Life is hard; no one needs to be reminded of this. Perhaps not all of life is hard, but we all face difficulties that may leave us wondering where God is in the midst of pain. We deal with depression, the loss of a family member, cancer, natural disasters, and hurt and abuse from others. I love memoirs, Christian or otherwise, because they follow a person’s journey through their triumphs and struggles, the lessons they have learned along the way, and how their experience relates to the broader scope of what it means to be human.
One such beautiful memoir is Sarah B. Smith’s Broken Beauty: Piecing Together Lives Shattered by Early-Onset Alzheimer’s (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2019). Sarah’s mother (“Beauty”) developed Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD) in her early to mid-60s. This book covers seven years of Sarah’s struggle (first in terms of months, then even in terms of days) to support her father and care for her mother as her mother’s mind and body slowly deteriorated from this disease. I could not put the book down as I devoured the heartbreaking stories and the joyful memories. It was so painful to feel with Sarah the rejection and hurt she felt when her beloved mother endured the loss of memory and autonomy. When we think about illness, we often overlook the caregivers—the people who love the ill but are hurt by them and face the turmoil of how to best care for their loved ones and themselves.
Sarah exposes the good times and bad with EOAD, but she also shows her own good and bad feelings. She provides an honest account of the frustration and sense of loss that accompany EOAD. And she sheds her tears—tears of sadness, hurt, joy and gratitude. Caregivers must work day in and day out to love, protect and provide for their family, even though these sufferers may not understand or appreciate why they need this help at all.
But what Smith makes most clear in Broken Beauty is not the struggle or the love, but God’s presence in the midst of everything. God is sovereign over the disease, and he works through it to transform this family’s relationships as well as Beauty’s family and friends’ own lives. This book reminds us that God is with us in these experiences, and he works through them. Sarah shows that in her mother’s life (and someday her death), God is present and glorified. This book exemplifies a day-by-day, moment-by-moment trust in a sovereign God, especially when we don’t understand why we are suffering.
Broken Beauty is a wonderful read for any person, but it provides encouragement particularly to caregivers or family members of people with Alzheimer’s. The discussion questions at the end of the book make this an excellent memoir for a study group or for individual reflection. Broken Beauty is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. It is full of encouragement and frustration, happiness and tears. It is a picture of real life, which is both broken and beautiful.