As authors, we write about the things we need to heal in ourselves. I’ve heard that said before and I’ve grown to believe it. As writers we’re often drawn to subjects that have impacted us personally in some way. For me, those moments of truth have been woven into works of fiction.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure we always realize we are in need of healing. At least that was my case when I decided to write a story that had a character with Alzheimer’s. My own grandfather had died with the disease not long after I became a mother. By then, he had forgotten everyone he ever loved, including me. I thought it would be valuable to convey, in a novel for middle-graders, what it actually feels like to be forgotten. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects so many, and the reality is that few children’s novels were tackling the topic.
The fact that I’d dealt with the disease personally was a plus from a writing perspective. I could tap into my own experiences and pull that emotion into my story. But there were more emotions that came to the surface once I put my fingers to the keyboard. Certainly I relived the loss, but I also found there was still confusion (why it happens and how) as well as guilt (maybe I could have done more).
I’ve heard from both young readers and adult readers, and what they tell me is the same. That even years after the disease has hit them in some way, they are still healing. Readers have shared that the actions Delia takes has inspired them. One woman made her own “memory wall” in a loved ones hospital room where it is beloved by family and staff alike. How wonderful is that! And children ask why Old Red had to die. Why couldn’t he have kept living? Of course Alzheimer’s doesn’t work that way.
It takes everyone in its path.
Which is why I talk about the disease. I want kids (and adults) to know that it is okay to talk about Alzheimer’s. There should be no shame in forgetting, or in being forgotten. Together we can cope. Together we can heal.