Two of my family members were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia:
- My father received a diagnosis at the age of 84 and died of the disease at 89; and
- Three months after my father’s death, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with mixed-dementia at 65 years of age and died four and a half years later.
With that type of history and personal experience with the disease, I had no choice but to put my thoughts down on paper which has turned into my first attempt at writing a novel. Those of you who have read articles from my blog on an ongoing basis know quite a bit about my caregiver role for my father and my supportive role for my brother’s caregiving journey. You’re also aware that my work history the past 14 years includes assisted living and memory care work; being a Washington State long-term care ombudsman (advocate for vulnerable adults); and an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator.
I’m lucky to have the time and opportunity to work on my craft. Thanks to my hubby’s generosity, I have no excuse but to write; so I do. Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of my manuscript. I’d like to hear your impressions. ALL feedback is valuable…
Colleen has just a couple items to purchase at the grocery store, so after picking Patrick up from his morning day program, she secures him in his seat and heads to the mega-grocery store. “I promise we won’t be too long – we’ll be home in no time at all.” Patrick doesn’t register any complaints and seems quite content simply sitting and watching the world go by from his seat’s viewpoint.
Colleen is in luck; there’s a parking space not too far from the entrance so she grabs it before any other shopper notices this great find. With the back-to-school sales in full force, she figured she’d end up in what she calls “the Back 40″ of the store’s parking lot. “Not this time. I must have done something right in my life!” Colleen secures the parking brake, grabs her purse and rushes over to the other side of the car to retrieve her passenger. “Okay, handsome! Let’s head into the store.” Colleen frees Patrick from his seat, and holding tightly to his hand, the two take baby steps across the parking lot crosswalk, requiring other drives to pause in their shopping rush. As is usually the case in this friendly Oregon town, the drivers were very courteous, even smiling and waving at the two of them. Colleen is relieved that no horns are honking – a sound that always frightens Patrick. She and Patrick wave at the drivers, Colleen mouths a “thank you” as they reach the end of the crosswalk, and as she enters the store, she grabs a plastic shopping basket in one hand, and keeps hold of Patrick with the other.
“Let’s head to the toiletry aisle first. We’re just about out of that bath soap that you like. How does that sound?” Patrick breaks into a smile, nods his head, and says, “My soap. Let’s go!” Colleen puts one bar in her basket and hands another bar to Patrick and asks, “Would you like to carry this bar for me?” Again, Patrick breaks into a smile, holds his hand out, takes the bar from Colleen and holds this precious cargo to his chest.
Colleen sees the baby shampoo they need at the end of the aisle and turning to Patrick says, “You stay here. I’m going to get your shampoo and be right back. I’ll only be a few seconds.” Colleen lets go of Patrick’s hand and on the way to getting the shampoo, briefly stops to pick up a couple items, tossing them into her basket. Now at the end of the aisle, she grabs a bottle of shampoo and places it in the basket with the rest of the items. Turning back towards where she left Patrick, she says, “Here I come, just as I promised!” But Patrick isn’t where she left him.
“Oh no, where are you sweetie?” Colleen quickly walks to the next aisle; no Patrick. She rushes to yet another aisle; no luck. “No, this can’t be happening!” Patrick is nowhere to be found and she doesn’t know whether to go left to the housewares section or right to the grocery section. Fortunately a store employee notices her distress and asks if he can be of assistance.
After giving the employee Patrick’s physical description, and the fact that he would probably be holding a bar of soap, Colleen and the employee split up, both going in opposite directions shouting Patrick’s name. In her shouting, Colleen adds, “The time for hide-and-go-seek is long past! Let me know where you are!” Colleen makes it to the far right of the store, stumbling into the Produce section, when she hears an announcement, “Colleen Strand, please report to the Customer Service Desk at the front of the store.”
Colleen drops her basket of toiletry items and runs to the front of the store where the helpful store employee and Patrick stand at attention – both with a smile on their face and both giving Colleen the “thumbs up” sign when she reaches them. “Dad! I’m so glad this nice employee found you! I lost you. I’m so sorry I left you alone. Are you okay?”
Patrick places his free hand on his daughter’s shoulder and says, “I thought I saw someone I knew. I was wrong, then I didn’t see you, but we’re together now.” Patrick looks at Colleen’s hands and seeing them empty asks, “Where have you been? I thought we were going to shop.” The store employee agrees to stay with Colleen’s father while Colleen retraces her steps to gather up her basket of dropped items. She uses this time to calm down, and shaking her head she mumbles, “Note to self: never leave someone with Alzheimer’s alone in a store for even a couple seconds; no turning your back; no getting distracted; focus, focus focus!”
The remainder of Colleen’s visit with her father at the assisted living facility in Eugene, Oregon went smoothly and although she remained a bit shook up for a couple days, her father completely forgot about their grocery store caper. He even complained that it had been a long time since Colleen had taken him grocery shopping. In this instance, memory impairment showed its upside – her father completely forgetting the mishap for which she still felt guilty. Nine times out of ten, however, her father’s memory loss only had a downside because the good times they spent together were lost to him as well.
I look forward to hearing your feedback. I’ll give you another sample, this one from a couple hundred pages into the manuscript, next Tuesday.