Review: A New Book for Caregivers

Sometimes a book takes me completely by surprise. With Peter Maeck’s newly published Remembrance of Things Present: Making Peace with Dementia, I expected another touching story about the trials and gifts of being a caregiver. But already the cover photo hints that this is new territory. A rutted prairie road, dried land, and three men at a distance walking away toward an ominous sky. I feel oddly at home already. Maybe that’s because I grew up in such a setting, or maybe the image says so enticingly, “C’mon.”

The whole book makes me feel at home, not because I’ve cared for someone with dementia, but because Maeck’s sparse word drops and his abundance of captivating images make me feel like I’ve been invited in to sit for a spell where even the uncomfortable seems worth hanging around for.

The language is raw and folksy, quickly gaining the reader’s trust. “If anger is the second stage of grief, I guess I was in it. What was I angry at thought? Cold, cruel fate? No, that was too vague. I needed an enemy I could see, talk to, attack. And so I took aim at dementia itself.”

Maeck does indeed “attack” dementia in the poem, which takes up the second half of the book. His two-line rhyming structure provides a multidimensional, erratic tour of his experience in small doses, like his photographs from everywhere. No platitudes need apply.

“Declaring dementia’s a gift in disguise
Is like saying that Oedipus didn’t need eyes”

Grim in some ways? Yes, Maeck is at war with dementia. Like Jacob in the Old Testament wrestling with an angel, he tackles dementia with all he’s got until he finds the gift in it.

“So why does dementia now make me see red?
“Why can’t I forget it and put it to bed?”

The poetry, while raging and unsettling, also feels invitingly childlike at times when Maeck’s arranges words into tangled configurations (like the dementia brain?) as children do to make lines rhyme. The book includes plenty of children in the photos too. Loss, suffering, questioning life, finding beauty – they happen at all ages. Each photo is a surprise, a look at innocence and everydayness. Each took me in. I had to sit with it for a spell.

I highly recommend traveling with Maeck through his prose, poetry, and photos in this book. I’m glad I answered the cover photo’s invitation to “C’mon.” If you’re a caregiver, you too will likely find a surprising comfort in the honest grappling you find inside this book.

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How to Interview Your Body

Got unexplained aches, pains, tension or tingles, rashes, or tiredness? Your body is sending you some kind of distress signal. Like a smoke alarm, it’s trying to get your attention so you’ll put out the fire. It’s clueing you in that something you’re doing, thinking, or feeling isn’t good for you. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to figure out what that is. Read more

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Are You in Love with Everything?

It’s easier to be in love with everything than with just a few choice things. If I see everything through the eyes of love–I mean the adoring “you can do no wrong” kind of love, then nothing can ruin my day. Everything makes me happy.

This simple concept became clear to me this morning. Read more

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Feeling Tense?

Oh, how often tension kicks in—over what seems like nothing sometimes. You wake up in the morning, and before you’re out of bed, your shoulders feel tense. You read a piece of mail and a headache comes on. Thirty seconds into the evening newscast, your jaws tighten. Read more

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Strong Women Share Stories

An email from a woman named Mary reminded me how heavy the load is for so many caregivers and what commitment and strength it takes to give and give and give:

“Hi Pat,

“I received the book I think on Friday. Thank you so much for mailing it to me.
Read more

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Worried About Falling?

A common myth you hear among older people is that we can’t get down on the floor. “I won’t be able to get back up.” That’s what I heard repeatedly from a group of women in their seventies and eighties when I met with them one morning at their cooperative housing building. But not only did they get down on the floor to do warm-up stretching in preparation for an hour of improvisational dance, they seemed to have little difficulty arising from the floor when it was time to do so. Read more

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Is Your Illness a Big “Drama” or a Drama Stopper?

A reader of Body Odyssey: Lessons from the Bones and Belly wrote that she got the book as a gift “when I was laid up for 65 days with a herniated disc.” She said, “Page 192 became my mantra: my illness was a drama for others in my life more than it was for me. […]

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Five Ways to Reduce Stress

Your body carries your mental and emotional stress. It also carries the secrets for stress relief. Here are five ways to reveal these secrets and create more ease for yourself when stress is mounting during your day. Read more

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Shed Your Shoulds

Living with a Should Monster? A Should Monster is that critical nagging voice that repeatedly tells you that you should be better at being a caregiver. It could be a replay of the voice of your spouse, relative, or friend, or it could be your own self-critic who’s creating merciless “should” lists for you. Read more

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An Amazing Story

I regularly get emails from people who have found the messages in my books to be life-transforming. One I received about Body Odyssey touched me so much I have to share it with you. Please take a look.