By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer
(New Brighton, MN) - There are some experiences in life you can take or leave. Then there are journeys like the one Christine Fournier of New Brighton, Minnesota went on with her mother, Helen Winter LaCaze, who died of Alzheimer’s disease.
“It was the most difficult time in my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take care of her like she took care of me,” says Fournier, who was holding her mother’s hand when she died on October 23, 1996 at the age of 78.
According to 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, a special report released by the National Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million Americans, or 1-in-8 people aged 65 and older have the disease. Common symptoms include difficulty remembering names and recent events, apathy and depression, impaired judgment, disorientation and confusion.
Fournier writes about her mother’s experiences with pretty much all of those symptoms in her memoir, On the Sunny Side of the Street An Alzheimer’s Journey. The book was first published by Beaver’s Pond Press in 2002 and re-released as an e-Book in late 2011.
“I wonder when it began exactly. Something was different, something strange, something unfamiliar, something only slightly detectable, yet present and unsettling was happening to my mother – but what?”
Fournier thinks her mother’s battle with the disease began in the late 1980s, though she’s not exactly sure when. The official diagnosis didn’t come until 1991. “Thinking back on it, there were possible signs I had missed as early as 1985, just a year after she retired,” says Fournier. Among them, anxiety and irritability, forgetfulness and a lack of interest in doing things she used to enjoy.
Once the diagnosis was made, Fournier and her daughter, Michele, did the best they could to take care of Helen, but after close to a year realized they could no longer provide the kind of help she needed and placed her in a nursing home. She moved into the Ebenezer Field Hall in Minneapolis on July 11, 1992 and remained there until her death four years later.
After losing her mother, Fournier had a number of down days, but credits a friend from work, Joan Miller, a marketing executive at Nemer Fieger and Associates in Minneapolis, with helping her find a new lease on life. “Joan set me up with Paul Fournier and as they say the rest is history,” comments Christine. She and Paul had known each other for years, as he was a client at the marketing firm where she worked. They went on their first date in 1997 and learned they had a lot in common. Fournier had recently lost his first wife to heart disease.
“I think one of the things that attracted me to Paul was his sensibility,” says Christine. “We just communicated on the same page and our values are very similar even though our backgrounds are so different.”
“It was uncanny,” says Paul. “As we got to talking we learned our paths had nearly crossed at least a half dozen times over the years.”
After Christine and Paul got married in 1998, he encouraged her to write a book about her Alzheimer’s journey as a way to help her recover from her loss. It was originally published in 2002. “Writing the book was also a way to honor my mother and her memory and to give back something. I think when you acquire experience or knowledge of some sort it is imperative to share it with others,” says Christine.
Her friend of 50 years, playwright John Davidson, agrees. They are currently working together on a play he wrote titled The Early Bird Special about four people unhappy about being sent to a nursing home. “Whenever we do something, don’t we want to share it with others?” he asks. “When I write plays I share my experiences with people who come to the theater to be entertained.” Fournier, who has plenty of experience with nursing homes, is the play’s director.
On the Sunny Side of the Street is available as both a printed book and eBook. Copies can be purchased through BeaversPondBooks.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com.
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