A Journey Through Alzheimer’s

An Interview with Author RJ Thesman and Glory and Strength Editor Debra L. Butterfield

Rev_G_CoverThis summer I had the pleasure of meeting RJ Thesman at a workshop in Kansas City. RJ is a life coach and program director at GateWay of Hope in Olathe, Kansas. She’s also a writer, and her newest book, The Unraveling of Reverend G, had released a few short weeks before I met her. We had some time to get acquainted before the workshop began and so I asked her about her book. After learning that Alzheimer’s unravels the reverend, I asked RJ if she would consent to an interview for Glory and Strength. She graciously agreed. Therefore, this week we’re taking a journey through Alzheimer’s. Both RJ and the Reverend G have insight and comfort to offer.

Today and tomorrow is our interview. RJ has also offered to answer reader questions. Here’s how the Q&A will work: Submit your questions no later than 11:59 p.m. Tuesday via the comments below, or email admin [at] GloryandStrength.com. RJ will answer as many questions as her time permits. I'll post the Q&A on Friday.

Now to our interview.

Debra: Rebecca, Reverend G is an absolutely delightful character. I love her sense of humor, and I’m impressed by how well you’ve balanced humor with the severity of Alzheimer’s. What was your inspiration for the book?

RJ: My dad was involved in a tragic fire at our farm. He was severely burned and spent four months in the hospital, but mercifully – didn’t remember any of the horror. The doctors diagnosed him with trauma-induced dementia. For ten years, he gradually disappeared while Mom, a registered nurse, took care of him at home. Dad passed away in 2008.

Now Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is currently in an assisted living facility where she begs every day to go home.

Initially, the book just happened. I woke up one morning with a story in my head. But as I began to work on it, I used my family’s experiences to enrich the story and give it credibility.

Debra: In chapter one, we experience Reverend G’s response to her diagnosis. Her words are poignant as she seeks comfort in the Psalms and speaks of trusting God. There’s so much comfort and peace as she seeks God, yet here’s a heaviness, too. We know the severity of Alzheimer’s. But you don’t leave the reader in that heaviness. In one bright sentence you bring a smile to the reader and lift us out of the solemnness of that moment.

Hearing a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia is heartrending. What was your initial reaction to your mom’s diagnosis?

RJ: Truthfully, I didn’t react like a peaceful, wonderful Christian. I was mad! It seemed like such a cruel twist of fate that a woman who took care of her husband for ten years and prayed every day that she wouldn’t get any type of mind-altering disease – was now facing the worst. Although I believe strongly that God is sovereign and that He can use anything that happens to us for an ultimate good purpose, I’m still a bit angry about the whole situation. As any family member of an Alzheimer’s patient can tell you – it’s an incredibly sad and difficult diagnosis.

Debra: How have you adjusted to the changes?

RJ: Every week / day / month represents a change. As Mom regresses, then our reactions to her must change. We have to be incredibly creative and alert for how to deal with her. I now drive to Oklahoma about once a month, which is a five-hour trip and costly both in time lost at work and in gas money. Every week, I send Mom a card, usually something funny from the children’s cards. She loves the little animals. Every week, I call my sister who is the primary caregiver and hope to encourage her. I call my brother for his take on things, because he has a gift of wisdom. Then I hang up the phone and cry.

I have also talked at length to my son about my wishes for my last days, and I’ve documented everything in my will. The medical community, because of their Hippocratic Oath and their compassion, tries to do everything to keep people alive. I no longer think that is best either for the patient or for the families. So I have instructed my son that there will be no life-saving measures, no procedures, etc. The best way he can love me is to let me go.

Debra: That can’t have been an easy decision to arrive at. Has writing the book has helped you deal with your situation? Did it bring you any insights?

RJ: I’ve learned a great deal about dementia and Alzheimer’s, even more than I have observed with my family situation. When I visit Mom, I get ideas for new plots and new characters. When I do research, I learn things that help me deal with Mom. So it’s been a give and take situation. Plus, I’ve learned how important it is to somehow find the humor and keep laughing. That’s one reason why I’ve tried to include so many funny elements in the book.

On the positive side, I try to just enjoy every single day. Life is so incredibly fragile. I tell my son each night that I love him. I talk candidly to people about the importance of sharing love while you can. One of the saddest moments in my life was when my dad forgot who I was, and I know that moment will also come with Mom. I want my son to always know that somewhere in my soul – I still know him and love him.

That’s all for today. Return tomorrow for the second half of my interview with RJ Thesman and to learn more about The Unraveling of Reverend G.RJ also has some tips for caregivers to share. If you have a question for RJ, be sure to leave it in the comment or email it to the address above.

The Unraveling of Reverend G, published by CrossRiver Media Group, is available in both paperback and on Kindle. Put the title in the Amazon search box on this site and you’ll help support the ministry of Glory and Strength through our affiliate program with Amazon.

RJ ThesmanBIO: RJ Thesman has been a writer since she flipped open her Red Chief tablet and scribbled her first story. Thesman is a Biblical Counselor, a Stephen Minister and a Certified Christian Life Coach. She enjoys teaching writing workshops and helps beginning writers birth their words. She enjoys reading, gardening and cooking and lives in the heartland of Kansas with her son and an elderly cat. http://www.rjthesman.net http://www.Facebook.com/rjthesman


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