Two new memoirs, by Seattle-area authors Ann Hedreen and Allen Ament, chronicle the formidable challenges and unlikely rewards of caregiving.
‘Her Beautiful Brain’
by Ann Hedreen
She Writes Press, 185 pp., $16.95
‘Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver-Husband’
by Allan Ament
Booktrope, 183 pp., $13.50
Caregiving is a life-altering experience for caregivers and care receivers alike. Two new books by Seattle area writers explore the formidable challenges of caring for loved ones from divergent perspectives.
“Her Beautiful Brain” is a daring and ambitious memoir that bestows unexpected rewards on the reader. The book is a tribute to author Ann Hedreen’s mother, Arlene, who began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease while in her 50s, in the mid-1980s, when the disease was becoming more publicly known.
She was a bright, plucky, high-spirited woman, twice divorced and once widowed, while raising six children “on the modest, downhill side of Laurelhurst Playfield” in Seattle. Over a period of 20 years, she experienced a slow and often agonizing mental slide.
The book is also a deeply personal memoir of the author, who is a writer, filmmaker and teacher. She and her photographer husband have made more than 100 films, many of which have been aired on PBS and other TV stations.
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Hedreen is adept at framing life experiences through differing windows, and gives captivating accounts of her own sometimes painful journey from child to woman. “My confidence just didn’t kick in at all until I was about twenty and, like a malnourished infant, it never really grew properly,” she writes. She also lays bare a rocky period in her marriage with husband Rus.
Hedreen renders her mother’s decline with heartbreaking clarity. She provides full portraits of both her mother and herself so that we can see the magnitude of the loss when Arlene begins to wane.
The author confronts the challenge that every memoirist encounters when trying to speculate about what others are thinking and feeling, an especially difficult task given the deteriorating mental faculties of her mother.
Hedreen has a unique gift for metaphors, which she can extend and sustain for an entire chapter, getting at the core of the people and relationships in her life. A couple of the early chapters are nearly flawless vignettes of her childhood, especially one on her and her mother’s shared love of the movie “West Side Story.”
Another memoir, “Learning to Float” by Allan Ament, reveals how he became the primary caregiver for his wife, Deloris, who suffered a stroke in 2005 at the age of 71. Deloris Tarzan Ament was a prominent Seattle writer, for many years the art critic for The Seattle Times. Allan Ament based his book on long, descriptive emails to family and friends about Deloris’ condition and progress.
Ament describes in vivid detail her sudden illness, early hospitalization and return to their Whidbey Island home two months later. Together, they travel the slow and uneven path to recovery along which Deloris faces many setbacks, both physical and mental.
Ament is a dogged advocate for his wife, and his training as a lawyer helps him research and absorb information from medical journals and technical books on brain function, strokes and recovery.
Well-read and analytical, Ament gives thoughtful articulation to what many caregivers must be going through. He also describes the stress and utter exhaustion of this full-time effort and the wild swings of emotions he feels, including his anger and impatience when she is slow to get ready for a meeting or appointment.
No one wants to witness a beloved family member suffer and decline — perhaps there is no solace for this kind of profound loss or diminishment — but as these writers eloquently demonstrate, when we are fully engaged and meet the challenges head on, something can be learned about ourselves and the people we love — something even sublime.