Anyone who has read Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey – With Lessons Learned by Tracey S. Lawrence will not be surprised that it hit the bestseller list on Amazon, because it really is that awesome. Lawrence provides readers with a personal account of her life as the primary caretaker for her mom who had dementia – and it is a ride that runs the gamut from poignant to hilarious. Yes, Hilarious because Lawrence is particularly gifted in finding humor in most situations.
Lawrence wanted to use her experience to help others so not only did she write this breakout book she also founded Grand Family Planning in 2014, which has helped countless going through the same crisis. Today we set down with the woman herself to get the inside story on her story, and what’s coming next for this talented author.
Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey – With Lessons Learned is a riveting read. Thank you! Have you always been a writer or is this a talent that has developed later in life? Writing a book as personal as this one can be a huge decision – was it hard for you to begin writing this book?
I’ve been writing since I was very young. I didn’t think of it as a “talent;” it was just something I liked to do. A teacher of mine in junior high school acknowledged my ability in my year book, where she inscribed: “Keep up the creative writing. You write like a dream.” That comment stayed with me.
As I matured, I found refuge in journaling. Articulating my deepest thoughts and feelings with ink on paper enabled me to confront and deal with my emotions in more productive ways than acting out and saying hurtful things to people I loved. Once I gained access to computers and word processing tools, I found a way to “sculpt” my language; to take my original ideas and shape them into stories and articles that provide perspective and entertainment to readers. I always wanted to write books. I never envisioned this to be the first one. Life presented me with the challenge of caring for my parents. I loved them dearly, but our relationship was anything but simple. Writing about my journey with my mom was a very natural and necessary coping mechanism.
Taking care of a parent is NOT natural for most of us. It runs counter to everything we’ve learned over the course of our lives. Our parents took care of US. Suddenly we have to take control for them while living our own lives and dealing with their impending deterioration and demise. It’s a huge, distressing, uncomfortable transition.
So writing the book began as self-therapy and self-preservation. The decision to make it public came from my desire to help others to understand what it’s like to go through this, and to share some of the things that worked for us. It started as a blog, which had about 600 followers. A year after my mother died, I revisited the blog posts. Having time away from the subject matter enabled me to appreciate the writing more objectively, and I really enjoyed what I read. I thought “the book I need to write is already written.”
While caring for your mother what was one of the most important things you learned and can share with our readers?
Cognitive decline is not what people think it is. Not being able to trust your own thoughts and perceptions is one of the cruelest things that can happen to anyone. When a loved one is going through this, they are losing the ability to be the person they most valued being, and it doesn’t stop until they die. Dementia provides the unique opportunity to mourn losing the same person over and over again.
I’ve known people with parents who had dementia and it really does “suck,” so I love that title.
Thanks! Dementia does suck, and it’s initially terrifying for the afflicted. Over time, if they’re lucky, they care less about losing their minds. My mother created a rich interior life that entertained and sustained her. But then it sucks more for the caregivers who have to watch and navigate through the inevitable changes.
In your book, you talk about dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Can you talk about this, and what you did to come out the other side?
My post-traumatic stress came from dealing with the sale of my parents’ apartment in Florida. Typical of their generation, my parents didn’t like to get rid of anything “just in case.” They were both born in the late 1920s, so the Great Depression left a lasting impression on them. Their apartment had five large walk-in closets, as well as furniture that offered storage capacity. And my mother LOVED to buy cheap clothes and shoes.
When I knew my mother would never go back to independent living, I made the decision to sell the apartment in 2011. The market, at the time, was beginning to rebound from the crash in 2008. I put it up for sale expecting to wait months for an offer. But the place was priced right and it had some very attractive features, so I had a bona fide offer within days. The buyers wanted to close quickly, so I had to move fast.
I won’t get into the details of the sale, but getting everything done for the closing in the course of a week was extremely stressful. I was in “crisis mode,” so I kept focused, worked incessantly to get rid of all my parents’ stuff, and succeeded in closing on the buyer’s schedule. It never occurred to me that this event would cause any lasting damage to me. The deed was done. The money was in the bank and I flew home.
My mother continued to need my care and I continued to provide it. I dealt with her decline, living my life, coping with a range of challenges as I had previously. But two years after the fact, when I was describing the events around the sale of the apartment to someone I didn’t know, I had an emotional breakdown. It came as a complete surprise to me. I THOUGHT I had dealt with it all, but I hadn’t. I had taken care of all the physical and legal requirements for selling the apartment, but I never acknowledged what that event truly meant. I had dissolved all the evidence of the happiest time in my parents’ lives. I could never go back and watch the sunrise over the ocean from that terrace. I could no longer wander the rooms where my father had happily conducted co-op board business. It was all gone forever and I was the one who made that happen.
I’m a great believer in psychotherapy. Throughout my life, I have engaged therapists to work with me through stressful passages. I encourage anyone in pain to explore this option. You don’t have to go forever. A good therapist will help you figure out what troubles you, how to address it and become the person you need to be for the next phase of your life, so you can be the best possible version of yourself. Life is a work in progress.
Downtime is necessary for writers, so they can keep their creative mojo going. What do you do when it’s time for you to relax and unwind?
I love music. My husband and I are both musicians (he’s a bass player and vocalist; I’m a classically trainer singer). We support other musicians. We watch documentaries about bands and music. Bob’s in a rock band, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get our band back together one of these days. Performing is challenging now because of the lockdowns. In the meantime, we seek out new artists and recordings we like. And we’re both voracious readers. I’m looking for some fiction to read right now, because I tend to read too much “practical” stuff and non-fiction.
I’ve heard that you have a new book in the works called “Drunks Suck.” Can you tell us a bit about this new book?
Sure. I’ve known a lot of alcoholics over the course of my life, and I’ve been writing stories about them. I am not a drinker, but the vast majority of people who’ve had the greatest impact on my life drank. I talk about these people, my relationships with them and the effect their behavior has had. I hope to shed light on the topic in a similar manner to the way I have discussed dementia: people we love have afflictions that have wide-ranging consequences. We still love them. We can still find the humor. We can recover from the heartache. We can learn how to live with the fact that we are all so very human and perfectly imperfect.
Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey – With Lessons Learned is available here.