Vignettes of Yvette at Vi: John Gurley
Memories are precious and recalling events and recognizing people in our lives is something we often take fore granted. Hoping that we stay sharp, never have to count on others for our daily needs many people go through life not realizing that at a moment’s notice or at the flick of an ash you can forget, not focus and all that you hold within your own realm of memories can vanish not quickly but slowly and methodically as something takes over your mind, erases your every thought and leaves just the outer shell of the person you once were. John Gurley brilliantly takes readers on a journey in four separate volumes as he learns that his wife of 67 years has dementia. The author has taught at Princeton and Stanford and with his wife Yvette as his impetus created this four-volume memoir or journey that you will never forget. At 94 years old he realized that he could no longer care for Yvette in order to take care of her daily needs. Moving into a retirement home with her he hoped that with the aid of a memory support unit, called Vi at Palo Alto he would have the help and resources to guide Yvette allowing her to have what some might hope would be a normal life. As you meet John and Yvette and look at the amazing photos included you do not need any words to see the love and devotion that he feels for her. Dementia is serious and there is no cure. I should know my mom had Alzheimer’s the journey from start to finish was over 10 years. The decline that the author describes and the setbacks and drawbacks never seem to deter John from trying everything to rekindle her memories, guide her actions and hopefully encourage her to speak. The emotional upheaval that he must have felt when two weeks after his 67th anniversary his wife was no longer living in his apartment but instead was taken away by two nurses to live in a Memory Support Unit. As he describes the stages and how dementia eats away the person inflicted you can see in your mind a candle that has been lit and slowly and methodically melts until there is nothing but melted wax reminding you of what was once a candle. Imagine the fear in Yvette’s eyes and the look on her face when she was taken away not knowing why. The woman of his dreams was no longer there and just looking at the pictures and reading John’s words could feel the emotional strain.
Reading this first volume you hear the author’s voice as he recounts the many memories of his daily walks with his wife in the garden. Just what went through her mind when she often said: I want to go home,” is hard to tell. Did she realize that she was no longer living with John or did she mean something else? Memories are precious and hers were fading. As the story continues he includes information about Dementia and what many do not realize it does not only affect the person’s mental acuity but their physical acuity too. At times she had trouble walking, swallowing, lifting her hands because her brain was not communicating what it wanted her to do. Walking was hard because she did not get the message from her brain that she was to walk or how. Eating was difficult when you forget how to use a knife and fork. As you watch the story unfold and see Yvette at the various stages in this volume you can only imagine what she still has in store as her road is only downhill. But, miracles do happen and this one is in the form of a dedicated and amazing private duty aide named Carmen Galindo. John and Yvette were truly blessed to find someone so dedicated to the needs and welfare of his wife. The author shares her background and the fact that she came from Buenos Aires and how she and Yvette immediately took to each other and needing someone able to deal with her dementia they were luck to have Carmen. Throughout this volume and those to follow John refers to her as his granddaughter and she even took to calling him Papa. But, like with my mom family and friends seemed to disappear and their visits waned. As her illness progressed her friends disappeared and that makes it hard on not just Yvette but on her family too. Visits help and you would be surprised how much they remember and a feeling of aloneness often sets in. What I love about John and how he insists that Carmen adhere to making his wife look beautiful everyday. Hair properly done, clothes colorful and stylish and makeup and much more to make her feel just like everyone else but even more special. Appearances matter and hers did to both John and Carmen and even Yvette. Music, opera, movies and much more helped to make her daily life as normal as possible and what I realy love is that he and Carmen refused to accept the words and thoughts of the doctors saying that they were going to keep her comfortable and there was no hope for his wife. Giving up was not an option and working with Yvette to keep her muscles strong, her hands able to move and even trying to get her to use a walker is what would defy all the odds. Shopping at the mall, exercise and taking their own advice created a world for Yvette that would help her thrive. The love of a husband for a wife shines through and the memories are strong, the smile on Yvette’s face and the world he created was priceless.
As you hear the words of the author and you understand the frustrations, the fears and the concerns it is hard to imagine that memories will leave us, that some will live their lives from day to day with others filling in the blanks. In order to survive and live with dementia you need support, understanding, constant care and someone that will never give up on you as the 94 year old author who took care of his wife Yvette in the Memory Support Unit in the Retirement Community in Palo, Alto California. Each time he refers to the disease as “The Beast,” I can see a huge black cloud trying to obstruct your view and take away the little light left within you. Some beasts can be conquered while others cannot. Within this book we also meet another angel named Marcella who spent her Tuesday helping Carmen take care of Yvette. Take the first journey along with John and meet his precious wife and see the fight in her eyes and know that she, John, Carmen and Marcella and the nursing staff will never give up and memories might fade but their determination never will. This is amazing story and as a caregiver for my mom for over 10 years and with the help of the aides that came to her home on a daily basis this is one story that everyone needs to read to understand that families need to support and not desert the person that has dementia and you would be surprised how much better they do with the right care, the right help, the right smiles, hugs and the right family. John: you are an inspiration.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews