Sunday, May 26, 2013

As Nora Jo Fades Away

Confessions of a Caregiver 
A Memoir
By Lisa Cerasoli
Five Star Publications, Inc., 186 pgs
Submitted by the author
Rating: 3.5

As Nora Jo Fades Away by Lisa Cerasoli will take your breath away, either from pain or laughing your ass off, one or the other. Humor is required, both coping mechanism and self-defense. I admit a certain bias: I, along with my stepmother and sister, was a caregiver for my father during the last fifteen months of his life. Like Nora Jo, he suffered from a certain amount of dementia, along with a long list of health problems, complications and the occasional (increasingly frequent) crisis. It was the best thing I've ever done and I am eternally grateful to my stepmother for allowing me to be there, for wanting me to be present. Witnessing is important. A lot of relationships don't survive such stresses. The relationships that do survive are sometimes damaged but sometimes the fire forges something stronger from the flames. I think that's what my stepmother and sister and I have now. Steel.

Nora Josephine Cerasoli
Nora Josephine Cerasoli, the author's grandmother, was diagnosed with dementia and then Alzheimer's in 2006. Two years later, after a mishap that could have burned her grandmother's house down with her in it, Lisa moved her Gram into her home with her relatively new family: young daughter, stepson and husband. Talk about trial by fire. Twenty-four hour caregiving is exhausting - physically, mentally and emotionally. The author did not sleep for the first two months. More than three days without sleep can cause hallucinations, did you know that? I do. Lisa describes it this way:
Every single night in bed I lay with eyes wide open, listening like a guard on graveyard shift at the state penitentiary waiting for a prison break. I took my job that seriously. There'd be a snore. Is she choking? A wheeze. Did she stop breathing? A creek. Crap, is she trying to get up? Is she going to fall again? And who's going to stop talking to me NEXT over all this rigmarole?
Nora Jo kept odd hours, almost flipping her days and nights. It's one o'clock in the afternoon why hasn't anyone made coffee yet? On the other hand, half the day is gone so forget the coffee, why not a brandy instead? New sign pasted to the microwave door: 'No beer cans or silverware in the microwave. Thanks.' She wouldn't remember eating and her brain had lost the connection to the stomach that tells you that you are full. So rail-thin Nora Jo eats, a lot. The Iraqis poisoned the lettuce, the proof of which was that she had to throw it away. Failure to identify everyday household objects: why is there a jar of twenty tweezers in the bathroom?

This is the quote that heads chapter one:
There's only one man I've ever loved. We met when I was fourteen and we were married for sixty-seven years. What the hell was his name? - Nora Jo
Lisa and her Gram
She didn't always know who you were. Holidays and birthdays can be frustrating and difficult because who the hell are all these people in my house? She often forgot that her husband and a son had preceded her in death. Can you imagine having to explain that over and over again? But there's something worse than that. Can you imagine having to hear that news and go through that pain, as if it were brand new, over and over again? This takes patience and it takes compassion and it takes empathy and it is hard. But then the question: what is worse? Not remembering, not understanding? Or, and this happens too: the fog clears suddenly, immediately and completely and the poor woman understands that she hasn't understood. And she is embarrassed and she is ashamed. Can you imagine? Dignity is a big deal.

Everyone has an opinion. You can't move her in. It'll end your marriage. Not your responsibility. That's what nursing homes are for. Everybody has a story they want to tell you. This is supposed to be illustrative of the utter impossibility of the situation. But Lisa did it, she moved her Gram in and learned to care for her. She had the help of her family and friends; support from an extended network of caregivers she had met during the course of writing this book; and the occasional prescription from the family doc. What it boiled down to for Lisa was this: This woman is my Gram and she would have gladly laid down her life for me at any time. Nora Jo passed on December 16, 2010.

The Author
The writing style here is spare, sardonic but still conveying the pathos of the situation. Some of the stories will leave you aghast but are still infused with love and gratitude. Lisa Cerasoli understands in her bones that we owe a debt to the people who loved us and took care of us and sacrificed for us. I do wish the book was longer, and that there were less quotation marks. But I'm not going to quibble punctuation style in the face of the honesty it took the author to turn the mirror on herself. There is a lovely family picture album included and an in memoriam section for other victims of Alzheimer's and their families that the author has met in support groups and nonprofit organizations, followed by a section of resources and references in case you need more help. It feels as if she has welcomed us into her kitchen, sat us down at the table with a beer or two, and started telling stories. It can be, as Lisa puts it, like a bizarre cross between Norman Rockwell and any random episode of All In the Family. But in the final analysis that's the point: family.

Bonus: One dollar for every book sold will go directly into a fund for The Alzheimer's Association and Leeza's Place.

1 comment:

  1. Hi and thank you for the beautiful review. That pic of my gram made me tear right up. It was taken two weeks before she died.
    Side Note: I have a secret (and ongoing) love affair with quotation marks AND the ellipses, but I'm trying hard to break it off!
    Have a great summer.