Author Dave Iverson cares for his mother with Alzheimer’s in Winter Stars

About Dave Iverson - Winter Stars

Winter Stars - Dave IversonBy Dave Iverson, California & Maine, USA

In the fall of 2007, when I was about to turn age 59, I did something I’d never imagined. I moved in with my 95-year-old mom. My dad had passed away thirteen years before, and until that fall my mom had been able to live a vigorous, independent life. But she got pneumonia and experienced a difficult hospitalization, and it soon became clear that she wouldn’t be able to live alone in her own home any longer.

At the time, I was a documentary film maker and radio host. My schedule was flexible, and my mom and I had always been close. And so, without a great deal of thought, I decided that if my mom needed help, well, I would move back to my childhood home and help.

But of course, there was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t know I would get so exhausted. I didn’t know I would get so angry. I didn’t know that I’d be joined by remarkable women caregivers who become my teachers, my comrades, my kin. I didn’t know that the Parkinson’s disease I’d recently been diagnosed with would be less challenging than being a caregiver. And I sure didn’t know that after I moved in, my mom would live another ten years before passing away at the age of 105.

I wanted to write Winter Stars for a number of reasons, but one is certainly because that ten-year caregiving odyssey humbled me, changed me and reoriented me perhaps more than any other life experience. It was both the most challenging thing I’d ever done and in many ways one of the most deeply rewarding. And I think that has to do with the nature of caregiving itself. Caregiving is all encompassing — especially when the person you’re caring has advancing dementia. You experience love and loss, anger and joy, usually while exhausted and often on the same day. And it’s an experience, that millions more will take on in the years ahead.

And that brings me to the second reason why I really wanted to write this story. Most of us have either already provided care, will at some point, or will need care ourselves. And we will do so as part of an ever-aging society. Someone turns 65 in this country every eight seconds. That means that every day, nearly 11,000 newly minted 65-year-olds are added to the population. And yet, here’s a funny thing. As common an experience as caregiving is — and according to AARP there are currently 53 million family caregivers in the U.S. — most family caregivers feel pretty alone. And that’s in part because we don’t talk about elder care very much. We face an elder care crisis, and yet it’s a quiet crisis. Over two hundred thousand residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities died during the pandemic and yet Congress was unable to authorize significant eldercare funding included within the Build Back Better Act. We have an urgent need to talk about — and advocate for — better eldercare options, and my hope is that Winter Stars can help spark that conversation.

Finally, I wanted to tell a story that represented the extraordinary women care-providers who took care of my mom until I returned from work each day. They taught me that caregiving at its essence is a physical act of love. It’s all about compassion and touch — helping someone get dressed, helping that person in the bathroom, combing hair, talking with gentleness and good humor. And those remarkable women — all immigrant Americans, all women of color, all women for whom English was a second or third language, gave me an extraordinary gift. They were there when I needed them most. And I wanted to make sure that their story was told too.

About the Author Dave-Iverson

Dave Iverson is a writer, documentary film producer/director and retired broadcast journalist. When Dave was 59, he moved in with his 95-year old mom, Adelaide, when she could no longer care for herself. His memoir Winter Stars: An Elderly Mother, an Aging Son and Life’s Final Journey tells the story of the ten-year caregiving odyssey they shared, until her passing at the age of 105.

Dave has produced and reported more than 20 documentary specials for PBS, including the Frontline film, “My Father, My Brother and Me” which explored his family saga with Parkinson’s disease. Dave hosted local PBS and NPR programs at Wisconsin Public Broadcasting and at KQED San Francisco, where he hosted the Friday edition of Forum for ten years. Dave is also a founding member of The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Patient Council.

His awards include a national Emmy, numerous regional Emmys and multiple film festival citations. Winter Stars is Dave’s first book.

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