Janet and Alan Cromer traveled from Boston to Chicago for a family reunion. A few days later, on the return flight, Alan's heart, and the Cromers' life, stopped. Both were resuscitated. Neither remained recognizable.
While readying to write about Professor Cromer Learns to Read, I searched for a statistic that would put in perspective the overwhelming job families have caring for brain-injured loved ones, words that said how much we are failing brain injured soldiers returning from war, athletes cast aside after they've suffered irreparable damage to their brain, those who've fallen, those who've been in car accidents -- all our mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, friends, partners, and children who struggle to make it back and most of whom will never be the same.
As Cromer says about many things, "all the above is true," but instead, I'll offer the words Janet Cromer said to her brain-injured husband each night:
"Alan, the joy of my life is waking up with you each morning. The joy of my life is going to sleep with you each night."
Before his acquired brain injury, anoxic brain damage (later dementia and Parkinson's disease) engendered by his massive heart attack, Alan Cromer was a prolific author and physics professor at Northeastern University. Reading was the center of his life.
Janet Cromer takes us on an unprecedented love story in this book. The author struggles through the caretaking of her brain injured husband -- years when he is often scary and sometimes unmanageable, and yet this is a love story so tender that one finds many moments to envy their relationship.
Most books of recovery end when the healing begins -- leaving the reader uplifted, imagining a trajectory of continuing good change. Janet Cromer covers the entire cycle of her husband's tortuous road, first to some semblance of recovery -- but never of a return to his former life -- and then lets us into their marriage as medically and emotionally they cycle down until Alan's death seven years later.
This book grabs and holds tight until the final page. Cromer, both a poetic and a plainspoken writer, offers tough honesty. She shares her fear of losing this man for whom she has a 'ferocious love.' She also shares the loneliness, grief and exhaustion of living with this new Alan, who could become rage-filled and frightening. Calling it "all the above is true" the author paints a picture of her life ricocheting from hope to tenderness to her own dark rage.
Cromer reveals her furious experience with authenticity, openness, and a page-turning craft. She captures the medical information gracefully and clearly, never turning away from the difficult parts. She opens the door to her marriage and lets us in every room. Never do Alan nor Janet Cromer get saint treatment (though they'd deserve it).
Professor Cromer Learns To Read is a story of brain injury and medical courage, but at its' core it is a love story.
A friend of the author gave me this book and I didn't open it with hope. I was prejudiced by my experience with self-published work (lacking proper editing and suffering from the objective eyes pulling out weaker parts.)
Professor Cromer Learns To Read so surpassed my expectations Cromer asking why she'd not taken the traditional publishing route. In her answer she wrote:
Timing was my main consideration. Alan had been dead for a few years already and I wanted the story to be timely. Brain injury (BI) is in the news constantly due to the estimated 300,000 returning vets with some degree of BI, and I want to be of some assistance to their families. I sold my house, had spinal surgery, remarried last August and moved to Bethesda, MD. My husband has been terrific in this bizarre situation: his new wife is spending their first year together promoting a book about her first husband.
With all that going on, I didn't want to spend another year sending out book proposals, then another year for the book to be published if I was really lucky. My plan was to publish first with Author House, then send out proposals to traditional publishers. I'm still interested in that route.
Lucky is the agent and publisher who adopts this book. Janet Cromer has already received an award for "Excellence in Medical Communication" and the "Neil Duane Award of Distinction" from the American Medical Writers Association New England Chapter.
Read this book now, and then later you can say you were one of those smart early readers.
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