Part coffee table art book and part memoir, I recount my family's heartbreaking and hilarious journey through my father's dementia.
Journalism Art and Memoir
||Raleigh, North Carolina
||11 publishers interested
My father was diagnosed in 2009 with frontotemporal dementia - a form a dementia that strikes earlier and progresses more quickly than Alzheimer's, and for which there is no treatment to slow the progression of the disease. He had been my best friend, so there was no question that I would do what I could to take care of him. My husband and I moved across the country to live with my parents to help my mother care for him, but even with 3 of us alternating shifts to watch him, it became too difficult for us to keep him safe. He had become the world's most destructive 5 year old in a very fit and capable 66 year old body. After a year of living together, we were able to secure a room for him in a dementia care facility, where he lived until he died in early 2016.
As a professional artist, I have often turned to art as a self-prescribed therapy to help me deal with life's trials. This battle has been no different. I have created roughly 35 paintings (and counting) in an effort to understand and explain both what happened to him and what happened to us, his caretakers. Using the elephant as a symbol for dementia (because "an elephant never forgets") and incorporating sheet music (because my dad was a jazz musician), I address a range of issues from my fear of getting dementia myself, to his transition to diapers, to the best ways to make him giggle, to an exploration of how he might have gotten the disease. Eventually, I intend to hold an art exhibit of the works. Here are a couple of the paintings I've completed:
About a year ago, I started blogging about our experiences, and the response has been overwhelming. As the baby boomers age and more and more people are diagnosed with various forms of dementia, this is a very timely memoir. I have not shied away from the ugly stuff, nor have I failed to laugh at the ridiculous circumstances in which we often found ourselves. I have done my best to present our journey through dementia with honesty and love. At the urging of several people, I have decided to write a book, including the images of the artwork I've created, in hopes of providing comfort to those who will see similarity with their own family's experiences, guidance for those whose loved ones are at the beginning stages of the disease, and perhaps a little comic relief to remind us to look for the light in all of this darkness.
The book will start with the eulogy I gave at my father's memorial celebration. Then I'll flash back to a brief overview of his life.
The second part of the book will talk about the early years following his dementia diagnosis. Included in this section will be practical advice on talking to and taking care of a loved one with dementia - from keeping them safe to financial planning to choosing a dementia care facility.
The third part of the book will talk about the final years of his dementia, our struggle to advocate for him, his death, and the aftermath.
Throughout the book, there will be images of paintings about the various topics.
This book comes at a moment when the baby boomers are starting to show signs of dementia. Many of them have already dealt with aging parents who had some form of dementia, and now they're facing spouses and friends with the disease. They, their children, and other loved ones must navigate a treacherous world of minute and gargantuan losses, paid facilities and caretakers, and fear about their own futures. As we live longer and longer, almost guaranteeing the number of people with dementia will rise, this book will be relevant for many years to come.
Being raised by two dirty hippies in a VW camper, Emily Page fell in love with art early as a way to entertain herself on long camping trips with no TV. As a result, she studied art in college at Wake Forest University, and has been a professional artist for about 15 years. She has used art to understand, interpret, and express her feelings about various challenges that she's faced over the years.She's also used it to make people laugh. She is a lover of the absurd and whimsical, of honesty and openness, of facing the darkness head on, of mac and cheese.
While she never fancied herself a writer, Page does come from a family of writers - in particular, her grandfather, Irvine H. Page, and her grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page, were both published authors. Page started blogging at the insistence of a friend who thought it would be a good avenue for promoting her artwork. Little did she know that her artwork and writing about dementia would strike a cord within so many people.
So now Page has decided to buckle down and assemble and add to her writings and collection of paintings about dementia. Says Page, "This is a terrifying endeavor, because, as mentioned before, and I don't consider myself a writer. But the encouragement of friends and family (and a fair few strangers!) has helped me to decide to take the leap and hope I grow my wings on the way down - or at least not get whacked in the face by too many branches before I hit the ground."
You can see her art at
http://emilypageart.com/ and read her blog at http://emilypageart.net/.
I'm hoping to promote the book in two ways: 1) through my blog and social media, and 2) through the Alzheimer's Association and its support groups. I plan to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Alzheimer's Association to aid in their efforts to support families affected by dementia.
I'm planning on self publishing the book so the funds raised from pre-orders will go toward having the artwork professionally photographed and toward the full-color printing costs.
But it is possible to attract a publisher if I have enough pre-orders, in which case the funds will go toward paying my assistants to teach some of my art classes for me so that I can dedicate more time to finishing the book, thus allowing me to complete it more quickly. So help a girl out and order eleventy-two copies today!
I have not yet seen any books that combine artwork about dementia with a memoir. Artwork can express emotions that words can't always explain. I've also noticed that memoirs tend not to include practical advice. So, I'm not sure there are any competing books out there at this time.
There are certainly complementary books, like Still Alice and Being Mortal.