John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimer's. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed "down on their luck geezers" kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery. (from book flap)
WARNING: I have some strong ideas about the issues discussed in this book and I express them very plainly in this review. The opinions stated are mine (Tami's) alone and don't necessarily reflect the views of the author, my husband, my family or anyone else who may claim I'm putting words in their mouths. Perhaps it's because we are up-close and personal with Alzheimer's and aging parents, or maybe that we're just under 7 months to an empty nest... Whatever the reason, this story really touched me. So, feel free to disagree, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Issue #1: The relationship between John & Ella and their adult children. I think we (meaning American's in general) have a tendency to de-value people as they age. The roles of parents/children often reverse over time, usually out of necessity as our parents age and are naturally less able to do for themselves; however, there is a propensity to treat elderly people as lesser beings who's ideas and desires no longer count. Advances in medicine coerce us into treasuring number of days over respect and dignity; to put it bluntly (as if I haven't been blunt so far) - to keep them alive at all costs, even if that life is torturous for them, so that we do not have to suffer losing them. Ella's children wanted to keep her at home, most likely in a hospital, simply to prolong their time with her, not because there was any hope of a cure. Ella's decision to forgo treatment for her cancer and live the rest of her days should have been honored by her children and maybe she wouldn't have felt the need to escape them. For all of you who are yelling at me from afar, yes I'm aware of the public safety risks of putting an Alzheimer's patient behind the wheel, but that's not really my point.
Issue #2: Alzheimer's is a noxious disease. It extinguishes a life long before the body dies. We have watched Dave's mom slowly disappear over the last several years and be replaced by a stranger. Mr. Zadoorian paints a realistic and poignant picture of life with this disease, and the value of lifetime commitment. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Ella is comforted in knowing that after nearly 60 years of marriage, as John recedes back through time in his mind, she is still there. Their conversations are sprinkled with pet names and inside jokes that are too deeply planted for the disease to wither. Even Ella's moments of frustration and anger are realistically written.
John and Ella's roadtrip takes them down historic Route 66 - or what's left of it. The parade of fading, crumbling or destroyed landmarks are the perfect backdrop for this story, and stirred up lots of my own recollections of family vacations.
After all that, it may surprise you that, for the most part, this book is not a tear-jerker and there is actually a considerable amount of humor in their adventures and mis-haps along the way. It's a subtle humor, found mostly in the experiences that all couples and/or parents share. For example, my favorite line: "I'm sorry that we worried the children, but I've spent most of my adult life worrying about them, so I'm gonna call it even."
I recommend this book for all adults because I believe that everyone will get something slightly different from it, depending on age and perspective. The lessons to be learned, however, are universal.