By Irene Frances Olson
My name is Irene Frances Olson and I survived being an Alzheimer’s family caregiver twice.
My father, Don Patrick Desonier, to whom my novel Requiem for the Status Quo was dedicated, was the first such family member. The second was my sister-in-law, Nancy, who was diagnosed with mixed dementia just one month after my father’s death in 2007. My brother was an extraordinary caregiver for his wife; I was simply the go-to person for advice, direction, and the occasional caregiving day. I guess having been front and center on my father’s Alzheimer’s path gave me an “edge” on experience.
My life after Alzheimer’s saw me volunteering as an Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator. Concurrent with that work was my job as a certified long-term care (LTC) ombudsman for the State of Washington as an advocate for adults living in LTC facilities. All those experiences culminated in the writing of my first novel.
I started to write Requiem for the Status Quo after my father’s death. Back in 2012, it just seemed to me that what I experienced as my father’s caregiver was meant to go further than the confines of my own heart and experience. I was pretty certain a debut author wouldn’t make a ton of money – and I certainly was correct in my assumption – but that was okay with me because my goal in writing Requiem was to encourage and educate others who might be called upon to take on the role of family caregiver. I figured if I could ease the way for some, then I could at least celebrate that my family’s journey benefited others.
A peek at Requiem’s storyline:
Family caregivers are oftentimes ruthlessly challenged by uninvolved family members who are quick to condemn, but reticent to offer assistance. Such is the case for Colleen Strand, a widow who recently found her own footing and takes on the task of caring for her father, Patrick Quinn, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her older brother, Jonathan, criticizes Colleen at every turn and verbally abuses the father when he has the gall to exhibit symptoms of his disease. In short, Jonathan travels down the road of denial, leaving Colleen to deal with all matters regarding their father’s care.
Connected tenuously to a father who barely remembers her and a brother who has become an enigma, Colleen faces the moving target that is Alzheimer’s disease, determined to clothe her father with the dignity he deserves, while struggling to squeeze every minute of time she can from him.
To be sure, the family caregiver’s journey is difficult enough without the compounding presence of criticism from those from whom affirmation is most expected and desired. Although my novel reflects many episodes for which I had personal experience – whether from my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, my sister-in-law’s mixed-dementia, or from other acquaintances who shared their loved ones’ dementia stories with me – I was one of the fortunate ones who received support from both my brother and my sister; they trusted and supported me so the struggles I encountered were not at all centered around resistance from them.
My struggles were the struggles of Every Caregiver – the universal character that exists nationwide and, in every country, worldwide. Like many carers, I had the unfortunate incident of losing my identity where my parent was concerned, of endlessly repeating myself and losing my temper when such repetitions became too much for my limited abilities as a learn-as-you-go, on-the-spot person who managed as I could, and failed when I couldn’t. I too was thrust into the role of trying to maintain my loved one’s dignity while endeavoring not to lose my Irene-ness in the process. That outcome is a real threat to every caregiver’s life: losing who you are, thereby failing to keep the personhood on which you need to rely when the failures outnumber the successes.
Gosh, I hope what I’m about to say helps more than harms those on their caregiving journeys. Okay, here it goes…I commenced my role as my father’s caregiver having had years of experiencing managing similar care for perfect strangers. That’s right, I counseled family members and directed staff who took care of those same family members’ loved ones, and yet when the rubber hit the road, all my textbook knowledge and managerial know-how only helped me marginally. Now let me tell you why that should encourage rather than discourage current and future caregivers.
Each dementia case is personal and unique because each disease variant does not 100% reflect everyone else’s experience.
With that said, I am a firm believer that the more knowledge a person gleans, the better off they will be because non-fiction and fiction input will augment the hands-on, day-to-day situations in which caregivers find themselves. They will adopt what works and disregard what does not and they will be better off as a result. And I am confident in stating that Every Caregiver will employ a newly discovered tool that works one hour but not the next, but the fact that it worked that single hour made the tool worthwhile and handy in the moment in which it was used.
A one-hour reprieve in the 36-hour caregiver’s day is better than nothing, don’t you think?
It has been a while since my novel’s release, but I take comfort in the blessings my novel has bestowed on others based on the reviews posted thus far. Some readers struggled with the sadness my story evoked, but those same people indicated they laughed and were encouraged nonetheless. I guess if that kind of emotional response can bring hope to readers who trusted me with the time it took for them to consume what I had to offer, I can celebrate that my father and my family were honored as a result. I have learned from my own caregiving experiences so I am glad others appear to have benefited as well.
Connect with Irene Frances Olson
My author site: www.irenefrancesolson.com
My personal blog: www.babyboomersandmore.com, also known as Living: the ultimate team sport.
Facebook author page: RedmondWriter https://www.facebook.com/RedmondWriter/
Twitter handle: @Boomer98053