Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows

reviewed by Kristine Morris

A Couple's Journey Through Alzheimer's

by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle

Just before Harrison Hoblitzelle died, his wife, Olivia, made him a promise that became a covenant between them: to write a book that would hold his voice in it. Intimate, honest, at times disturbing, and always filled with deep love and respect, the book is the story of two people who brought their shared Buddhist meditation practice to bear on the most difficult of losses.

“More than anything else, our Buddhist practice and understanding made a profound difference to both of us in handling his decline," says Olivia. “Through meditation one learns to find an inner refuge - a place of stillness - in the midst of all the changes and challenges. When we accept how much we can't control, that everything is impermanent, we can begin to step out of our struggle with life. Meditation helps one develop equanimity and acceptance of whatever comes up, and that is a great help in dealing with the losses and heartbreak of Alzheimer's."

In the course of caring for her husband, and in spite of the very real threat of finding her own life subsumed in the role of caregiver, Olivia found that their love for each other only deepened. “I kept reminding him that we were in this together, and that I would stand by him to the end,” she says.

She did her best to perceive the world through his increasingly disintegrating mind, feeling his fear and disorientation the way he must have felt them. “Often my heart broke open with compassion and love for him,” she says. “The frictions of relationship pretty much fell away, and you realize that you’re mainly living with the love. That’s the hidden blessing.”

Today, about 5.3 million people in the United State have Alzheimer’s, and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than 10.9 million people are unpaid caregivers. Alzheimer’s disease has become the seventh leading cause of death in this country. With so many already ill and so many more at risk, Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle’s luminous, compassionate, and inspiring story of a love that was bigger than any disease will be much appreciated by those who suffer and those who care for them.

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