Cover image for When it gets dark : an enlightened reflection on life with Alzheimer's
When it gets dark : an enlightened reflection on life with Alzheimer's
DeBaggio, Thomas, 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
226 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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RC523 .D433 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
RC523 .D433 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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With his first memoir, Losing My Mind, Thomas DeBaggio stunned readers by laying bare his faltering mind in a haunting and beautiful meditation on the centrality of memory to human life, and on his loss of it to early-onset Alzheimer's disease. In this second extraordinary narrative, he confronts the ultimate loss: that of life. And as only DeBaggio could, he treats death as something to honor, to marvel at, to learn from. Charting the progression of his disease with breathtaking honesty, DeBaggio deftly describes the frustration, grief, and terror of grappling with his deteriorating intellectual faculties. Even more affecting, the prose itself masterfully represents the mental vicissitudes of his disease -- DeBaggio's fragments of memory, observation, and rumination surface and subside in the reader's experience much as they might in his own mind. His frank, lilting voice and abundant sense of wonder bind these fragments into a fluid and poetic portrait of life and loss. Over the course of the book, DeBaggio revisits many of the people, places, and events of his life, both in his memory and in fact. In a sense, he is saying goodbye, paying his respects to the world as it recedes from him -- and it is a poignant irony that even as this happens, he is at the height of his remarkable descriptive powers. In his moments of clarity, his love for life's details only grows deeper and richer: the limestone creek where he has fished for years; his satisfying and lonely herb farming days; the goldfish pond his son designed and built in his backyard in honor of DeBaggio's passion for "any hole in the ground with some liquid in it"; the thirty years in his beloved home in Arlington, Virginia; his early career as a muckraker; the innumerable precious moments spent with his wife and son; his belated grief over his parents' deaths. Adeptly navigating between elegy and celebration, fear and determination, confusion and clarity, DeBaggio delivers an exquisitely moving and inspiring book that will resonate with all those who have grappled with their own or their loved ones' memory loss and with death.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

There are lots of books about grieving the loss of a loved one and getting on with life, far fewer about grieving one's own loss of life. DeBaggio offers one of the latter, a memoir about the daily depredations of Alzheimer's disease, which permits no getting on with life. DeBaggio has been handed a death sentence and makes no apologies for his anger and fear. As he says, we live on memories, whether a particular memory is knowing how to drive a car or the recollection of someone we love. The loss of memory is the loss of self. This is not a hopeful story, but a true-life story that in DeBaggio's still capable hands is almost a poignant prose poem about an ordinary man, a herb grower and journalist with an unremarkable history, who is going through a terrifying ordeal. --Donna Chavez Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

DeBaggio's second memoir expands on his first, 2002's Losing My Mind. He turns away from the immediacies of Alzheimer's diagnosis and treatment and toward the past that his illness is gradually obscuring. During the late 1960s and early '70s, DeBaggio struggled as an underpaid reporter, new husband and father in Arlington, Va. Only when he launched a career as a commercial herb grower, working in greenhouses he built in his own suburban backyard, did he find success. An Alzheimer's diagnosis came at the unusually early age of 57. These specifics are rather deeply imbedded in a book composed primarily of simple, moment-to-moment observations, with gentle, cumulative strength and little drama. DeBaggio gives tension to his narrative by shifting back and forth between his past and present, with changes in tense and typography acting as signposts. But things get complicated when he weaves in numerous bits of other prose and poetry, including personal and professional correspondence, his own odd and sudden thoughts (e.g., "This is a county fair of the mind") and quotes from the likes of Beckett, Breton and William Carlos Williams. The book is at its best in describing the particulars of DeBaggio's career as an herb grower: shooing suburban raccoons, teaching orphaned baby robins to feed and fly, ignoring neighbors' skeptical attitudes. The horticultural writing, understated and often poetic, rivals that of Michael Pollard and Jamaica Kincaid and will reward patient readers. (Nov. 12) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

At age 57, DeBaggio was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. Formerly a journalist and professional gardener, he recorded the course of his illness and its effects on his life in his remarkable 2002 memoir, Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimer's. Here he continues his account of his struggle with the disease that causes "memories to leak through holes in my brain," gradually stealing his ability to write and, ultimately, his sense of self. Unlike his first book, which included scientific information about memory loss, this is a more personal work as DeBaggio writes "from the world of memory I've discovered inside my brain." He recounts stories of people and events from his past interspersed with observations on his failing abilities to handle everyday activities. He also describes how "[his] life creaks toward childhood" and expresses the fear and wonder his memory loss has brought him. Readers not familiar with the first book, which included introductory material that explained DeBaggio's diagnosis and why he decided to chronicle his life with Alzheimer's, may find this work less accessible. Nonetheless, both books offer a unique addition to the genre of personal writings on memory loss. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.