Conquering Life Through Great Experiences: Book Tour Part 1

My previous blog last week focused on my goal of Touching One Person at a Time as I ventured out on a mini book tour. I was excited to see how it would turn out. It began last Sunday with a presentation at a nursing home in Gainesville, VA for an event called “An Afternoon of education and Respite for Caregivers”. It was sponsored by The Links Incorporated, founded in 1946 and one of the largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African-American and other persons of African ancestry.
I was originally scheduled to speak for 20 minutes near the end of the program, but I ended up doing much more because the original program wasn’t possible because no invited “caregiver” guests showed up. Only Links members and Link member candidates (who had planned the program as part of their service requirements to become Links members) were in attendance. 
The Links candidates had been warned in advance of the possibility that no caregivers would attend, but given that I was there and a musical quartet of young people was scheduled to play before an activity of assembling puzzles with the nursing home residents was to take place, the candidates pressed on quickly. I was asked if I would give my presentation first on the revised program and of course I said Yes! 
My speech was soooo well received. After my presentation, I was asked by Links members to speak at churches, golf tournaments, sorority events, and was even asked for the name of my publicist so they could book more dates with me…It was an amazing time!!! People hugged me, a few cried and I was actually overwhelmed!! One woman in the group purchased twelve books and I signed each one based on what she had shared with me about her friends and family who would receive the books. I know I take a lot of pictures, but the Links group took so many pictures of and with me that I thought they had me confused with a famous author! They told me that I had touched their lives in such a big way that they wanted to remember every minute of the event. 
The next event on Monday was at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was an incredible and amazingly beautiful facility that made me wish I was older so I could become a member! The center was huge yet warm, and very open and inviting with every kind of activity known to man occurring in the many rooms!! I was supposed to start at 10 am, but we started a few minutes late so that the women who were in the exercise class down the hall had time to come in and join the presentation! They were a fun group of women and one of them brought her mom, clearly a victim of Alzheimer’s who sat stoically in her wheelchair very much unaware of the event her daughter had brought her to. 
We had a great time and they loved my presentation! It was supposed to end at 11, but as the Center’s chefs (YES, chefs) were preparing lunch, some of my attendees purchased my book and then went to a crochet class while the rest of us hung out in the huge “Great Room” auditorium and chatted for another hour. It was a blast and I made a few friends!! I was told how inspiring my presentation was. 
I finally headed home to rest up for the 3-hour drive to Charlottesville, VA on Tuesday morning. The ride down at 5 am was very relaxing, and I didn’t run into any traffic!! I arrived almost an hour before the conference began so I was able to relax and enjoy the provided breakfast and get to know a few people right away. 
The all day workshop was sponsored by the Central and Western Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and was called “Women at the Epicenter of Alzheimer’s. Dr Carol Manning, Director of the Memory Center at UVA was the first speaker of the day. Her ninety-minute presentation was entitled “What’s Normal and When should I Be Worried” and was everything you wanted to know about Dementia but were afraid to ask. I learned soooooo much!!! For example, I learned that a Stepwise decline is a sudden and steep decline in a dementia patient after a long period of stability. Several Stepwise declines can occur during dementia patient’s life. I remember Mom having a huge decline in memory function when my aunt Diane died, but I had no idea it actually had a name. 
I was the second presenter of the day and was a little nervous being on a program with academicians from UVA. It was also going to be only the second time I would use a PowerPoint presentation of family pics to illustrate all the points of my presentation, with the first time being the previous day at the senior center. It was a risk trying it out without much practice in front of this large and distinguished group of people, but thankfully it worked phenomenally well!! As I spoke about our journey, the group’s emotions ranged from sadness to empathy, to loud laughter.  I think the most effective part of the presentation was my discussion of three of my favorite apps on my IPhone that I use to help with Mom and her changing behaviors. Everyone wrote the information down. I ended right on time for lunch to a rousing applause from the audience. I was so excited and felt very connected to the audience. 
The Charlottesville Holiday Inn put together a fabulous buffet for lunch with salad, soup, meats, veggies, bread and cheesecake for dessert. In addition to the food, lunch was filled with great conversation and fun with new friends. I spent some of the lunch hour with a very young professor named Dr.Ishan Williams from the UVA School of Nursing who was to be the next presenter. Her presentation was called “African-Americans and the Alzheimer’s Journey”. I learned a great deal about research studies from the presentation, and it was much more interesting and thought-provoking that I had thought it would be.
The most fun presentation of the day was called “Healing Power of the Arts” which included painting and singing along with the presenters. I could definitely see how viewing and painting pictures could really benefit dementia patients. It was FUN!!! 
The day ended with a presentation by Flo Feldman, which included a very moving video called “Life in Reverse: Selma’s Story”!! Flo recorded many conversations with her mom which became an amazing eleven minute video. Flo is an amazingly energetic woman who had cared for her mom in her home until her death. Flo was the perfect person to end the day. She and I chatted and hugged and shared more stories. We even talked about the possibility of doing presentations together. 
May 6th was one of the most amazing days I’ve had on this journey with dementia. I thought I’d be tired after driving for 3 hours, and staying all day for the workshop, but I was so energetic at the end of the day and had no trouble making the 3 hour drive home, and did so without stopping. My book sales during the day were great too! But the true icing on the cake for me were the three email messages I received from attendees at the workshop letting me know how much they enjoyed my presentation! That was Priceless!
So how did my goal of Touching One Person at a Time work out this week? Actually better than I could have imagined! What I hadn’t expected was how many people would actually touch me! Everyone has a story about the impact of this disease on their lives. I hadn’t expected that our story would become so compelling for so many people. Part two of the book tour begins in two weeks in Chicago. I’m looking forward to touching more people then. On this day before Mother’s Day, I’m proud to honor my mom by telling our story, and I KNOW she’d be very proud of me. Love you Mom!! 

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