Sister Cares for Brother with Alzheimer’s in Watkins Glen, a Novel by Eleanor Lerman

About Eleanor Lerman - Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen - Eleanor LermanBy Eleanor Lerman

In Watkins Glen, Susan and Mark, a long-estranged sister and brother, are brought back together when Mark, who is in his seventies, develops Alzheimer’s and Susan, who is in her sixties, makes the difficult decision to try to take care of him. Along the way, the bond between the brother and sister grows stronger as they realize how they were always the witnesses to each other’s lives—the only two people in the world who know both what was wonderful and what was deeply traumatic about their childhood—and how, as they grow older, the connection forged between them when they were children is what will guide them through the time ahead. So, the book intertwines the story of how siblings can be a solace to each other, the keeper of each other’s memories, and a true friend in times of trouble, with the challenges of losing each other again as dementia dims their ability to hold onto the relationship they’ve built.

My motivation for writing the book was primarily to explore the sibling relationship by delving more deeply into the idea of how children who have grown up together, in the same house, with the same parents, are the only people who really understand how their childhood experiences and whether or not they were loved and cared for shape the path they take through adulthood. In this story, a brother and sister have to face the fact that one of them is being incapacitated by Alzheimer’s. They have to figure out what that means, both for the individual who has to confront the loss of self and of memory caused by the illness, and for the other person, who is essentially losing the only other human being who really knows what their lives were like when they were growing up.

Mark and Susan can be read as stand-ins for anyone else dealing with someone close to them—a husband or wife, for example, or a dear friend—who is being taken away by Alzheimer’s. The shared struggle of this brother and sister to help each other find ways to deal with the toll that Alzheimer’s takes on both the patient and their caregiver is meant to mirror the experiences of others sharing the same fear and pain, day in, day out. Susan’s ability to try to accept the world as Mark begins to see and experience it as his illness worsens is meant to provide a small measure of hope about how to live with an Alzheimer’s patient and to accept that the person you love is still there, even when he or she seems to be drifting too far away to even remember who you are. How Susan develops that understanding reflects the decisions that many people have to make as they get older: give up, give in, or use the strength of love, memory and imagination to find a way to carry on.

About the Author

Eleanor - LermanEleanor Lerman is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, winner of the John W. Campbell Award for best book of Science Fiction and has received Guggenheim, NEA, and New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. Her most recent novel, Watkins Glen (Mayapple Press), was published in June 2021.

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