Taking care of ‘granddaddy’
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Sometimes, mom talks a lot of nonsense.
She talks in random syllables, half-jokes, thoughts that come out of her mouth backwards or mixed up. You try, she laughs, you laugh, pretending that you understand but you don’t. Mom has dementia and there’s nothing that’ll fix it, but you can read “The Day After Yesterday” by Joe Wallace (The MIT Press, 2023) and change the conversation.
Talk about your awkward encounters.
Well into his 20s, Joe Wallace was asked to sit with his “Granddaddy Joe” while Wallace’s mother and grandmother ran errands. His grandfather was once a vibrant man, and he’d been Wallace’s “hero” but Alzheimer’s had put a curtain of sorts between them and Wallace was “so frightened to be left alone with him.”
It didn’t take long for him to realize that day that his grandfather was full of stories and it was “magical.” He applied the same kind of patience when his grandmother began to experience dementia, too, and this all spurred Wallace to tell a story of his own with his camera.
The portraits he captured eventually became an exhibit, and this book.
“In the United States,” Wallace says, “one in three seniors suffers with Alzheimer’s or another dementia at the time of their death.” Nearly $700 billion dollars annually is spent caring for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s, as one of Wallace’s subjects points out, affects Black seniors more often than it does whites. For that matter, people with dementia need not be seniors: early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect someone in their early 20s.
Listen, Wallace’s subjects almost always say, and don’t hide a diagnosis of dementia. There’s no shame in it. Reach out to others who’ve received the diagnosis. Ask for help. Watch for suicidal thoughts and depression. Ask for stories, before they’re lost, and be honest about what’s going on. You can’t change the diagnosis, but you can change your attitude toward it.
It’s called The Long Goodbye for a reason – and yet, your loved one with dementia is still on this side of the sod and you know there’s still some “there” there. In “The Day After Yesterday,” you’ll get a new point-of-view, for both of you.
In his introduction interview, author Joe Wallace explains how he came to understand that “we could all do so much better” for those with cognitive disabilities including Alzheimer’s, and why eliminating fear and awkwardness is essential. Readers will be quite taken by the then-and-now pictures, and by the conversations Wallace captured.
But beware: this isn’t a book on caregiving or advice-giving. It’s a delightful, heartbreaking, tearful, surprising collection of profiles of everyday people in their own words, people who go with the flow and deal with tomorrow when it comes. Yes, you’ll find advice here but it pales in comparison to the presence that Wallace’s subjects and their families exhibit.
This powerful book is great for someone with a new dementia diagnosis; it proves that life’s not over yet. It’s likewise great for a caregiver, gently ushering them toward grace.
Get “The Day After Yesterday. It’s time for a talk.