A Garden of Delights

Book Review Monday: One Hundred Names For Love

Posted on: May 15, 2012

Trying to resume a regular pattern for this page, I have one of my “semi-regular” features for the day: Book Review Monday, which as you my remember, alternates weeks with Your Inspirations, a feature that highlights those creative sparks that “work” for people in the world.

Before I give my opinion piece on Diane Ackerman‘s One Hundred Names For Love, please allow me to introduce a little “house discussion” here.

As some of you know, I’m in the process of trying to merge my blogs into one.  General online wisdom seems to point toward this being my “master site” as it uses my name and will allow me (in the event that I actually begin selling books and/or photographs) to simply say “I’m online; just Google my name.”  It just is that Many Worlds From Many Minds is something of “my baby”.  It’s where I began blogging, where I have made a hundred mistakes, have often poured my heart out, gotten lectured, posted some of my fiction, created worlds…

In the past few months of contemplating how I will initiate this merge I realized one thing: I hate the thought of leaving it.

But I don’t have the emotional (or mental energy) to focus on the two blogs and feel that I am doing either one justice.  (Yes, I’m sure that’s simply “me” feeling that way, but I feel it.  I feel it quite viscerally.)

I know that none of you can answer this for me.  The process of moving everything will likely take longer than I had planned though. And I’m still uncertain at what the end result will be.  Perhaps things will go as planned and this page will reopen as A Garden Of Possibilities…  Perhaps I will close this blog in favor of  keeping Many Worlds active…  Perhaps status quo will hold and I will continue to try juggling both blogs until I find a true balance between childhood love and mature passion.

Well, enough of that…let me tell you about a wonderful book.

One Hundred Names For Love

Cover of my copy of One Hundred Names For LoveThe complete title of  Ms. Ackerman’s book is One Hundred Names for Love: a Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing, a title that states quite explicitly to the reader what lies within its pages, yet allows so much to remain mysterious.  It’s a perfect title, drawn together by tragedy in the beginning, a war of despair and hope in following where determination and love come out victorious, stronger but irrevocably altered by the struggle.

Yes, I loved the book.

It broke my heart.

And I sincerely doubt I can do a better “review” of this book than to direct you to this article here at Smithmag and then share my own experiences so you might see why this book affected me so deeply.

I have not been cursed (or blessed as one might be able to say) as Ms. Ackerman was to have my husband suffer a stroke such as her husband Paul West did.  However, heart disease, and strokes in particular, seem to be a mainstay in my family and I’ve watched too many people I love die a hopeless “locked-in” death from the effects and a poor understanding and–far worse in my opinion–a lack of faith in the “person” inside the body.

By far, the worst of my personal experiences came through my observations of watching my Great-aunt Pearl after her stroke.  Back in the 1970’s, our understanding of the power of the brain to heal itself was far more limited than it is now.   Pearl’s stroke made her aphasic too, and while her word of choice was not quite Paul West’s “mem”, I remember “may may may” in constant repetition.   I also remember watching a mind that had been a school teacher and a radio tester–a woman who had gallantly taken her brother’s four children on a cross-country tour of the National Parks in the 50s–fade.  As with Ackerman’s and West’s experience, the standard rehabilitation methods used to help my Great-aunt were focused mostly on trying to help her recover some “basics”: direction taking and giving her caregivers the equivalent of a better trained pet (though I’m sure most therapists would not see their efforts as denigrating as this, believing they are striving to “retrain” the mind as a young child might need).   And I remember Pearl’s clear frustration with herself and those around her as she struggled to make herself understood.

And like Ackerman’s mention of Charles Baudelaire, Pearl Dorn spent years, first semi-physically fit but unable to speak more than a few garbled sounds, even after therapy which she resisted almost indignantly, trying to pick up books she’d once loved and then throwing them across the room in disgust  soon after crying almost pitifully “May may may”.

Pearl suffered her aphasia-inducing stroke in 1975.  It was not her first, she’d had a smaller one the year before.  In 1985, she’d finally retreated so far into herself that she was comatose.  One day, the family was called to see if she should be maintained on life support after another she suffered another smaller stroke.

The family meant Pearl’s sister-in-law (my grandmother, Nanny, who had done as best she’d know to care for her during most those years after her own bereavement due to Grandpa’s death) and those four children who loved their Aunt Pearl greatly.  More than greatly…  It certainly would be untrue to say my father loved his aunt more than his own mother, especially during those years.

While you all know what the decision had to have been I find myself still unable to write it.  I know my Aunt Pearl was “there”–aware of us and the decision we were making even though she lay curled in a fetal ball on the bed.  I tried to say to my mother and father at the time, that she was–her eyes were moving under her lids and there was a relaxing of  her body as we held her chill hands, because she knew something was changing.

She was aware, and she stayed aware until at last we were ushered out of the room, all save my father (who wanted to stay with her to the end).

I stood out in the hall waiting with my aunts and uncle and mother while the hospital staff gathered their signatures on a clipboard, and a doctor entered the room.   Dad came out almost twenty minutes later.

It had taken that long, because (I remember overhearing) Pearl had been breathing on her own and they’d needed to give her a sedative.

To this day, to feel the hands of the elderly–that waxy, paper-like–texture brings me back there to that hospital room.  To knowing how much is going on beneath the surface…

Diane Ackerman  and Paul West found a way to look beneath the surface.  And I sat, reading  Ms. Ackerman’s book, crying for the lost voices…not just my own losses, but those of countless families…and rejoicing.  Through love and play and an understanding that sometimes basics are not as vital to life as life itself, they have found a way to perhaps reduce experiences such as my own.

I’m sorry this was not a much of a review as I’d hoped it would be.  I cannot speak for others and suggest their experience with Ackerman’s lovely way with words will be as evocative as my own.  Nor can I give fair coin to the strength of feeling that this book gave me, nearly page after page.  Though One Hundred Names For Love had been another one of those “picked it up at Borders during their going out of business sale” books, it did not sit on my shelf for over a year because I did not care.  I cared too much and too deeply.

I still do.

And I hope that you will read it and find something within it to touch your heart as well, with (hopefully) better memories.

Here is a post I wrote months ago with a picture of Pearl (and me).  Here is a photo of her as a young woman (1928 so she was 25 years old).


8 Responses to "Book Review Monday: One Hundred Names For Love"

I am so grateful you shared about this book. I haven’t read Diane Ackerman for a while and now I simply feel I must. THANK YOU so much for sharing on the ROW80 site on facebook!

You’re welcome, Julie. As you can see, it struck a bit close to the heart. I was crying most of the writing during that second half…

I had to help someone very close to me to stop living – it was motivated by love but a very hard thing to do.

I’m sorry, Mike. The mix of emotions… “What if” always gets to me; I imagine your experience was the same. You want the best for the ones you love, and sometimes, even when you are sure you know what that is, it’s still not enough….

Thank you for sharing. Hope you don’t mind a virtual hand wrapping around yours and giving it a squeeze.

definitely intrigued.. Will absolutely add this to my “to be read” list. So sorry it hit you so hard. 😦

Thanks, Darlene. I suppose it’s just past history now, but being in the past doesn’t seem to actually lessen the loss.

But the good thing is, as I noted to Mike and on FB page, now that “we” know more, fewer and fewer families will go through this. And THAT is wonderful!


I never knew this side of Aunt Pearl’s story.

I remember my grandmother languishing on the couch that is now in our family room, after her stroke. Shewas never the same, and no one was really meant to talk about it, until a year or two later, when she was dying after the second stroke.

Strokes took both of my paternal grandparents. Perhaps that will be how I die, as well….

This brought back memories of Gramma and Grandpa Foster, and other, “sweeter” (if they can be called that) death memories….

Holding Tim, knowing me life would never be the same once he died, yet giving him my permission (as it turned out, the only approval he needed), to go on without me. One of his nurses, I don’t know which, but we were like a family, braiding my hair as I held him. And supporting me through the arrival of his family, and until I left…

Sitting beside Jim, in a NICU suddenly and inexplicably empty of other familes, as he held Elijah through his dying. Watching the heart monitor slow, and slow more, feeling our baby grow cool. The chaplain suddenly there, offering baptism, and our accepting without exchanging a word. The way they ushered us to the family room, after, the first and only time Elijah left the NICU. Jim holding him for over an hour, as long as he needed, with no one rushing that final goodbye. The loving way Jeremiah, only 22 months old was cared for until we could return our focus to him.

I love you, I thank you, And I understand.

I had to approve this without responding for a time. Writing that post took a lot out of me emotionally and the more I had to think about it, the more thinking I did about it, the more complex my feelings became.

I think my next blog post, when I’m ready for something more personal, will have to explore that. Until then, thank you for understanding and for your love, and for all the changes we’ve witnessed…

But the silence… I have to say, I will never understand the silence. Not your own. But from those we’ve come from. I’ll never understand it, and I’m not sure I want to lest understanding somehow become equivalent to tacit agreement.

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