It all started with the numbers. Giovanni (John) Silvestri, an electrical engineer, could no longer add and subtract without dancing his pen around the numbers. And then gradually, he started forgetting words. Stefania’s mother, Enida, was the first to suspect that John had Alzheimer’s disease. He was just forty-eight years old when he and his wife made their first appointment with a neurologist. The MRI results showed that John had the brain of an eighty-five-year-old man. Stefania’s father received a diagnosis of dementia.
Beside the Mountain: Finding Strength and Courage Through My Father’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease is the story of Stefania, her mother, and her two sisters travelling with her father’s ashes back to the cemetery of her parent’s home village of Pacentro, Italy, a small medieval town in the foothills of the Appenini Mountains. Woven throughout this journey are recollections of the family’s life in St. Louis, Missouri, as John’s dementia worsens. Stefania reflects on the difficulty she and her family faced as her own depression worsened into self-mutilation, and she holds nothing back as she writes of the ways her father tried to parent her—but couldn’t.
Beside the Mountain is a testament to the strength of family and vows between a husband and a wife. The lengths a family can go, the pits and the falls, the anger and the tears, are both explored and celebrated in this brave depiction of life’s hardships. In the end, despite the difficulties and the sorrow, the Silvestris learn to embrace the true beauty in life through the moments of peace obtained through even the simplest act of a smile.