The Bookworm Sez: “Who Will I Be When I Die?” by Christine Bryden, foreword by Elizabeth MacKinlay

Who Will I Be When I DieBy Terri Schlichenmeyer

c.1998, 2012, Jessica Kinglsey Publishers        $19.95 / $22.95 Canada   172 pages

You hate when it happens, and it’s been happening a lot lately.

You walk into a room and by the time you get halfway in, you can’t remember what you were doing there. Picking something up?  Putting something away? Most of the time you remember – eventually – but it’s a feeling you don’t like.

Your mother was forgetful, too, and you hope it’s not hereditary. You hope your lapse in memory isn’t Alzheimer’s, either.

Author Christine Bryden was sure her headaches and memory problems were stress-induced. Her job wasn’t easy and neither was her life. But as you’ll see in her memoir, Who Will I Be When I Die?ir?t=smorga 20&l=as2&o=1&a=184905312X something else was happening in her brain.

As head of a division in the Australian Prime Minister’s department, Christine Bryden was no stranger to stress. In May of 1995, she was sure, in fact, that the stress of politics at work, a dissolving marriage, her daughter’s attempted suicide, financial strains, and trying to create a new life for herself and her girls were all contributing to the memory lapses and increasingly debilitating migraines she was suffering.

With all that, who wouldn’t have stress-induced health issues?

But the migraines got worse and so did the lapses. Bryden sought help and, at the “too young” age of 46, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Doctors urged her to retire immediately, although government officials questioned the validity of her diagnosis. She was tested and re-tested and was ultimately, bluntly told that she would be debilitated within five years, and dead within ten years. Her memory began to slide almost immediately and everything took “lots of effort and control” but she dealt with it gracefully and leaned on her family, friends, and her faith in God to get through.

First published in 1998 and updated for this edition, “Who Will I Be When I Die?” is amazingly upbeat.

Author Christine Bryden sings the praises of her God, and gives Him much of the credit for the fact that she’s still here almost twenty years later, and with manageable symptoms of her disease (the diagnosis of which was changed to a sub-set of fronto-temporal dementia known as non-fluent aphasia). She admits to have taken advantage of modern treatment, but she says that prayer was her main medicine.

What makes this book most unique is that Bryden does a fine job chronicling the mental anguish that one feels with early-onset dementia, as well as the issues with bureaucracy and the stigma that often accompanies what some perceive as a mental illness. The frustration, confusion, and uncertainty that come with knowing that you have a “diseased brain” are palpable in this book, but Bryden’s matter-of-factness and her unwillingness to sink into despair gives readers an odd sense of comfort.

While this book probably won’t appeal to a huge audience, I think it’s a good reminder for doctors and caregivers, and it’s filled with hope for anyone facing dementia. If that’s you, then “Who Will I Be When I Die?” is something you might happen to need.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books. For more information, visit

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