Memoir Book Review: The Long Hello–The Other Side of Alzheimer’s by Cathie Borrie

by Kendra Bonnett on December 8, 2010

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #69 – Women’s Memoirs, Book & Video Raves – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

This week, Women’s Memoirs is exploring the topic of Alzheimer’s; its capacity to rob us of our stories, the greatest crime to anyone who values the importance of memoir; and what we can do to capture and save these important legacies (our own and those of the people we love). Today we introduce you to a most interesting memoir by the talented Cathie Borrie–business woman, health-care professional, attorney, ballroom dancer and spokesperson for Alzheimer’s. We start with a review of The Long Hello: The Other Side of Alzheimer’s.

Tomorrow, we will introduce you to a fascinating new project by ecologist, author and essayist, memoirist and photographer Susan J. Tweit that started as a project for her mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Along with memory, it is the loss of one’s stories that is devastating. It’s why we believe projects like those of Cathie and Susan should be going on in every family touched by Alzheimer’s. You’ll get some ideas from these women that may help you get started. And as our contribution, today through December 13 we are discounting our The [Essential] Women’s Memoirs Writing Workshop: 21 Steps from Planning to Publication AND giving $10 of each sale to the Alzheimer’s Association to help them continue their work and to save as many people (and stories) as possible. You’ll see details at the end of this review.

women's memoirs reviewWhile we all can recall difficult good-byes in our lives, imagine a farewell that takes seven years. That’s how long Cathie Borrie cared for her mum, Joan, through her descent into Alzheimer’s further complicated by Parkinson’s Disease. As the title of her memoir, The Long Hello, suggests, Cathie spent much of that time reintroducing herself to Mum, helping orient her, and reassuring her that she was safe and secure.


Cathie used written notes and short recordings to comfort Joan’s many fears, including the fact that she would be able to stay in her own home. Out of this process was born an idea: To capture her mother’s thoughts, insights and clarity. At this point, I’ve probably lost you. After all, when have you ever seen such positive and uplifting words used to describe Alzheimer’s? As Cathie explains, they are, in fact, part of The Other Side of Alzheimer’s. In an interview with The Polka Dot Banner, she explained: “…it was hearing something like this–so interesting–that made me think to record her words so I would not lose them.”

It all began one afternoon. While making conversation over lunch and telling Mum about a relationship with a man that just wasn’t working out, Cathie asked her advice. “Find someone else!” Joan’s recommendation was succinct and spot on. And that’s when Cathie began to appreciate the clarity that often cut through the confusion that is dementia’s typical condition. Gems of shining brilliance surrounded by the dull, gray cloud.

Cathie recorded hours of conversation as mother and daughter sat together watching birds and ships from the windows of Joan’s Vancouver home. Their brief exchanges are the centerpiece for Cathie’s memoir. Her mother Joan’s mind took flight into the past, and their discussion kept pace…ranging from the tragic death of Cathie’s brother, Hughie, at age 13 to Cathie’s father’s problems with alcohol that ended with abandonment and divorce. Other topics included Joan’s brother Hugh and parents (Cathie’s Gran and Grampy) and her second marriage. Questions, unfinished thoughts, flashes of enlightenment all came together on tape.

Ultimately, it is Cathie’s talent for editing the recorded material and her lyric, almost poetic, presentation style that makes for delightful reading. The word that comes to mind is charming. The range of topics and process of following her mother into the past stimulated Cathie to consider her own life. So while Joan’s voice is strong throughout the book, we do, in the end, see the Borrie world through Cathie’s eyes. It is her efforts to understand, find truth, make peace and grow that makes this her memoir.

Here’s a little sample from pages 21 – 22:

I draw the curtains.

“How was your day?” [Cathie]

It’s very hard for me to tell you because when you say, ‘How have you been today, Mum?’ I try to think, and I can’t think of anything. I don’t know what I did this morning, I have no idea.

“Oh. Maybe a better question would be–how are you right now?”

Well I’m fine, just fine. Yes, it’s a good, a better question to come for me.

“You look like a little porcelain doll lying there.”

Does it, does it look just like china?

“Yes, just perfect.”

Well, that’s good. Somebody’s got to be perfect.

The Power of Memoir to Save a Legacy…Get the DVDs While You Can

Cathie’s insights into the mind of the Alzheimer’s patient has resulted in a gift. In effect, Cathie rescued her mum’s stories–saved them from being lost to the ravages of a disease that quite literally robs its victims of their legacy. Cathie could certainly have told her mother’s story in her own words, but it would have only been part of the record. By including her mother’s thoughts and perspective in such a vivid fashion, we the reader receive a richer experience.

Even with Cathie’s discoveries related to The Other Side of Alzheimer’s, dementia remains such a devastating disease. More than 5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And every 70 seconds another person develops the disease. Sadly, that rate is projected to double in the next 40 years.

Therefore, it’s important that we all do what we can to preserve our stories and capture the legacies of family and friends. What better time to begin than now, during this season of hope and giving? Matilda and I have decided to offer special discount pricing on our popular memoir workshop DVD set–The [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop: 21 Steps from Planning to Publication (a $132 value).

Now, until December 13th only, you can own this popular workshop for just $59. Our goal is to make this training affordable to everyone before we retire the DVD version. This is your opportunity to own the set, which will enable you to watch and review the lessons as often as you wish. That’s right, when supplies are gone, the DVD product will no longer be available.

If you have a writer friend, a sister, aunt or mother that has been thinking of writing a memoir (or if you want to encourage them to capture and share their legacy), now is the time to buy a second copy and save even more. When you buy two DVD sets, will discount the price by an additional $15. Read what other women have said about The [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop.

And remember, your order helps the Alzheimer’s Association. With your purchase, we will give $10 directly to the Alzheimer’s Association.

A Reading from The Long Hello

This video is from Cathie’s book launch event in Vancouver. At the luncheon, Cathie and her aunt, Margaret Bazett, read excerpts from The Long Hello (October, 2010).

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Alzheimer's and memoir — Memoir Writing Blog
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Carrie September 22, 2011 at

Essays like this are so important to broadening people’s horinzos.

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