What does it feel like to be forgotten? Forgotten by someone you love. Forgotten forever with no hope of those memories every coming back.
That is what I set out to tackle in What Flowers Remember.
Another author once said that great stories happen at the intersection of joy and sorrow. I think that intersection was where I found myself in writing this novel.
My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was in my early twenties. The disease progressed slowly at first. There were lost words and clothes put on wrong. Then there were neighbors who found him sitting in his car, unsure of how to get home when he was only a few blocks away. And then he started losing people. Bit by bit, his life was being erased.
Not everyone has a close relationship with their grandparents. I was one of the very lucky ones that did. From the age of seven to seventeen, their house was my summer camp. I arrived at the end of the school year and returned home just before the next grade started. My grandparents were second parents and great friends.
I would wait for my grandfather to come home from work, his black metal lunch pail in hand. We tended the garden and I measured myself against the pumpkins that grew to half my size. I sat with my grandparents on the front porch, stringing beans, talking to neighbors, and watching lightning bugs perform in the yard.
One day, years later, as I visited him with my newborn son, I realized that he didn’t know who I was. My face was unrecognizable, but my voice sounded familiar to him. It reminded him of a young girl he used to know. That’s what he told me. The words made me cry. They still do.
I never set out to write a book about Alzheimer’s. But I needed to write about a girl. A girl who loves someone and is loved back. A girl who is forgotten. Because I’m not the only one it has happened to. I’m not the only one who had to cope with that particular kind of pain. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. One in three. That number is astounding to me.
With What Flowers Remember, I tried to find a way to make sense of something that is completely incomprehensible. A way to share the truth of all my emotions, both the sadness and the joy, in the context of a fictional town, with fictional characters, people who are busy creating new and wonderful memories of their own while someone they love is losing his.
If you know a child (or an adult) that is coping with being forgotten, share this book with them, and let them know they are not alone.
Reviews & Honors:
Lamplighter Award nominee, 6th-8th, 2015-2016
Top Shelf honoree 2014, VOYA Magazine
“Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.”
—Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“There are echoes of Patricia MacLachlan in the book's period flavor (the story seems to be set thirty years or so in the past), the tenderness, and the deft writing that keeps a heart-tugging plot lovely as well as brimming with sentiment."
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Recommended
“The ebb and flow of life is shown, grief is addressed, and the power of what one person can do is celebrated. Teachers may wish to consider this book for reading lists in middle school."
“[Delia’s] frustration, fear and sense of loss will be readily recognizable to others who have experienced dementia in a loved one, and her story may provide some guidance on how to move down that rocky path toward acceptance and letting go.”
*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a believer that everyone has The Summer of Hammers and Angels, was nominated for the William Allen White award. Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, and her always entertaining mutt Benson.