UPDATE: A thoughtful comment from Richard Anderson of Well Spouse:
I have read Janet Cromer’s book, and I was struck by her honesty in talking about the ups and downs of caring for a husband with chronic illness, the neurological effects of the major heart attack he suffered.
I was a spousal caregiver for 29 years of my 31-year marriage to my first wife, and even though her chronic illness, scleroderma, has no neurological symptoms, it rang very true with me, reading “Professor Cromer Learns to Read.”
I would also like to urge those who are or were, like Janet and I were, caring for a husband, wife or partner with chronic illness and/or disability to check out the Well Spouse(tm) Association website, http://wellspouse.org — our motto is, “When one is sick, two need help.” And that goes for friends, family or acquaintances of a spousal caregiver — please pass on the word.
Janet and I are both members, as Former Well Spouses.
ORIGINAL POST: As anyone who was directly affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks knows, some minutes have cataclysmic impact.
For the families of the people on the planes and in the buildings they struck nine years ago Saturday, that moment meant losing loved ones forever.
For my dear friend Dan Middleton, that moment was what seemed initially like a harmless fall on the second run of the day skiing in New Hampshire after putting an all-nighter on the St. Paul’s newspaper.
I remember vividly Dan telling a group of us about how he lay on the ground after the fall, unable to move and instantly filled with a chilling sense that his life had been utterly and permanently altered.
For Janet Cromer, the moment came on a plane in 1998.
Her husband Alan, a vibrant, productive and passionate physics professor at Northeastern University, had a major heart attack and nearly died.
Dr. Cromer lived, but suffered major and largely irreparable brain damage that formed much of the backdrop for the remaining seven years of his life-a time that his widow chronicles in Professor Cromer Learns to Read.
Many thanks to dear friend, librarian and former Cromer neighbor Tracy O’Brien for connecting me to Janet.
Professor Cromer is an unflinching look at the continual physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional adjustments Janet and Alan Cromer made during his post-heart attack years to salvage, savor and even deepen their love.
A psychiatric nurse and licensed psychotherapist, Janet describes bringing her decades of professional experience to bear from the moment Alan suffered the heart attack. But she also writes about the limitations of her training and personal reserves, her mourning the loss of the Alan she married, and the attendant frustrations and disappointments both of them encounter as Alan fights valiantly to heal, and then to counter the Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s that end up further ravaging his already compromised brain.
Professor Cromer has many scenes that are searingly honest. Janet writes openly and repeatedly about their physical connection-this is even a source of humor as an uninhibited Alan shares his pleasure at their conjugal visits with others he meets and talks with at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital-and about her compassion for Alan as he asks forlornly if he ever amounted to anything and was an effective teacher. She also writes about their heated fights that at times generated feelings of hatred within her, and, it would appear from his words, within Alan.
At the same time, Professor Cromer is not a work of someone using the occasion of her husband’s physical and neurological difficulties to issue a series of self-indulgent and self-pitying revelations.
Janet weaves in a substantial amount of information about brain injury, including the brain’s capacity to build new neural pathways. Beyond the work’s educational value, she also writes movingly about the couple’s efforts and success in coming to terms with the time they have, rather than the losses they have suffered. In so doing, the book offers a vision of a deeper, fuller and more mature love than the couple seemed to have before Alan’s heart attack occurred.
Professor Cromer resonated with me on a number of levels.
My life changed profoundly on February 17, 1986, when my parents were involved in a near-fatal car accident that affects her to this day. Mom spent six weeks of her rehabilitation in Spaulding, and has talked over and over again about the brain’s capacity to regenerate in the way Cromer describes as well as the need to mourn the passing of the person who was. And I too have recognized my limits of compassion and ability to give openly in any number of significant relationships.
These personal connections to the work are not the sole basis for my appreciation for the book, which grew as I made my way through it. Janet is a straightforward stylist who has an ability to communicate effectively what transpired at given points throughout her journey.
Her physical journey with Alan concluded with his death-she believes it was a happy one-and his impact on her life continues. We are grateful to Janet for pulling back the veil on her experience and sharing the story of what happened in the days, months and years after the instant when her world was shattered.