A new memoir, I'm Your Daughter, Julie, explores the emotional experience of a baby boomer caring for her mother, who has been diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia. In reading this excellent, engaging book, I began to understand the enormous challenge of caring for elderly parents, and I also learned a great deal about the harsh realities of dementia.
Julie Gorges, the author of the book, was kind enough to answer my questions about her writing career, her new book, and her advice for boomers who face a dementia diagnosis.
You've had a wide variety of writing experience -- as a newspaper reporter, short story writer, and author of non-fiction and fiction books. How would you characterize the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction? Do you find one form of writing more appealing than another?
That’s a good question. Writing fiction and non-fiction are more alike than one may think. Penning a novel with a fascinating plot, compelling characters, and lyrical prose is a creative endeavor. But the process often involves using true personal experiences or factual events as a springboard into an author’s imagination. Non-fiction is based purely on accurate facts. But techniques used in fiction are often used to make articles and non-fiction books more compelling and dramatic.
Do I like one form of writing more than another? When I first started writing, I focused primarily on fiction. But as the years went by, I became increasingly drawn to non-fiction. Stories I wrote about people as a newspaper reporter were fascinating and inspiring. Plus, I discovered that writing non-fiction has the power to educate, motivate, solve problems, heal, offer hope, and even change lives. Writing about real life is a great way to share the wisdom you’ve gained over the years to help others.
While I’m writing non-fiction right now, I haven’t ruled out writing another novel someday. What I do know is that I will write until the day I die. I’m in love, captivated, and addicted to words. Words are powerful, sometimes even magical, evoke our imaginations, and create wondrous worlds to explore. I started down the path of becoming a writer 30 years ago and still love the endless possibilities that this career offers.
Why did you write your first novel for teenage girls? How difficult was it to adopt the persona of a teenage girl and write in the first person?
I started my first novel while in my early 20s when my teen years were still fresh on my mind. So, it was easy to channel my experiences and feelings into my novel. Thankfully, I kept diaries as a teen-ager and much of the story comes directly from journals – with some fabrication, embellishments, and imagination thrown in, of course.
The teen years are fascinating to write about since it’s a time of discovery, a time when decisions can change your life forever, and a time of intense emotions. That’s why we all remember our teen years so well. It’s a time of unforgettable firsts – your first love, your first betrayal, your first profound mistake, or your first heroic act – all happening within a short amount of time.
Since the main character had many facets of my personality, it was easy for me to adopt her persona and writing in first person seemed to come naturally. By the way, finishing and publishing my first novel came years later, which speaks to the tenacity and perseverance that this career demands.
Your new book, I'm Your Daughter, Julie: Caring for a Parent with Dementia, is a very personal story about caring for your mom, who had Lewy Body Dementia. What made you decide to write this memoir?
Although many people encouraged me to share my story, I couldn’t immediately immerse myself in the painful memories of watching Mom slowly lose her mind, deteriorate physically before my eyes, and take her last breath. Nevertheless, eventually, I felt compelled to write the book out of a desire to help others learn from my successes and mistakes as a caregiver. For example, when my Mom developed bedsores while in a rehabilitation center that contributed to her death, I knew it was important to warn other caregivers and family members so they might be able to prevent such a catastrophe. By sharing my intimate journey, I hoped to make the process of bit easier and provide comfort to those losing a loved one to dementia so they wouldn’t feel alone.
I also wanted to write the kind of book that I would have found beneficial during those difficult years. I tried to read a few books while caregiving, but they were so thick and overwhelming. Time was limited and I didn’t need to know all the science behind what causes Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body dementia or try to decipher essential information from fluff often used as filler to meet a publisher’s page requirement. In a short amount of time, I needed to know how to communicate with my Mom when she was being unreasonable, how to help her get dressed when she became immobile, and how to keep from going crazy. That’s why my concise book is under 100 pages and to the point.
In addition, not all books of this nature take you to the end of this journey and beyond. The mourning process for a caregiver is somewhat different and I wanted to share ways that family caregivers can move forward after their loved ones die.
What advice do you have for boomers who are facing a dementia diagnosis, either for a loved one or for themselves?
Knowledge is power. Become informed. You’ll be better prepared to handle the wide variety of challenges that lie ahead if you know what to expect. Try and learn everything you can about the disease from your doctors, websites, books, and support groups. There are many things you can do to make life more dignified and enjoyable during this time. Once you become informed, you may need to help educate other family members and friends.
Also, keep in mind, there are several types of dementia. Try to get an accurate diagnosis so you can find the right treatment plan that can include medications and lifestyle changes to help with symptoms. Having an accurate diagnosis will also help you make informed medical decisions and make plans for the future.
Finally, face this disease one day at a time. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, caregiving is a meaningful, worthwhile, and important undertaking. That being said, make sure you take care of your own needs, accept help when offered, and be aware of caregiving options to help you during later stages.
Julie A. Gorges is an award-winning journalist, author, and freelance writer. She is also a blogger at Baby Boomer Bliss, recently recognized as one of the top baby boomer blogs on the web. Her latest book, I’m Your Daughter, Julie is available on Amazon. If you’d like to learn more about Julie, please visit her author’s website.