They say every author is inspired to write by their own experiences, and for Dundalk writer Susan McGovern this is especially true.
Having just launched her first collection of short stories, entitled ‘Thanks for the Memories’ last week, Susan revealed that it was the very emotional, and at times painful subject of Alzheimer’s that informed the collection.
Both Susan’s parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her mam in 2010, and just three years later her father also.
‘I remember my first experience of it after my mam took a funny turn , and when we took her to the hospital they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her,’ Susan recalled.
‘But after they had her do the test for Alzheimer’s, it was clear what was going on.’
Medication, she admits, has helped to halt any rapid progression of the disease, but by 2013 Susan and her family were hit by another blow when their dad was also diagnosed with alzheimer’s.
The very real struggle of coping with and caring for two parents with the disease soon became apparent.
‘It was a difficult time, particularly as dad’s condition got a lot worse quite quickly.’
Sadly, her father passed away in June this year, after a battle with cancer.
‘Mam and dad were married for 61 years, it was very difficult really.’
Such heart breaking experiences have been emotionally difficult to process, and Susan admits that writing them came about by chance.
‘It had come about by accident, like a lot of good things. Around March of 2016, I was at my creative writing class, The Write Space, when the teacher had given us an exercise to do which entailed writing about a wardrobe and its contents. I found myself writing about my mother’s wardrobe and how it had changed since she had developed Alzheimer’s. That became my first story.’
Although the names have been changed in each of the stories, every one represents a true event around ultimately coming to terms with a loved one suffering from alzheimer’s.
Susan explains how the incidence of Alzheimer’s increased significantly in recent years.
‘There are currently 55,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease in Ireland and 47 million worldwide. It is expected that these figures could rise to 91,000 and 75 million respectively by 2030. This is the big picture.’
She added that in writing these short stories she hopes to give a glimpse of the ‘small picture’ the everyday experiences of individuals and family members who are coping with the condition.
For anyone with a family member who has Alzheimer’s, the stories will touch their heart, and for those who know nothing about Alzheimer’s, they give an enlightened look at the disease and how it impacts family and loved ones.
This may sound as if it makes very grim and depressing reading and a few of the stories are indeed heart-achingly sad but some are smile-inducing, some downright funny and others are poignant.
A former teacher at O’Fiaich College, this is Susan McGovern’s third book, and is her first foray into short story writing.
For further information or advice about Alzheimer’s, please phone the National Helpline on 1890 341 341
Susan McGovern’s book ‘Thanks for the Memories’ is available now