Poet Sue Fagalde Lick Shares Poignant Alzheimer’s Journey Caring for Husband: Gravel Road Ahead

Gravel Road Ahead by Sue Figalde LickThe Story Behind Gravel Road Ahead
by Sue Fagalde Lick

I don’t know how I would have survived my husband Fred’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease if I couldn’t write. All those difficult feelings had to go somewhere. I cried a lot. I saw a therapist. But, for me, writing was the most effective way to process what was happening. I didn’t see the poems that are now included in Gravel Road Ahead as a book. I was just writing individual poems to express what I was feeling as I became more caregiver than wife.

In everything I write, I want readers who share my experiences to feel less alone and readers whose lives are different to understand what it’s really like. Even with dementia, it’s not all the same. When your husband or wife has it, it’s different from having a parent, grandparent, or friend with AD. It’s all hard, but it’s not the same.

When my grandfather was institutionalized with vascular dementia, I visited every week, often singing and playing the piano because he loved music, but then I got in my car, cried a little, made a few notes, and went back to my regular life. When my husband was sick, nothing was normal anymore.

I drafted many of these poems as the events happened—the diagnosis, the sleepless nights, the progression of the illness, hanging out at four different nursing homes over 2 ½ years. I wanted to capture the images while they were fresh. The title poem came from the road outside the adult foster care home where Fred stayed for a few months. We used to take walks along the paved road, turning around where it turned to gravel. Fred kept asking me when he could come home. I had to keep telling him he couldn’t. He cried so much, and I felt so guilty.

It was years after Fred died before I realized I had more than enough poems to make a book. I had also written a memoir, which is not yet published. Although I knew the writing in both was good, I hesitated to share it because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career being identified as that Alzheimer’s writer. And it is awfully personal for someone who spent her early years as a journalist trained to keep herself out of her stories.

I recently published an essay in Creative Nonfiction about our sex life with AD. (“Slipping Away,” Summer 2019, Issue 71). It was well-received and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, but oh my God, how could I share our bedroom problems in public? Am I not dishonoring Fred’s memory? What if somebody I know reads it? Then again, what if someone I don’t know reads it and says yes, thank God someone finally wrote about this?

When Gravel Road Ahead was published, I held my breath. Was it too sad, too personal, too self-indulgent? But so far, those who have read it have found it beautiful, honest, and well-crafted. Many say they cried. And those going through their own Alzheimer’s journey have been grateful that I was able to express what they could not. I guess we have to write the stories we’re given.

About the Author

Lick, Sue Figalde Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer/musician/dog mom living on the Oregon coast. She lost her husband Fred to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011. Years earlier, she went through dementia with her grandfather, and she recently lost her father, whose words and memories were also beginning to fade. She definitely knows her way around the nursing homes which appear in her poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead. A second chapbook, The Widow at the Piano, was published by The Poetry Box in March 2020. Her prose books include Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California, Azorean Dreams, and Childless by Marriage. When not writing, she leads an alternate life as a music minister.

Social media:
Blog: https://www.unleashedinoregon.com
Facebook author page
Twitter: @suelick

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