Each day Burt Wheeler is plagued by the same question. When did it happen? If he could pinpoint the beginning, then he might begin to make peace with himself. He vividly remembers when the doctor diagnosed Kee, his loving wife of over fifty years, with "Alzheimer-type dementia." But, as hard as he tries, it's impossible for him to determine when his wife's dementia started. He remembers her bout with depression, but that, he thinks, was surely due to her breast cancer. There was their dream vacation to Greece when Kee seemed so tired and indifferent. There were the unopened books, when reading had always been such a source of pleasure to her. And, he recalls, the gradual personality changes with friends, and even with family.
Wheeler started writing this book as a form of self-therapy when he found himself thrust into the role of caretaker to his wife--a role for which he felt unprepared. He wrote in memory of the very special woman his wife had been—a wonderful mother, charming and gracious, as well as a deeply respected psychotherapist. She was also his best friend, and he loved her. So, to some degree, this is a love story—a story about two people who have shared life's ups and downs for over fifty years. It's also about commitment.
In Close to Me, but Far Away, Wheeler provides insight into what a caregiver's day is like, as he shares his most intimate thoughts with us. The book provides a window into the author's personal life as he seeks to confront his own ineptitude and the occasional despair he feels as he deals daily with Alzheimer's. He also touches on the question of what keeps him going through times of exhaustion and frustration. Part of his answer lies in holding tenaciously to memories, and part lies in what he believes is a human's extraordinary capacity to continue plodding along simply because he must. Wheeler also believes in rejoicing in the beauty that can be experienced, and he believes in humor, humor achieved only by distancing ourselves from the events that so deeply engage us. And, of course, there is also the indefinable nature of love.
Alzheimer's is a terrifying and horrible disease, as much for loved ones as for the patient. Those who are caregivers or friends of Alzheimer's patients or caregivers will empathize with Burton Wheeler's story. And some might receive comfort from his words or learn from him. Because Alzheimer's is a disease that could affect anyone, Close to Me, but Far Away is a story that should be read by all.