I imagine it would be hard to write an engaging and humorous memoir about dementia–an illness so devastating–but that’s exactly what Martha Vowles managed to do. I enjoyed every sentence. I’m not completely surprised that I loved this book – she had both a brilliant publisher and editor.
At the age of fifty-five, I became a parent for the first time. My new charges were reckless, accident-prone, pig-headed, out-of-control, over eighty years old, and bigger than me.
Not only is this book about dementia, but both of Martha’s parents (her father and step-mother) suffered from dementia at the same time, and lived over a thousand kilometers away. Martha spent years traveling back and forth and/or speaking on the phone with her parents whenever there was a problem, health related or otherwise. And she did it all with love, compassion, and a sense of humour.
To maintain my sanity, I had to step back, shift my perspective, and re-brand each soul-sucking challenge as a “good story.”
Martha’s parents refused for years to leave their house in order to have better care, or to give their devoted daughter some peace of mind. They believed they were perfectly capable of independent living. Martha had to deal with falls, a broken hip, a fractured pelvis, a cardiac valve replacement, melanoma, broken ribs, and her father continuing to drive long past it being a safe thing to do (“I’ve been driving for over seventy-five years, and I’ve never had an accident.”). Even after he finally lost his license, he continued to forget he had lost it. Her father often helped her step-mother take her daily insulin, but then began to forget he had already given it to her, and would give it to her again with dire consequences.
He had always been in total denial that he had any sort of weakness or shortcoming. Getting old was something other people did. Not Alan Vowles.
Martha spent hours on the phone, either with her parents, or with people she had lined up to help take care of or check in on her parents. Some of them proved to be invaluable. She took many months’ worth of leave from work to spend time with them.
With each one of those troubling phone calls, my aversion to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention became more deeply etched in my psyche.
I needed to arrange for someone to stay with Joan. This involved as much planning as a royal wedding. The entire affair depended on the good will and support of a whole cast of people. If one little detail went wrong, the whole plan could fall apart like a house of cards.
One of the biggest challenges for Martha was watching her parents turn into people she didn’t recognize. Her father, especially, became stubborn and morose, and spoke without a whole lot of consideration for what he was saying.
Dad identified all the female home care staff, as well as the rehab staff at the hospital as “the girl.” He could be referring to the attending physician, a nurse, a physiotherapist, or the television installer.
As I said in my Top 10 #GiftAtlantic article for Atlantic Books, “many readers will be able to relate to this personal account of Vowles’ experience caring for her elderly parents. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry as you read this tender story.”
The Miramichi Reader: Thank you Martha Vowles for sharing your “heart work” and your family story. I am sure it was a difficult write, but rest assured your readers will be helped with your words.
The Review: “When the whole episode of our lives was over, we said ‘you know there are a lot of good stories in this and a lot of people will probably be able to relate to them’,” Vowles says. “A lot of people are living through this and I just thought I had a good story to tell and I could tell it well – that was really the motivation for me to write the book.”
Thank you to Nevermore Press for sending me a copy of this book! Other books I’ve read from Nevermore (a very small, new publisher in Lunenburg Nova Scotia): Ananias, Broken Symmetry, and The Dome Chronicles.