Well before he retired, my financial wiz brother Jerry prepared a two-prong strategy including good financial planning and being prepared for the sudden abundance of time and lack of routine.
As I wrestled with my readiness to retire from a great career as an Occupational Therapist, I remembered Jerry’s sage advice. Although many people are thrilled to have nothing on their to-do list, I’m an energizer bunny. The idea of an activity void was honestly scary.
Having worked decades with special needs children and adults, I rejected being a candy striper (I look terrible in pink stripes) or similar volunteer work. Enrichment classes in flying (motion sick), cooking (my overweight hubby says I’m already a great cook), knitting (blah!) didn’t spark any interest either. Then I stumbled upon the Humane Society’s in-home sick cat care volunteer program.
I went through sick kitty training, an in-home inspection and earned my Cat Care ID. But on the cusp of retirement in 2010 while I was preparing to welcome ill felines, my mother was rapid declining from Alzheimer’s.
Rethinking Cat Care
My mother and I lived two hours apart on either side of Ann Arbor, MI. Staff at Mom’s independent senior complex had already reported numerous incidents of bizarre behaviors including a psychotic episode and paranoid accusations that “someone” had stolen her pants, nail file and stamps. Despite warnings that she was exhibiting irrational thinking and agitation, Mom never demonstrated out-of-control conduct in my presence.
That all changed in late April 2010. I was calmly trying to explain to my mother that no one had “stolen traverse rod drapes” from her apartment because she never had any! Suddenly, Mom exploded into a hysterical rage immediately giving way to inconsolable tears. I was completely baffled. Eventually she settled down but in those moments I literally had an epiphany as to how impaired she was.
I put cat care on hold.
The next year brought unbelievable, were it not completely true, drama. I moved Mom closer to us but within two months, she wandered outside her unsecured facility and fell. She was then transferred to a locked assisted living center. Mom had visions of seeing my deceased father and her own mother. She had another psychotic break. She refused to get up, get dressed, was coherent some days but mute others. Sometimes she couldn’t remember my name.
The same incredibly accomplished woman who had a BS in chemistry, masters in education and had crafted magnificent hand stitched artwork, was rapidly withering away. The final blow was the cold-twenty-five degree-March night when she wandered outside again, this time from her locked facility with nothing on but red flannel pajamas ostensibly to find her own mother. My mom was discovered five hours later with life threatening hypothermia. She never fully recovered.
In what would be her final months, Mom’s once kind voice faded away. Our quiet visits together afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the vivacious life that defined her and I became committed to remembering the strong, courageous and gifted lady who was my mom.
I started drafting I Will Never Forget sitting in Mom’s eerily quiet room. What most likely began as a cathartic tribute to a remarkable woman gradually took form as a memoir of love. The rough draft was half completed when she died in July 2011. Already retired from my “day job” I literally cocooned for days recording in black and white the colorful stories of my life, thanks to my mom.
When the manuscript was done, before additional editing and mechanical corrections, an “independent editor in my genre” evaluated it. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from someone in the publishing industry professionally qualified to give an honest assessment of my memoir.
I brought our cat, a glass of wine and my laptop into the bedroom and literally shut the door on the dogs and my hubby. The moment of truth brought me pause as I opened the twenty-six page evaluation attachment and began reading it. That is a night I will not soon forget!
Tears immediately flooded my eyes as I read pages of the editor’s stunning and complimentary remarks followed at the end by the summary statement that the memoir had “global market appeal.” I humbly shared it all with my husband and emailed all of my supportive friends.
My mother’s is a story that needed to be told as it is everyone (with Alzheimer’s) story. I’ve always been skilled with words (just ask my hubby) so drafting a passionate account of the Mom of my childhood contrasted with the lady deteriorating from Dementia, practically wrote itself.
The publisher recognized I Will Never Forget with their Editor’s Choice and Rising Star Awards. Ironically I won an Honorable Mention in Non-Fiction on what would have been my mother’s 88th birthday. To date, I Will Never Forget has won six awards, the most prestigious being the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in the Aging Category.
It was never on my bucket list to write a book, but evidently there was a plan besides sick cat care. Now I network tirelessly in behalf of Alzheimer’s awareness. My hope is through my mother’s story I can provide support, information and comfort to others to know they are not alone in their journey through dementia.
2013 Winner! National Indie Excellence Award, Aging Category
Bronze Medal Winner Global EBook Awards, Aging Category
Honorable Mention Reader’s Favorite, Memoirs
Finalist LuckyCinda Publishing Book Contest
2012 Finalist Best New Non-Fiction USA Book Awards & Hollywood Book Festival
Buy a Book, Support Alzheimer’s. I donate from each book sold to Alzheimer’s research.