“As Mom continues her journey,” Smith writes, “I’ve learned to live in the moment and live in her world. If she tells me an apple is orange, then by golly that apple is orange!”
Sarah B. Smith was in her thirties when her mom, affectionately known as Beauty by the family, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Smith tells how the disease affected not only her mom but the entire family and close friends in her moving, spiritual account, Broken Beauty: Piecing Together Lives Shattered by Early-Onset Alzheimer’s (Greenleaf Book Group, $16.95 paperback). “My journey with my mom has been wonderful, painful, terrifying, life-affirming, crazy-making, and beautiful,” she writes. “Over the past several years, I’ve walked through a lifetime’s worth of heartache and hope—as have my dad, my husband, my children, and the many friends who’ve walked beside me.”
“This book is my love letter to my mom and God’s abiding love. It’s a story about how love can turn even a tragic, heartbreaking battle into a daily testimony of redemption and grace.” Beauty was diagnosed in 2012, but Smith said she and her dad and close friends had noticed a decline in Beauty’s mental faculties for two or three years before the diagnosis. She feared her mother had a brain tumor, but her mother refused to see a doctor. And it was several months after the diagnosis before her dad revealed what the doctor had said, against Beauty’s wish that it remain confidential.
By that point, Smith writes, her dad needed help. He said, “I just can’t keep this a secret anymore.” Her mom and dad moved from Houston to Dallas so Smith could help take care of Beauty. Smith chronicles her mother’s mental decline and the author’s own anguish, many prayers, and tears, in helping her dad make decisions concerning Beauty’s well-being.
Most of the book focuses on the year 2016 when the disease had reached the point where Smith and her dad made the agonizing decision to place Beauty in a memory-care facility for her own safety. One night she drank fingernail polish remover, thinking it was Diet Coke. Another time she dropped her bowl full of cereal and it broke, then she tried to keep eating out of the broken bowl. Finally, on August 11, 2016—what Smith called “Abandonment Day”—Smith took her mother to the facility and left her, because her dad just couldn’t do it. Smith said, “I felt like a traitor to my own mother.”
By the end of the year, although Beauty’s decline continued, Smith, her dad, and family and friends were able to connect with her, enjoy time with her, even dance with her, and in return they felt blessed by her sweet spirit. “As Mom continues her journey,” Smith writes, “I’ve learned to live in the moment and live in her world. If she tells me an apple is orange, then by golly that apple is orange!”
“I don’t want to live with any regrets. I will continue to look into her heart, and eyes, and facial expressions, and will do my best to co-labor with God in her new world each day.” The book concludes with a reading group guide and an insightful seventeen-question Q&A with the author.
Glenn Dromgoole, who writes about Texas books and authors, lost his father to Alzheimer’s disease in 2000.