Blue Hydrangeas: An Alzheimer's Love Story
by Marianne Sciucco

Bunky Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-989-55920-1.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 02/23/2015

Fiction: Literary

Blue Hydrangeas is, by far, the most tender love story I've read in a very long time. While not a "happily ever after" love story, Blue Hydrangeas is sure to be one you will ponder for some time after you have finished reading it.

The subtitle is "an Alzheimer's love story." But while the book tackles the reality of life with Alzheimer's (for the person diagnosed with it as well as the friends and family members coping with it) Blue Hydrangeas is not just another book about Alzheimer's. It is a tale of a woman whose whole life has been up-ended by her disease. It is a tale of the man who loves her deeply and wants nothing more than to stay with her at their home for the rest of their days. It is a tale of close family members and friends who want to help but are often at a loss to know what to do or how to help. And, perhaps most importantly, it is a gentle reminder to confront the past, face the future and live each and every moment to its fullest.

After 50 years of marriage, Jack and Sara Harmon have shared many celebrations and crises but none as encompassing as the disease which is slowly taking away Sara's memory and personality. They have had children and lost one to an unfortunate drowning accident on the Cape. They have welcomed countless people into their successful bed and breakfast establishment and enjoyed serving their guests with comfort and hospitality. Jack has had a successful career as a pharmaceutical rep. Sara has enjoyed success as a local artist whose paintings are seen all over the Cape Cod area. Now, she doesn't remember the daughter who drowned, even when seeing pictures in her treasured photo albums. There are times when she doesn't recognize her grandson. Before her keys were taken away, there were incidents where she'd leave to drive ten minutes to the market for one item and return more than two hours later with nothing in hand. Many are the mornings when Jack awakens in the wee hours to the sounds of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen and discover Sara in the process of "making breakfast for our guests"—even though the bed and breakfast has been closed for years and there are no guests. Life is anything but what they'd hoped it would be when they planned for their later years together.

Sciucco has written a poignant tale that embraces the good times, celebrates the importance of family and reminiscing, and brings to light the deeply painful struggles a caregiver goes through, trying to be realistic yet honoring promises made to a then-healthier spouse. The author very deftly uses the techniques of reminiscing as key elements in her story: Time spent going through photo albums so that Sara can relate her memories of the persons and events. Drives down familiar roads. Daily routines that bring order into an otherwise chaotic life. And all of it done with tenderness, compassion, honesty and integrity. She has captured some of the real-life hardships for those with the disease, as well as for their caregivers.

Jack promised Sara that they would stay together forever at their lovely Cape Cod home, Blue Hydrangeas. But Jack's health issues can no longer be ignored, and after nine years of caring for Sara, he must admit that it is sometimes an overwhelming task. When the time comes for him to place Sara in a care facility, a spur-of-the-moment road trip brings the story full circle, unites the family in a plan that will honor the health and emotional needs of both Sara and Jack, and leaves the reader feeling the power of a love story well-told.

Marianne Sciucco is "not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse." She majored in English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and at one time worked as a writer for a newspaper. While writing, she went on to become a nurse. In 2002, she began to combine her two careers to write about the lives of people facing family and personal health issues. She is a school nurse at a community college in New York's Mid-Hudson valley. This is her first novel. Visit her blog.

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