This is a short book but not a small one. It deals with a subject we should all be mindful of: what will happen to us when we’re old and in the words of Utah Phillips, “all used up”?
The narrator is an art therapist. She found that paying attention to the old and diseased, those discarded by society and even by family, could be its own reward. She endured a personal crisis – the attempted suicide of her son – and was inspired by the guidance of her students. One in particular, Gertrude, became, in her mind, a saint. On a day of extreme despair, faced with an impossible task, she decided, irrationally, to phone Gertrude and ask for her prayers. The day spun out with a series of minor miracles and though no-one can prove it, the author attributes her serendipitous blessings to the prayers of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted shut-in.
The story is possibly true, possibly part fiction and part truth. The author makes no claims. It’s written in plain, realistic language and the characters are well-crafted and believable. E.J. Cockey is an innovative art therapist and inspirational speaker who undoubtedly experienced some of the encounters in the book. It’s important to realize that people on the brink of death and whose families have given up on them can still respond positively to creative stimuli and loving attention. Whatever one’s religious beliefs it’s comforting to be assured that a higher power shapes our destinies, that there is help for all of us. By helping, the author was helped. A simple formula but an eternal one.
Anyone who is concerned about issues of aging and the treatment of Alzheimer’s will be re-energized by the poignant, often amusing story. Gertrude’s profound message – “live and learn” - may seem a truism but it can offer hope in the midst of loss. By living well we learn to deal with the end of life. If we are lucky.