Jack Stewart was a longtime editor at the New York Times. Linda was the U.S. representative of a French publishing consortium. Theirs was a marriage graced with good luck, a union from which each drew strength and joy in equal measure. In his early seventies, Jack opted for retirement but continued to work as a freelance editor and literary agent. The passing years were enriched by travel, strong family ties, and the delight of friendships.
Illness descended abruptly one October afternoon. Jack, awaking confused and disoriented from a nap, was rushed to the hospital. There the diagnosis was both swift and horrifying: Alzheimer's disease. It was a pronouncement that instantly overwhelmed all other considerations. Against her husband's loss of self-awareness, Linda quickly found she had no preparation, no defense. As his memory vanished, the essence of who he was vanished as well. 25 Months documents the struggle of a husband and wife to navigate the treacherous terrain of illness.
Alzheimer's is being diagnosed with ever-growing frequency. It is a disease of unknown origin, one that for now has no cure. The illness relentlessly and incrementally shreds personality and intellect. Yet every case is distinct, eliciting unique responses from both patient and caregiver. In those responses can be found the core of our character. The author describes the pain as well as the unexpected flashes of joy that came with caring for her failing husband. She describes as well the frustration of coping with a health care system that, despite benign intentions, seems woefully inadequate to meet the needs of Alzheimer's patients.
Four windows form the headboard of our bed. A straggle of trees, the marsh, and then the river. Milky moonlight floods our pillows. Behind me his knees fit perfectly into the soft caps of my bent legs. His chin rests easily on the top of my head. His arm crosses my body in that little valley just below my ribs. The soles of my feet lie flat against his shins. Am I awake or asleep? Maybe both. His thumb explores the back of my hand, pauses on my fourth finger, and idly turns the gold band there. Time and the cool of the night have deepened the groove and the ring turns easily. Above me his breath is warm in my ear.
“Marry me,” he murmurs.
Dream or joke? His words, my torpor, merge to pursue me through the shallows of sleep. But already I’m far ahead, sinking into the deep. In the morning the moon and his words have vanished . . . forgotten. It seems.
Excerpted from 25 Months by Linda Mck. Stewart. Copyright © 2004 by Linda Mck. Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Publishers Weekly 2004
June 21, 2004
Linda McK. Stewart. Other Press, $22 (288p) ISBN 1-59051-130-1
Stewart's second husband, Jack, worked for 34 years as a New York Times editor, launched a respected African news journal and pleasantly retired into a late career as a part-time literary agent. One autumn afternoon, with barely any warning, he began to exhibit undeniable symptoms of Alzheimer's, which changed everything for him and his wife. Stewart's straightforward, deeply felt memoir of the ensuing 25 months couldn't have been an easy story to tell, much less write and rewrite into this solid and often poignant book, but it's a strong narrative testimonial to her husband and his last months. Stewart leaves no doubt of her affection for Jack; her characterization of him nears hagiography. Yet this was a second marriage for both, and there's scant information as to why the first ones failed. Stewart also has considerable experience as a freelance travel writer and draws on that expertise in the book's heart, when her husband's memory has become irrevocably fragmented. For example, some random comment of Jack's connects with Stewart's memories of their travels to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania to visit Louis and Mary Leakey. This mixing of Jack's present-day deterioration with Stewart's precise memories begins to promise something more, but the book soon returns to the conventional, month-by-month story of Jack's worsening condition, and the sad, simple story of a solid marriage coming to an end.