Catch a Falling Sfar By B.B. Spohr and J.V. Bullard, 1995, Seattle, WA: Storm Peak Press, 212 pages, $9.95, softcover
Catch a Falling Star, written by Betty Baker Spohr with Jean Vallens Bullard, is a vivid and poignant look into the life of Hank, a retired engineer, and his wife, Betty, an artist and fashion designer. This is a compilation of easy-to-read journal entries and pencil sketches that chronicle 10 years of caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease. Soon after retirement, Betty's husband Hank is, to her astonishment, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Hank's career had afforded them an opportunity to live in several exotic countries and maintain an interesting, vital lifestyle. In retirement, life abruptly and dramatically changes. Living between Cape Cod and Arizona, Hank is able to remain at home, with assistance from a live-in helper named Paul, until his death.
The book's six chapters begin with "The Verdict...Everything Changes," which describes the devastation of learning the diagnosis and being besieged by all sorts of "unwanted feelings." Other chapters describe "going public" with the diagnosis, a trip to Alaska, deteriorations in functioning, and getting more help with the never-ending chore of being a family caregiver. The book is short on detail in places, and more background information and factual accounting of events would have added solidity and substance to the account. She writes clearly about her feelings and frustrations: "He's always been my mainstay... so sure of himself and his direction. When he falls apart, I flounder...Why is he so irrational? He's acting like a spoiled six-yearold...What to do next? Hank can no longer be left alone. I need help."
At the end of each chapter there is a list of Points to Remember. Though this is not a resource book for caregiving, these brief lists of suggestions gleaned from personal experience are practical, though not comprehensive. Loose pencil sketches comprise more than half of the book, and offer expressive renderings of the ups and downs of daily events in the life of the couple.
This book can give health professionals insight into the stress of family caregiving, the needs of the person with AD, and the importance of considering the family when providing care, education, or support. Family caregivers will relate to the day-to-day feelings, activities, and challenges that are described.
Several aspects of this book may comfort the family caregiver. Learning what to expect as the illness progresses and how one couple managed may offer hope and practical suggestions. In addition, caregivers may be able to see that some of the situations encountered when living with this illness that seem absurd and abnormal, may actually be typical, and perhaps even universal. The myriad feelings and emotions experienced during the course of the illness and after Hank's death may offer hope that a caregiver can survive and flourish after the experience. After Hank's death she writes, "Paul and I should have been prepared for Hank's death. But how can anyone be? Suddenly, my life is empty, without focus. For ten long years Hank has been the center of all my thoughts and activities. His illness has controlled every waking and sleeping hour. I feel guilty, but if s a relief to have the burden lifted. Over and over I tell myself, 'Hank and I are free again.'"
This book is written in an honest, straightforward manner. The problems of aggression, wandering, incontinence, seizures, bathing, and dressing, are not minimized, but the use of humor and simply doing the best one can under difficult circumstances offer important lessons. This is a poignant book of love and loss, of courage and compassion. Surprisingly, with humor and candor, the book is ultimately encouraging and inspiring.