3 out of 4 stars
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Anyone who cares for someone with a terminal illness knows how hard it can be to hope for the best each day even though the worst is never far away. Requiem for the Status Quo by Irene Frances Olson is the story of Colleen Strand, a middle-aged widow with a neat, predictable life. She works in a bridal shop and spends time each week with her widowed father, Patrick Quinn. When Patrick starts to forget things and repeats stories he’s told before, Colleen wants to assume that these “senior moments” are typical signs of aging. Then the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease broadsides them both. With her sister, Patty, living in a different state and her brother, Jonathan, wallowing in denial, Colleen takes on the role of sole caregiver. But she quickly learns that caring for a man losing his mind requires a new definition of normal with each passing day.
This story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming—and that’s exactly how a story like this has to be told. I think the author does a good job showing us the many sides of Colleen. The emotional journey she takes as her father’s caregiver has an undoubtable ring of truth to it. There are times when she is frustrated and scared, but there are also moments when she feels closer to him emotionally than she ever has before. My heart went out to her even when I thought she was being just a bit of an overbearing martyr.
On the other hand, I wasn’t impressed with the level of development for the other main characters—Patrick and Jonathan. I think the problem lies in the point of view. Most of this story is told in a first-person narrative from Colleen’s perspective. This is why we have such a well-rounded view of her character. But most of what we know of the other characters comes through her biased lens. There are a few third-person passages that give us glimpses into the minds of Patrick and Jonathan, but not nearly enough to fully develop their characters. Since the tension between Colleen and Jonathan is a significant part of the story, I wanted more information about Jonathan’s mind frame to truly understand his motives. As written, his transformation from denial to acceptance seems to happen overnight. In real life, it’s never that quick or simple. We also miss out on getting to know Patrick on a personal level. I wish Olson had added a few more sections to explore his character.
Olson had a great idea when she sent Colleen to a support group for caregivers. This group involves people caring for different relatives—a sister, a son, a father, and a spouse. The diagnoses the care receivers face range from dementia to traumatic brain injury with post-traumatic stress. These characters help expand the range of the book. It stops being just a story about Colleen, Patrick, and Alzheimer’s disease and begins to reflect the stories of many different people facing similar challenges. By adding these characters, Olson helps us see that the story of each caregiver and care receiver is unique, but that doesn’t mean they have to struggle alone. Everyone has a different path to follow, but there are always people who can understand and share the emotional and psychological aspects of the journey.
One aspect of the book that I struggled with was the shifting tones of the dialogue and narrative. Most of the dialogue had a natural tone that seemed appropriate for the characters and the situation. But other conversations seemed a little too formal. Likewise, the tone of Colleen’s narrative shifted from time to time. Some sections had the causal tone of a friend telling you the story of what’s happening in her life. Other sections shift to the more formal tone of someone writing about an incident for a clinical journal. I preferred the casual, informal narrative style. The more formal sections made me feel as if it was no longer Colleen speaking, but a moderator taking the stage to make sure we weren’t getting off track and missing the key points.
I give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. It’s a good, thought-provoking story with many different facets. However, I saw too many mechanical and style errors to give it a 4-star rating. I also thought the issues with characterization and the shifting tones of the narrative were enough to bring the score down a touch. These issues don’t seriously detract from the story, but they make the text feel much less polished than it could be.
If you don’t already know someone who has had the experience of caring for a loved one with a terminal illness, it’s very likely that you will one day. For that reason, I would recommend this book for anyone ready to explore the many different sides of a complex medical issue that touches so many lives.
Requiem for the status quo
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