Few men are caregivers in the traditional sense. For most of us, I believe, it’s an uncomfortable suit we would rather not wear. Our mantra, “Let the Women Handle It,” hangs on our wall while we keep busy with lawns to mow and engines to tune.
But what if a man saw his mother threatened, her frailties preyed upon? Witnessed her dignity being stripped away, her memory emptied? What if a man stared into the face of a monster? Alzheimer’s! What would he do then?
At age fifty-six I retired from a twenty-seven year career with United Parcel Service, swallowed a mind boggling pay cut, and signed up for CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) training. There were nine of us in the class. I was the only male, the only one without a cell phone—and the only one without a hickey on my neck. Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone?’ Whoever said that knew what they were talking about.
Yes, the monster took what he wanted. But there were times, fun filled, joyous times when he was pushed aside. His eyes dimmed, fever broken, and his relentless mission, ironically forgotten. Those were the times that gave me reason to write A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Dementia Ward–Memoir of a Male CNA. To let people know the stigmas attached to mental illness are wrong and unfair. I wanted to share how much those living with Alzheimer’s still have to give, certainly how much they gave, and meant to me.
Since the release of my book I’ve been called many things: A hero. Someone special. A gifted story teller. None of those apply. I am, quite simply, a man and son, with a story I needed to tell. For my mother, and for all the mothers I tried to defend.
The success of my book has produced speaking invitations from a variety of health care providers and facilities. People identify with the thoughts of a common man while I remind them of a belief held by Mother Teresa: “Kindness is the only language that everyone understands.”
Abraham Lincoln referred to war veterans as “Those who have borne the battle.” A phrase care givers can easily relate to. As someone who has served on both fields, I have been doubly honored.
A reviewer from Lake Ozark, MO, Jen Wilson wrote, “I did not want this book to end.” Looking back with a gentle sadness that may never leave me I’ve come to the realization, neither did I.