Barbara Erakko of Hannibal has published a book about her late mother titled “Elsie at Ebb Tide: Emerging from the Undertow of Alzheimer’s.”
“I would like to help you see Alzheimer’s a little differently, in a way that might give you and your loved ones more peace,” she said. “Anyone dealing with this disease faces a lot of fear and anger.
“Alzheimer’s is a physical disease, not a spiritual disease,” Erakko continued. “We often say it is a dreadful disease, terrifying, unrelenting and sad, these descriptions define the physical expression of the disease. But let’s just change the story a little bit, insert different words: metamorphosis, transformation, emergence from body to spirit, amazing and Inspiring.”
The book was inspired by Elsie Julia Elizabeth Norlund and describes her life story, including when Erakko cared for her with Alzheimer’s.
The book cover is a picture by Brenda Beck Fisher, based on a photo of Erakko’s mother on the beach, showing where she wrote her name in the sand.
“My mother was a second generation Finn, left as a child on her grandparent’s farm in Finlayson, Minn., in a household that spoke no English,” Erakko said. “She went to school in a covered wagon and graduated as valedictorian of her class of 17. With only a high school degree, she ended up flying on Air Force One (called Two when the president was not aboard) as a protocol officer for the State Department. She met queens and presidents, popes and astronauts. She kept a memory full of funny stories.” One incident was when helicopter blades blew the petals off the bouquet of red roses that Lady Bird Johnson was supposed to hand to another first lady. When her mother handed the bouquet to Mrs. Johnson, only the stems remained.
Erakko said her mother’s “most prized ability was her incredible attention to detail, and her memory, which is precisely what she lost. As her primary caregiver, I went through every transition with her. For the most part, she was in assisted living, except for a period when she was in my home near the last year of her life. ... The more she lost ground mentally, the more transcendent she seemed to become.
“The most shocking experience was when she awoke from her nap after she was virtually non-verbal and she said clear as a bell, ‘I can’t stop him. He won’t listen to me.’ ‘Who?’ asked the aide. ‘My brother,’ she said.”
The next day the family learned her brother had died that day. “He was passing over; and Mom had seen him,” Erakko explained. “For the first time, I had concrete proof of what I had been suspecting — Mom crossed back and forth from a spirit world where she could visit with deceased friends and family — and her physical world.
Page 2 of 2 - “Another time, Mom gestured, saying, ‘There’s Eddie and Wayne.’ Eddie had died years earlier — and Mom knew that before the onset of her disease. But Wayne, his son, died after Alzheimer’s had erased virtually all of Mom’s memory, so we never bothered to tell her. Yet she adamantly and with irritation, repeatedly said, ‘He’s right there.’ On many occasions she’d mention names, and never once were they among the living.
“She fell and broke her hip, and the doctor predicted she’d die within the year,” Erakko said. “It was at this moment I think that for the first time I felt as though our two souls connected. With an absolute certainty, I sensed that she was not ready to go yet, and that somehow I’d know when the time was right, but I had to buy her time, so that’s when I brought her into my home.
“I believed Mom’s soul was entirely intact, totally unaffected by the disease. I am referring to the essence of Elsie, the part that is not ego, not brain, but that which we all sense within us—that ‘more’ that we believe continues on, even after death. I talked to her, always, in a totally normal way.
“My advice to those with Alzheimer’s and caregivers is to be open, explore and never ever believe the soul has been damaged or diseased. ... If I hadn’t sensed that Mom’s soul was intact, whole and untouched by this disease, I doubt I would have written a book about what happened.
“The last time I saw my mother alive, six weeks before she died, she took my arms in her bony grasp and gazed straight into my eyes. Her eyes were not lights OUT. They were lights ON. I felt as though I were looking through her into heaven itself - the light of her soul now skilled in the ways of spirit. Once again, she was lighting the way for me.”
The book may be ordered from www.elsieatebbtide.com or from amazon.com.
Erakko has written two previous books and other articles, some of which have received awards in writing contests.
She explained her first book, “Silence Making the Journey to Inner Quiet,” is “about having a closer journey with God.”
The second, “Silent Dwellers, Embracing the Solitary Life,” she described as “essays on different fields of silence and why I decided to quiet my life down.”