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Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer's Paperback – January 31, 2017
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"Susan Cushman is not only an accomplished writer, but she tackles a brutal topic with candor and honesty. Madness awaits us all. I pray I can confront it with equal faith and vulnerability." -Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts "Cushman has written a new kind of love story, one that speaks to the very real concerns of a generation. In this true story of a daughter's love for her aging mother within the daily trials of caregiving, we read ourselves, our families, and the ways that our losses shape who we become and how we choose to remember." -Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss "Susan Cushman writes with clarity and grace about the gnarled pathways between her and her mother, and about the terrible disease that holds a surprising grace within its irrevocable sadness. Tangles and Plaques has the courage to see it all. This is a memoir about caretaking and taking care. It's a book that will touch your heart." -Lee Martin, author of From Our House and Such a Life "An honest, open account of the personal challenges, wrenching heart aches, spiritual questions, and practical concerns one faces in caring at a distance for a loved one with Alzheimer's. Cushman provides intimate, detailed descriptions of her constant doubts, emotional upheavals, hard decisions, and frustrating encounters with professional caregivers during the decade of the unrelenting progression of her mother's mental and physical deterioration." - Sally Palmer Thomason, author of The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out, The Topaz Brooch, and Delta Rainbow-the Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson. "Susan Cushman writes a profoundly personal and honest portrait of her eight-year journey with her mother suffering from Alzheimer's. She brings her talent for story, scene, and character to bear in the unfolding of real-time moments that show disease progression and the ensuing softening in a challenged relationship. Cushman sees and feels things deeply and finds in each encounter a nugget of wisdom that fortifies her with focus, peace, and faith. Her stories give inspiration and insight to others who face this journey." - Kathy Rhodes, author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing "Tangles and Plaques is a beautiful and moving memoir and one that chronicles the journey of Alzheimer's. Through the tangles and plaques associated with the disease, however, Cushman finds a way to heal and set her sight on the good. Readers, too, get a lesson in how to live better." -Niles Reddick, Vice Provost, The University of Memphis-Lambuth, and author of Drifting Too Far from the Shore.
About the Author
Susan Cushman is editor of a collection of essays by twenty women, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, 2017) and was a contributor to three anthologies: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama Press, 2012), The Shoe Burnin': Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2013), and Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women (She Writes Press, February, 2015).
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Some say that all we have to give is our story. Talented writer, Susan Cushman, shares her own heartbreaking and heartwarming story of her journey as an only daughter living some distance from her mother, Effie Johnson, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Through Susan's eyes as she writes on her blog for eight and 1/2 years about her relationship with her mother, we now have in essay form in Tangles and Plaques a chronicle of a faithful caregiver and the struggle of both women, a mother and a daughter, to begin to be and stay in relationship. I keep several copies of Susan's book in my office to give to families struggling with this disease on a daily basis. Knowing that you are not alone in an attempt to care for a loved one or friend with Alzheimer's can make all the difference, especially when the relationship may have had difficulties to start with. This is a story of frustration, exhaustion, courage, faithfulness, honesty, love, forgiveness, and resurrection through many Good Fridays.
The Rev. Joanna Seibert M D
Deacon, St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Little Rock, Arkansas
There is no cure, and the time to death can be as little as a few years in older patients to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger. The disease is personal, affecting each patient – and caregiver – differently.
In “Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s,” Susan Cushman, a Jackson native who now calls Memphis home, shares blog entries spanning more than eight years as she deals with her mother’s progressive dementia and the feelings as an adult child becomes the parent figure.
Cushman shares what’s in her heart as she comes to grips with this incurable disease that’s stealing life from her mother, Effie Johnson, who lives in Jackson. The author realizes that as the mother forgets, the daughter must forgive. As memories die, Cushman learns that others live on, handed down to the next generation. Stories of growing up in Jackson; visiting her parents’ retail sports store, Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports; and eating Christmas fudge and divinity with her mom.
“Mom is second-generation Alzheimer’s,” Cushman wrote in her introduction. “Her mother died with the disease at age 86 – in the same nursing home where my mother lived.”
The collection is extremely personal, and each blog, starting with the first on Nov. 24, 2007, was written within a day or two of visiting her mom. Cushman writes about the simplest thing – misplaced glasses – to the hardest – end-of-life issues. Effie Watkins Johnson, 88, bedridden and speechless, died last year after eight years in a nursing home.
“I never had reservations about sharing these stories which began as blog posts, so they were ‘out there’ as they were happening,” Cushman said by email. “Writing them was therapeutic, of course, but the responses from people reading my blog became a greater impetus to continue writing and sharing the posts.”
The title not only refers to biological markers – amyloid protein plaques and tau proteins tangles seen in an Alzheimer patient’s brain, but also the tangles and scars of emotional and physical baggage. As the twisted fibers (tangles) build up inside the brain’s nerve cells and protein fragments (plaques) fill the spaces between those cells, Cushman’s mother is losing her memory, the very stories that make up the fabric of her life.
Cushman finds humor when possible, but turns to others – God, medical experts, friends and even her past – when the days are rough or cloudy. Her tone is more conversational than most accounts dealing with Alzheimer’s, and that’s what makes her writing so real – and raw. She doesn’t gloss over past problems she’s had with her mom or the hurtful things that a dementia person can unintentionally say or do. The author shares the strength she finds from forgiveness and letting go of the guilt of being a long-distance caregiver.
As the number of Alzheimer’s disease patients increases each year, so do the number of caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, and that more that 15 million people are caring for those with dementia. Knowing that someone like Cushman has been where you may someday find yourself offers an extra dose of strength and dignity.
“Tangles and Plaques is not a ‘how to’ for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s,” Cushman said. “It’s not an academic work or a resource for caregivers.
“But,” she said, “the essays are full of real-life anecdotes, reflections, frustrations and things learned along the journey. I hope that readers who are caregivers will relate, will feel that they are not alone, and will even find places to laugh and to cry as they read our story.”