A Weekend of Lights, Cameras, and Lots of Action!!

I learned on Friday May 7th that I had been selected as a Thriver for the Robin Roberts series Thriver Thursdays! A week after that, I was introduced to her production team and filming was set for May 22nd and 23rd. Initially I didn’t tell a soul because I just didn’t believe it was true! The producers worked with me to determine the hours we’d be able to film with Mom at the group home, and with my family members and friends. That’s when I started to believe it!

I spoke with the owner of Lifesprings Eldercare to get permission to film inside the group home and we set up a game plan to film Mom in the family room area, on the deck and in her bedroom at the end of the shoot. On the morning of the shoot I realized how big a deal this actually was when I arrived in the front of Mom’s group home to find three men unloading a huge truck of camera and sound equipment. The first task I was given was to film my arrival at the home, so Go Pro cameras were attached to my car and I left the area, drove a mile as instructed and drove back into the driveway and parked. I then went to the front door and rang the bell. The camera crew was behind me with huge cameras and a boom microphone and I was wearing a microphone as well. There were additional lights set up inside the house as well.

The World’s Best Caregiver Janet greeted me as always but I was entering the front door for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I usually entered in Mom’s bedroom but for the video shoot I was allowed in. Mom and I then did a variety of activities and she for the most part was oblivious to all of the cameras and mics around her, though several times she did look directly and the camera and the men operating them. The camera guys would zoom in on pages we were reading or activities we were doing! We spent about 30 minutes inside and 30 minutes on the deck. Janet and the other caregiver Sharita also looked out for the other residents inside the home. For the last part of the shoot, Mom was wheeled by Janet and Sharita down the wheelchair ramp on the deck directly to her bedroom. We took a few more pics and said goodbye. We were there for almost three hours and Mom was alert for the entire time!! It was amazing!

Next stop was my house and the crew quickly determined they wanted to film in my front yard. I was interviewed first and it took a little more than an hour. It was an amazing interview and I felt so comfortable, but it was more emotional than I thought it would be, primarily because I had to focus on the loss of Tim and our lives together and how the two of us cared for Mom as Team Veney. At the end of the interview, I was really overwhelmed so as I walked over to my family and friends I was in tears, and so were they. My niece Nia was next and she did a fabulous job talking about Mom, me and Tim. I was so impressed by her entire interview. After her shoot her husband Keith and their kids Krista and Karter got a tour in Joy and we had a ball! Next up were my friends from church Louise Walsh and Jan Lipscomb who were interviewed together about the support group they started for me after Tim’s death. They were sensational as well and shared that I had inspired them in our group meetings as much as they had inspired me.

Next up were Kim and Kendal and it was a very emotional interview for me to watch because the interview was so focused on great loss – of their parents / grandparents and dealing with Mom’s not recognizing or knowing them. The last segment of the day was one cameraman, me and Gabriel, one of the producers shooting the LEGO pieces that are part of my Art Against Alzheimer’s exhibit for The Longest Day Alzheimer’s fundraiser. They were blown away by the LEGO models and the meanings I attached to each of those models. By the time the crew broke all of the cameras, lights and sound equipment down it had been more than 10 hours since the day had started.

I knew I was so emotional during the day because I was so sad Tim wasn’t with us for this really amazing event. Yet, one of the most stunning things about the day for me was the presence of Tim all around the photo shoot. First you could see my RV Joy in most of the shots and the name Joy is on an orange background for Tim. Second, Tim had selected our patio furniture years ago, AND of course the cushions he selected were primarily orange, his favorite color. Those very chairs were the seats that all of us were interviewed on! Everyone involved commented on how we were sitting on Tim’s chairs. Finally while filming the segment with Kim my next door neighbor Michael, who has a disability, walked into the shot and all you could see was this big orange figure! Turns out Michael was wearing the orange t-shirt we’d all worn on the first anniversary of Tim’s death. Tim was absolutely there for the entire day!

The second day of the shoot only involved me, one cameraman and a producer (both named Gabriel). This day was to shoot BRoll, which is primarily action shots with very little talking. I walked through my old neighborhood of Petworth in DC, stopping at the house I was born and raised in . Then it was off to my church home of the last 15 years, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Capitol Hill. I walked through the garden and sat and reflected as instructed all while on camera. It was so cool that my friend Tracy, who was part of my church support group and our Rector Michele Morgan used my phone to take pics of the photo shoot for me!! I was so grateful to them! Our last top was to one of the highest places in the city where you can see almost all of DC. It’s on the grounds of a Catholic Church in SE DC. In addition to taking lots of photos of me with that stunning background, we also took selfies together to remember our weekend together!!

The two Gabriels (GabeSquared) treated me to brunch at Busboys and Poets in SE DC and it was a fabulous time with great food and conversation. I feel as if our weekend photo shoot has connected us as friends. I learned during that meal that there are 6 Thrivers chosen for each season (this will be season 4) all focused on different topics and that the show will be produced over the summer and will air this fall. They will be in contact with me to publicize my segment of the series and I’m so grateful I’ll be working with them in the future. As Gabe put it, “once a Thriver, always a Thriver!”. There is hope that all of the Thrivers can go to NY at some point now that COVID is ending. Previous seasons had Thrivers going to NY to appear with Robin Roberts. Whether I get to meet her or not, being honored as one of the Thrivers is incredible in and of itself! This is a weekend I won’t ever forget and I plan to continue to Thrive and Inspire caregivers who care for those with dementia. One of the coolest things about the entire photo shoot was when I was instructed to look directly at the camera, fold my arms and say “YEAH, I”M A THRIVER!” I hope all caregivers know that they too can Thrive! Love you Mom, this is all for you and the millions of others suffering from Alzheimer’s!