Book review: One Caregiver`s Journey With Dementia by Anne Felton.
Anne Felton`s career as a field research geologist lasted for 35 years. She married one of her geology professors, Keith, and lived happily at the time of Keith`s illness in Eden, a picturesque town on the New South Wales south coast. Late in life, Keith was diagnosed with Alzheimer`s disease. Anne, was terrified, and , given the popular conception of Alzheimer`s disease as something that could make the sufferer a vegetable, and become “a non-person, a living death or shell”, it is not surprising.
Anne read the literature about the illness, which was not re-assuring. It emphasized the biomedical aspects of dementia, the loss of personhood, the social stigma and fear. It also concentrated on managerial aspects of caregiving, and how to do the endless tasks more efficiently.
What surprised Anne was the lack of any spiritual dimension, and the view of the mind as the repository of intellectual knowledge and memory. She asked herself why should the rational mind be the centrality of what it means to be a person?
Throughout the onset of Keith`s condition, Anne maintained her daily spiritual practices of meditation, prayer and devotional reading. One night, she attended a talk by Christine Boden Bryden about finding Spirit in her own journey as a person with dementia. She found that an author, Elizabeth MacKinley, had accompanied Christine as her spiritual companion and advisor. Anne read her books which opened up a new world. Henceforward, she looked to God becoming more fully present in her own life.
And he did. In late 2013, some five years after Keith`s diagnosis, she was attending a gathering at Silver Wattle Quaker centre in rural New South Wales. As she walked in, a bright light struck at her, and a voice boomed “You will study Spiritual Direction.” She did. She found that Silver Wattle`s daily routine of a Quaker meeting for worship in the morning, shared prayer and work , study and rest time, suited Keith, and he became calmer and found it easier to communicate.
After eight years at home, Keith entered residential care. Anne was exhausted after two years of 24/7 caregiving. To her relief, Keith took to his new circumstances well. She became convinced that holding a deep silence together connected them to God and each other. She wrote that as Keith`s dementia took hold, she noticed his personhood more and more, his innate gentleness, his faithfulness, his kindness. There was something else. Keith seemed to have acquired another faculty: he found that he could feel the presence of aboriginal spirits around Lake George near Silver Wattle, and at a sheltered location between the hills and the sea near Eden.
In Keith`s last days, he showed Spirit working in him. Anne could see from his wondering, open face, that he was in peace.
Pendle Hill Pamphlet 477. Wallingford PA. October 2022. ISBN 978-0-87574-477-3
Reg Naulty, Canberra and District Quakers.