Broken Beauty: Piecing Together Lives Shattered by Early-Onset Alzheimer's

Broken Beauty: Piecing Together Lives Shattered by Early-Onset Alzheimer's

by Sarah B. Smith


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Friday, May 24


In the world of Early-onset Alzheimer’s, here is a book all about life, love, and hope.
​Broken Beauty is the story of Sarah Smith’s mother—known as “Beauty” to her family—and her family’s journey through the devastating world of Early-onset Alzheimer’s. Smith was a young mother in her thirties when her own mother’s illness struck, so the family’s shock and pain at the disease’s manifestations is nearly unbearable. Not only is Beauty still young and fit; she is also Sarah’s best friend. This powerful and personal story about a daughter facing the unthinkable and the love she found to carry her through will touch the hearts of everyone who reads it.

Sarah Bearden Smith is a housewife, mother of three, and a woman of deep faith, who has lived in Texas all her life. Sarah was born and raised in the Houston area, and remained there until her departure for the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a speech communications major, varsity cheerleader, and a member of Tri Delta sorority. After her marriage to Thad Smith in 2002, the couple moved to Dallas, Texas. During their years in Dallas, Sarah and her husband have served on various boards and committees, including the Greer Garson Gala, Presbyterian Hospital Healthcare Foundation, East-West Ministries, AWARE Dallas, and Providence Christian School of Texas. They actively serve with their children in assisted living and memory care facilities and support organizations such as Council for Life, Alzheimer’s Association, Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, and Community Bible Study. Sarah and her family are members of Watermark Community Church.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626345973
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 01/15/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 233,662
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Sarah Bearden Smith is a housewife, mother of three, and a woman of deep faith, who has lived in Texas all her life. She was born and raised in the Houston area until her departure for the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a speech communications major and varsity cheerleader. After graduation, she remained in Austin, working in the software and high-tech industry. She and her husband and children live in Dallas, Texas, where they actively serve in assisted living and memory care facilities and support organizations such as Council for Life, Alzheimer’s Association, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, and Community Bible Study. Sarah and her family are members of Watermark Community Church.

Read an Excerpt



Thanksgiving and Christmas 2009

* * *

THE THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS were the highlight of my parents' year, especially because Mom loved to entertain guests. It was Thanksgiving 2009, and other than their Sunday-morning church services, nothing brought Mom and Dad greater joy than opening the front door of their Houston home to greet their kids and grandkids.

My daughters, Frensley and Emery, jumped out of the car as soon as we parked in the driveway and ran to Mom. Frensley was almost six years old, and Emery was four.


The girls had called her Beauty since they could talk. Mom made it up because she did not want to be called Grandma. She also thought it would be funny for the kids to call her Beauty when she was old and feeble. Dad simply settled on "Pop." The funny thing is, when Mom tried to teach the girls her grandma name, they kept pronouncing it "booty." Mom would laugh and say, "No. Beau-u-u-u-ty!" She would stress the "u" sound over and over until they finally got it. Following my children's lead, I often called my parents Beauty and Pop.

The girls looked up at Beauty with excitement. "We made it!"

Mom hugged the girls close. "We're so happy you are here. Now where's my little grandson?"

Elijah was asleep, still strapped into the car seat for the long ride from Dallas. As Thad, my husband, got the luggage and gear out of our car, I wandered inside and breathed in the smells of the holidays. The candles were lit, music was playing over the speakers, and the fireplaces were burning. The kids' tables were already set with new plates and place mats, and their room was decked out with toys, stuffed animals, and beanbags. My parents' home was decorated beautifully, and I loved walking around to see if there were any new purchases peeking out.

"How do you like it?" Mom asked. "Did you see my new table runner? I love the fall colors, don't you?"

"Oh, Mom." I hugged her. "The house looks amazing, as always. How long have you been decorating, anyway?"

She shrugged. "Just a few weeks. This Thanksgiving couldn't get here soon enough — I'm over the moon that everyone will be here this year."

David, my older brother, lived in South Dakota; and my younger brother, Gabriel, lived in Lavon, just outside Dallas. Both their families were coming.

My dad peeked his head around the corner and made a funny face at the girls.

"Pop!" The girls jumped into my dad's arms. "Happy Thanksgiving, Pop!"

"Hey, Fufu and Wuwu! How are my girls? Have you been getting into any trouble or have you been good?"

"We're always good, Pop!"

My eyes filled with tears as I watched our girls with Dad. All the people I loved most in the world would be gathered under one roof for Thanksgiving. I was content and filled with gratitude.

Home sweet home.

WE HARDLY LEFT THE HOUSE all week. The cousins played, the adults conversed, and the food and desserts kept coming. Beauty and Pop had heated the swimming pool and hot tub, and they set out toys and bikes and balls in the back so the kids could play.

Mom would pour herself a cup of coffee at 8:00 p.m. and offer sweets and pies, and we adults would settle into a cozy room to chat about life. We talked about politics, faith, schools, funny things our kids said or did, and the Russian and Chinese missionaries Mom and Dad hosted in their home several times. Most of all, we enjoyed each other's presence.

My parents had done everything they wanted to do in life. In their early sixties, Dad had retired, and they didn't need or want anything more. They were in a place of contentment, and they wanted to enjoy their grandchildren while still young and active enough to do things with the kids and make an impact on their lives. They wanted to leave a legacy of their time, their love for family, and their love for the Lord. Their actions undoubtedly spoke louder than words. Their kids and grandkids knew how much Beauty and Pop loved them, and in the busyness of life there was nothing like being home for the holidays.

"Hey, Beauty?" I piped up over a slice of pecan pie when we were all chatting after dinner. "You want me to help wrap your Christmas gifts before I leave?"

"Oh yes," she said. "I can't believe all of my Christmas shopping is about done. Thank you, Sarah."

I beamed. This year I'd brought a car full of Christmas gifts for the family and grandchildren. Back in October, I'd offered to help Mom with her shopping, and she happily obliged. Usually she refused help because she was a very strong and independent woman, so I was surprised and pleased when she accepted. I also wanted to get ahead on my own shopping, especially if I could do it without taking along three small children.

Later that evening, she led me to the room where we'd hidden the presents and pulled out a big box of Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons. Together we began to wrap gifts. Suddenly, I noticed Mom struggling as she tied a bow on one of the gifts. She kept opening and closing her fingers, then grabbing her right forearm with her left hand and massaging the muscle as she clenched and unclenched her fist.

"Beauty? What's wrong? Is your arm bothering you?"

"Oh, it's nothing," she said, brushing me off. "It's been tingling on and off for a while now. It's numb sometimes, and all of a sudden I can't feel my fingers or move my hand. But it's nothing to worry about. I probably keep sleeping on it wrong."

"What do you mean by 'a while'? A few weeks or several months?"

"Probably a few months. It's fine, honey. I'll just let you tie the bows."

I chewed my lip. "Have you told Dad? Does he know?"

"He knows. I still work out with my trainer, so it's possible I've injured something. It will be fine. No big deal. It will go away."

"Well, I think I know the answer to this question, but have you considered seeing a doctor? Tingling and numbness can be a sign of something going on in your brain."

Mom looked frustrated. "You're right, Sarah. You know the answer to me seeing a doctor is no. No doctors. All a doctor would do is tell me I need to get in some machine and take pictures, and then they'd put me on some medication."

"Mom, you know I hate it when you say that. I wish you would be more open to seeing doctors. There's a reason we have them. You are so stubborn it makes me crazy."

"Blah, blah, blah," she said, mocking me. "I'm fine, honey. Now, what about this necklace? I got it for Patricia. Do you think she'll like it?"

My heart sank. Mom was very good at changing the subject. I looked at her hand — it did look normal. Physically, her hands and toned arms still looked young. She was sixty-four, but she was perfectly healthy and didn't look her age. Five-foot-eight and one hundred and thirty pounds, she walked four miles nearly every day, planted flowers in the yard, and swam in the pool. She also worked out with a trainer two or three days a week. Her nails were strong, long, and painted red. Just a few days earlier, she showed off high kicks from her Kilgore Rangerette dance team days to the girls. She had also lain on the floor that morning to play "Superman" with Emery. She placed her feet on Emery's tummy, clasped her granddaughter's hands, then spread their arms like wings. With a "Wheee! Superman!" she hoisted Emery into the air. Emery loved it.

Emery was Mom's Mini-Me: She smiled like her, she was constantly moving, and she had Beauty's dark brown eyes. They had an instant bond — I call it the "English bond," for Mom's maiden name, because of their dark coloring and their strong wills. Mom especially didn't like to be told she couldn't do something, and she wouldn't take no for an answer.

I had to bring my worries up just one more time.

"Please at least think about going to see a doctor, Mom," I said.

She shook her head. "Trust me. I'm just sleeping on it wrong."

And I knew then that even if Mom wouldn't take no for an answer, she expected me to.

FROM THANKSGIVING ON, SOMETHING WASN'T right. I was concerned, and I wanted answers. I called Mom on the phone and occasionally asked, "How's that tingling in your arm? Is it any better?"

Her response, as expected, was, "Yeah, it seems much better. I'm fine!"

At Christmastime, my parents came up to Dallas.

Dad rang the doorbell, and I ran down the stairs to greet them.

"Y'all made it! Come on in."

We helped them carry their things to the third floor.

Beauty and Pop always slept in what we called the "in-law suite." We put a little refrigerator up there, and they had a sitting area with a TV in addition to the bedroom and bathroom. If they ever felt in the way, they would go up there and hide out, knowing it was their space.

Mom and I got some last-minute things at the grocery store for Christmas brunch, and as we loaded the car with bags, I noticed she was doing the same thing she'd done at Thanksgiving: opening and closing her fist, then rubbing her forearm with her left hand, massaging it. We got in the car, and she did it again. My fears screamed in my head.

Suddenly, she realized I'd seen her do it. Her fingers went still. As calmly as possible, I set my keys in the cup holder.

"Mom, I'm worried about your arm. I don't understand why you won't go see a doctor. Maybe it's nothing, but if it is something, wouldn't you rather catch it earlier than later?" She angled her body away from me, and I sighed. "I know you hate doctors, Mom. But doctors can tell you if there is something wrong, and then you can choose if you want to do something about it. At least get someone to look at it."

She just looked down and continued to massage her arm.

"It went away for a while, and it just came back. I've been doing arm weights a lot with my trainer, and I think I've just pulled something. There isn't much you can do about a pulled muscle. It will heal, and I'm fine, honey — really, I am."

"All right then. But you aren't in your forties anymore, Mom. And if you catch something early, you can treat it. It just doesn't feel right."

I knew how much Mom didn't trust doctors. At that moment, I realized she would never see a doctor unless she'd fallen to the ground unconscious. In other words, I thought, unless she didn't have a choice.

Her distrust of doctors arose the moment her father died. I'll never forget that night in the hospital. It was just the two of us there, and she came in the small waiting room sobbing. She jabbed me in the shoulder and cried out, "They killed him! They're the reason he's gone." We hugged and cried for what felt like an eternity. She blamed her father's death on too much morphine toward the end. According to Mom, it was all the doctors' and hospital's fault. There wasn't much convincing her otherwise, no matter how hard I tried — her heart was broken to pieces.

"One more thing I am going to say," I said, "and then I will try not to say anything more. The 'no pain, no gain' attitude should not apply in this situation. Please don't be selfish. If something is wrong with you, it's not fair to keep it from Dad and your children and those who love you and can help take care of you. Dad especially. He would want to know if you had a brain tumor."

The thought that it was a brain tumor terrified me. I couldn't breathe. That night I cried as I told Thad how I couldn't stand how stubborn my mom was and asked him to remind me of my mother if I ever became like that. I, too, lived my life with the "no pain, no gain" mentality.

Growing up as a competitive gymnast, I constantly heard Mom say, "No pain, no gain, honey. No pain, no gain." So I powered through competitions with two broken toes, a jammed finger, terrible heel and knee pain, and eventually lower back pain. I would lie and say I was ready to go when I wasn't. I had a terrible back injury that took several months to heal, but I wasn't going to let the state meet pass me by. I had worked and trained way too hard to let that go. I was mentally prepared to compete sooner rather than later, no matter the cost.

It wasn't just my mom — it was the coaches. They were incredibly intimidating, and they would mentally (and occasionally verbally) abuse me in front of everyone. Mom didn't know, though. She was in the soundproof waiting room, talking with other mothers and watching practice. I didn't dare tell her because I would get in even more trouble with my coach — I feared I would not move up a level or get to compete. Or if I told her, she probably wouldn't believe me anyway. She got sucked into the manipulation as much as I did.

Little did I know then that the brokenness of keeping those secrets of abuse and embracing the "no pain, no gain" mentality would stare right back at me twenty-five years later through the eyes of my mother.




* * *

MOM ALWAYS REMEMBERED PHONE NUMBERS, addresses, and the cost of things. She rarely used her address book or looked up a phone number, and it always amazed me.

Beauty and Pop would drive around and look at different properties — homes, lake houses, and even ranches — as potential investments and discuss pricing. Dad owned a construction company in Houston, so he dealt with numbers on a daily basis. A great team, they had fun estimating the value of houses and real estate.

One day as they were driving, Dad pointed to a property. "Hey, Beck, look at that one. It's seven acres. How much do you think that costs?"

Mom stared intently out the window, deep in thought. She confidently replied, "Fifty thousand."

Dad laughed. "Yeah, right! If that was fifty thousand, we would be in trouble with the land we own not too far from here."

"Well, you asked, and that's what I think. And you know I'm right."

Dad arched his eyebrow and gave the back of her neck an affectionate squeeze. "Oh, Beck. You make me laugh. It's more like five hundred thousand. You only missed a zero!"

Mom pulled away from him, questioning what he had just told her.

"No, I didn't. I said fifty thousand. You are just copying me, because you know I am right. Listen to yourself. You don't want to be wrong because you know I'll win this one!"

Mom had begun saying one number while thinking of another. This began a challenging time for Mom, Dad, and everyone around them, because while she thought she was speaking her thoughts, the words were coming out jumbled.

She didn't notice it, however. She didn't notice that "fifty thousand" did not sound like "five hundred thousand" and that they weren't the same number. Dad ignored it until she tried to persuade him she was right and repeated the number a second time.

He told me later he was thinking: "I wonder why her numbers aren't right? She must be tired. It's been a long day."

BEAUTY CALLED ME ONE FRIDAY morning and told me she was going shopping with her dear high school friend, Kelly Maness. When they were young, Kelly and Mom were often mistaken for twins. They looked alike, acted alike, and if a boy who wasn't very cute asked one of them out, she'd give the boy the other one's name. Kelly was from Beaumont, Texas, and had the most precious Southern accent. Mom lit up whenever Kelly walked in the room.

The phone rang, and I answered. "Hey, Daughter! Whatcha doin?"

I smiled. "Hey, Beauty! I just dropped the kids off at school, and I'm heading to the gym. What are you up to today?"

"I'm going shopping for makeup with Kelly. She's driving over from Beaumont. I wish you were here. She's so much fun."

I sighed with jealousy. "Awww, man. I love makeup shopping! I'm so glad you are doing that, Mom."

She quickly answered, "Yep!"

"You can let someone do your makeup and then buy whatever you like that they use. And buy several brands. It's fun to get a lipstick from one counter and mascara from another. I wish I could go."

Mom paused. "Me, too. I miss you, Sarah. I just wanted to say hi and tell you I get to see Kelly today. I'll call you later and tell you what I bought. Maybe Kelly and I can get our picture taken once we are dolled up."

"That would be great. I can't wait to see. Give Kelly a hug for me."

Kelly's daughter, Gillian, texted me several hours later. Mom and Kelly were so close that I felt like Gillian was a long-lost sister. Her text was a beautiful picture of Mom and Kelly. They had shimmery, smoky eyes, soft pink lips, and bronze cheeks with a hint of pink. They looked stunning and so happy to be together.

Not long after that text, Mom called me.

"Hey, hey! We had so much fun. I got all sorts of makeup. But Sarah, I need to tell you something: I thought the makeup was only $150, but I think the lady overcharged me because the receipt says I spent $1,500! One thousand, five hundred dollars, Sarah."

I gasped. "What? What in the world did you buy? Why did you spend so much? Makeup can be expensive, but fifteen hundred bucks? Didn't you see the receipt before you signed it?"


Excerpted from "Broken Beauty"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Sarah Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Broken Beauty: Piecing Together Lives Shattered by Early-Onset Alzheimer's 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I’m not a big reader because I can’t sit still for very long! However, this book pulled me in and I couldn’t put it down! I found it to be brutally honest and I literally felt like I was right there with Sarah as she told the story. I have much admiration for Sarah for writing this book and revealing so much about her family and the hard times they went through with her mother. It takes a lot of courage and faith to put yourself out there in the way that Sarah does in this book. I would recommend this book to anyone who either has a loved one going through an illness or to adults who have parents that are getting older and they will be their caretakers. She emphasizes to take each moment and cherish it. Sarah shows so much love for everyone she encounters. She genuinely loves and appreciates all that the caregivers have done to take care of her mother and she makes sure she shows them all gratitude at the highest level. She ends the book telling us to not go through hard times alone. Don’t hide your problems and lean on friends, family and God to get through them. She reminds us that everyone is going through tough times and to be mindful of that and reach out to them and offer love and support. Another thing that struck a cord with me is that Sarah’s father tells us at the end to not be afraid to visit someone with a disease for fear of not knowing what to say or do. He says you will be surprised at what resides in their damaged brains and that the more you are around them, the more joy you both will receive. I found that to be important because so many of us are uncomfortable visiting someone with an illness. And finally, I loved the photos at the end of the book. They added the perfect personal touch to tie the whole story together. It was nice to have a visual of so many things that were discussed in this book.