t mean there will never be sorrowful times when tears flow like a river; it just means that at the deepest level, we choose gratitude over bitterness.
Elegy for Mom is filled with moving original poetry, snippets from Kaufmann’s personal journals, family photographs, and samples of her mother’s original artwork. Each chapter tackles a unique sub-topic, ultimately painting a picture of what could be any family making their way through life with Alzheimer’s – one day at a time.
Throughout the book, the author also includes tips for caregivers, grouped by topic: making the most of visits, dealing with the stress of caregiving, finding the best facility, and even simple affirmation exercises to fuel the spirit of the weary caregiver.
I found Elegy for Mom to be a lovely blend of storytelling, practical tips, helpful resources, touching poetry, and wonderful artwork. It’s a unique compilation based on one family’s experience – both a loving tribute to the author’s mother, Sophia, and a thoughtful, reflective gift to other caregivers. Kaufmann succeeded in crafting a gem that would make a great addition to any collection.
* Update (08.14.16) – Elegy for Mom has received a gold medal in the “Health and Fitness” category and a silver medal in the “How To/Self-Help” category in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association annual contest. Congratulations to Vicki Kaufmann on this well deserved recognition!!
Thanks for the book review, Ann. I’m in the thick of it with Vic’s mom and the memory loss of being 100. This sounds like a good book for me to read. Vic’s mom needs so much support. She asks over and over where her son is. If I lie, she remembers. If I tell the truth as gently as possible, she weeps as though she’s just finding out about his death for the first time. Her grief 8 years ago when he died was all rage. Now her grief is tender, soft, and helpless–and always new. (I’m worn out.)
Ann Napoletan said:
(((Elaine))) – I’m sorry. I think I had an easier time dealing with my mom’s anger and rage than I did with the her sadness, fear, and helplessness. I was able to bear having my mom yell and even lash out at me physically, but seeing her cry – it just ripped my heart out. It was devastating to know that I couldn’t “fix it” for her. Without question it was the most painful part of the journey for me.
You are an amazing woman and daughter-in-law. You’ve been through so much in your own life and yet you remain steadfast by Virginia’s side as her caregiver – through the good and bad.
I hope you are taking care of yourself, too, my friend.
I’m working with UsAgainstAlzheimer’s on a project you might be interested in. We just launched the beta phase. It’s called the A List 1000. I’ll send you some information. It’s easy to participate and free to join.
Essentially, the goal is to put the voice of dementia caregivers on the map and validate the importance of our thoughts, preferences, and opinions to researchers. Members will have the opportunity to influence researchers, lawmakers, universities, the healthcare community, pharma companies, advocacy groups, and others who have the power to create change. It’s very exciting and has great potential.
I’ll drop you an email. No pressure at all, but I think your input would be valuable if you’re up for it. The nice thing is it doesn’t require a big time/energy commitment.
Sending you love and warm thoughts. Be good to yourself, my friend.
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