As Auburn McCanta builds the story behind the phrase All the Dancing Birds, readers find growing poignancy for everyone who has an Alzheimer’s victim in their care or acquaintance. The IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) award winning story comes across with believability and emotional connection with Lillie Claire, a mother and poetically inclined woman.
The presentation is non-typical because the story shifts between the daily experiences as Lillie Claire feels the tentacles of Alzheimer’s clutching her life and as she reads memory-loaded letters she writes to her children in an effort understand and preserve some heritage for their future.
I was immediately reminded of the 1985 made-for-tv movie, Do You Remember Love starring Joann Woodward as a woman in the same trap as Lillie Claire. The women just KNOW something isn’t the same as it has been but their lives are spiraling out of control.
As the disease claims more of Lillie Claire’s faculties, her children change roles. Her daughter Allison has a difficult time understanding, accepting and dealing with her mother’s condition. Bryan, who has been distant as he developed his career, becomes the one who spends more time with Lillie Claire and learns more about her condition. Have you been in the position of either of these people. They are set-up in a fairly typical way. When I think of the dear people whom I’ve known and who were taken by Alzheimer’s, it is sad to see how many times victim, friends and family seemed blindsided by the truth — rather patience was thin and disagreements rife at a time in their lives when the hourglass sands of life were sliding fast and furious through the little hole.
Fortunately for Lillie Claire and her family, they can afford a gentle caregiver who can stay in Lillie Claire’s home with her throughout this ordeal. The tipping point (and title point) seems to come when Lillie Claire finds ‘friendship’ with the birds she feeds on her patio. She totally understands that these lovely birds invite her to dance with them and believes that this is a dance she where she can be free and ‘well.’ That is her note of hope when the dark times come.
The letters are random snapshots of Lillie Claire’s life as a child, young woman and her thoughts about her parents, grandparents and dear husband. They aren’t presented in an organized history, but filled with poetry and emotion. My impression was that they would have been scribbled down as that moment came clearly to the surface of her mind. To demand chronological order is unfair, cruel and risks rejection of the intent — maintaining connections of all nerve endings with a life. They are presented to us even more randomly as she reaches into the box where they are stored and selects whichever letter her fingers reach first. As the disease progresses, her caregiver reads the letters to her which brings Lillie Claire a calmer state of mind.
After the disease has claimed Lillie Claire’s life, her children find the letters as they are sorting through her things. The letters accomplish her highest goal — a tender, resilient bond between a sister and brother who are so different and who’ve spent most of their lives bickering between themselves or with their mother.
“All the Dancing Birds” is not a particularly Christian book, but I found it profound and inspiring.