Author Andrea Bramhall has a new book called Clean Slate that will be out September 1st from Bold Strokes Books. It’s about a woman who loses a huge chunk of her memory. Today Andrea talks about the toll that memory loss can take on a family, as she’s experiencing with her Grandfather who has Alzheimer’s. This one made me cry, folks. Buckle up.
Forget Me Not
by Andrea Bramhall
My second novel Clean Slate is due to be released on the 1st of September and as you can imagine I’m very excited about it. But the whole idea of the story has come from an event in my life—well, the lives of all my family—that has been heartbreaking for us all.
Clean Slate is the story of Morgan and Erin Masters. At the beginning of the story Morgan is attacked and suffers a terrible head injury leaving her with a twenty year gap in her memory. At times this story is hilariously funny, and at others I cried as I wrote scenes—and again when it came to editing them. But somewhere along the way I realised that I was exploring something that was troubling me deeply.
About eighteen months ago my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Of course we’d all been noticing little things that were something and nothing for a good twelve months before that, and in retrospect even longer. But these things creep up on you gradually and it’s very hard to decide between a ‘bad day’, a ‘senior moment’, and a true problem. After all I’m thirty four and I have my share of ‘bad day’s’ and ‘senior moment’s’…and I’m truly hoping this isn’t a problem. But back to my Grandad. It took a good twelve months to convince him and my Gran that seeing the doctor was both justifiable and necessary.
The diagnosis wasn’t difficult. By this time the confusion and short term memory issues were more than apparent, the medical professionals merely had to rule out any kind of kidney or water infection or the possibility of a mild stroke. Since January this year he’s been on medication that has helped to slow down the progression of the disease, and I have to admit, he has responded really well on them. But the truth is that there are huge parts of Grandad that are gone. For as long as I can remember he’s loved to ‘have a little go on the gee gee’s’. As a kid I can remember playing on my roller skates outside the betting shop while he stood at the door, smoking his cigar and watching the races while I tried to stay on my feet rolling over the bumps in the very small shopping centre. I never did, and Grandad always picked me up—even if it meant missing his horse crossing the line. He doesn’t go to the betting shop anymore. He can’t remember where it is or how to get home.
The first time I phoned to speak to them both and he didn’t recognize my voice was truly heartbreaking. I still well up thinking about it. But there are other things he does that would probably make me laugh if it wasn’t my Grandad. Last time I stayed over he was rummaging through the freezer clearly looking for something. It was about nine at night so I asked him what he was looking for. He told me he was looking for a packet of Quavers. If you don’t know what Quaver’s are, they’re a packet of crisps or chips in America.
You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about my Grandad when I was talking about my new book. Well, quite simply, this is what had me thinking about memory so much, and what in essence gave birth to the idea that became Clean Slate. You know how sneaky the subconscious can be sometimes. Writing Clean Slate has helped me come to terms with some of my issues around my Grandad losing his memories. It gave me a chance to think about how our memories affect and make us the people that we are and how not having them may change us. How different we might be if we didn’t remember certain significant events in our lives and how it would impact on the people around us.
Morgan doesn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, and I don’t have all the answers to these questions, so please don’t expect them hidden amongst the pages. But what I do have now is a little more peace, a better understanding of my own feelings, and a greater appreciation for the time I have with my Grandad building my own memories. Memories that I cherish all the more because he can’t.
Over the past six months or so my Grandparents have been going to a couple of groups that help to support people with Alzheimer’s disease and those who care for them. One of these groups is called SHARED. They are a small local part of the Alzheimer’s society, but they struggle for funding, as most charities do in the current economic climate. So what I’m pledging is that I will give half the royalties I earn from Clean Slate to SHARED. I want them to continue the work they do, the people they help, and the smile I see on my Gran’s face when she talks about her lunches with them. She is truly the person who is most effected by his condition, and her patience with him has been a true revelation. They are my heroes. And any thing that I can contribute to add to that is not just something I have to do, but it is my privilege to do.