Sci-Fi Books versus Movies
As an author of science fiction, something has me confused. I have lots of friends who prefer not to read science fiction, yet as soon as a science fiction movie is released, they flock to it. The fact is, sci-fi is huge in the movie business boasting blockbusters such as Star Wars, The Matrix, X- Men, Iron Man, Star Trek, and The Terminator, just to name a few. So why would a sci-fi movie lover not want to pick up a book of the same genre? It just has me stumped!
Certainly, the sci-fi genre has a strong readership, and a very loyal one. Having said that, thrillers and romance tend to attract the masses. Then there’s fantasy, which often gets grouped with sci-fi for some strange reason. In my mind they’re as similar as apples and oranges. It’s easy to understand the popularity of fantasy. It’s a genre that can entertain all ages, as proven by J.K. Rowling.
For those reading this post, I’m curious what your favorite book and movie genres are? Are you just as likely to read a sci-fi book as watch a sci-fi movie? Leave a comment and let me know.
A Closer Look at Spectra and its Main Characters
Imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit and betrayed by those closest to him, Dean Weston struggles to stop the genocide of newly discovered energy-based life forms so unique they cause humans to acquire extraordinary intelligence for a brief period following exposure. As genius edges toward insanity for those exploiting the peaceful entities, a ruthless experiment goes awry leading to the creation of an evil capable of redefining human existence.
In 2273 CE, representatives from the governments of Earth and the settled planets Lyra, Draco, and Cygnus came together to form the Consortium of Planets to facilitate collaboration between the individual governments. The Consortium’s mandate includes control of interplanetary commerce and immigration. Ships fueled by vacuum particle energy enable space travel between the planets. Incredible speeds are possible by flying along rare defects in the cosmic particle energy structure of space called textures. Freighters and passenger ships travel daily along the texture corridors between the planets. Spaceports located on the three base stations include the Earth Base Station on the moon, the Eagle Base Station at the entrance to Lyra space, and the Lyra Base Station orbiting the planet Lyra.
DEAN WESTON is the flight navigator of a six-member Consortium mining expedition crew whose mandate is to survey new planets. On an expedition the crew discovers an intelligent life form so unique that Dean insists their existence remain secret for their protection as exposure to people is lethal to them. The crew agrees, some reluctantly. Months go by, and Dean moves on to the prestigious position of Director of the Eagle Base Station, and later is framed for murder and imprisoned. Dean is ruggedly handsome, a tough customer in a crisis who can handle himself in the worst situations without breaking. He is also a successful academic, holding a degree in flight engineering with a minor in particle physics. Dean maintains a sense of humor even when faced with terrible circumstances, and he possesses high moral principles, choosing life over power and greed. You want him on your team.
IVAN CAMPBELL, the mining crew’s leader, is the polar opposite of Dean in temperament and Dean’s chief antagonist. Later moving on to manage the cutting-edge Lyra Particle Accelerator on the Lyra Base Station, Ivan is a cold, calculating sociopath who will sacrifice anyone and anything to satisfy his hunger for power and control. With his black hair, brown eyes and average stature, Ivan has the look, and most often the disposition of, a pampered English gentleman. He is jealous and disrespectful of Dean, whose qualities of bravery and resourcefulness Ivan could never hope to obtain. Ivan, somewhat lacking in intellect, will do anything, including the murder of those with knowledge of the entities, to covet the power of the entities for his own gain. Believing the entities may hold the secrets that define the spiritual basis of human life, he carries out ruthless experimentation on them.
DR. LAURA SIMMONS is a particle physicist invited by Ivan to be a guest worker at the Accelerator. When she inadvertently becomes privy to Ivan’s murderous agenda, she’s hurtled from her sheltered existence and forced to run for her life, learning the meaning of keen wit along the way. Not your typical academic, Laura is a striking blonde, innocent yet sporty, and manages to pull it off with great poise. Laura and Dean suffer many calamities together, and become lovers.
KEVIN COWAN, the pilot of the mining expedition team, is Ivan’s flunky, a “sniveling little puppet,” in Dean’s choice words. Ivan had rescued him from the dead-end job of piloting shuttles between Earth and its moon. Kevin, grateful for the new challenge, dedicated himself to doing Ivan’s bidding, whatever it happens to be. Kevin follows Ivan to the Accelerator to become the chief engineer and is the key operator in harvesting the entities for Ivan. With Kevin on his side, Ivan’s plan to systematically take out the remainder of the crew that discovered the entities is on track, leaving him free to harvest the entities to maintain his high intellect.
KAREN JENKINS, Dean’s wife at the time of the mining expedition, is the team medic and biologist. Of Caucasian and Asian descent, her daintiness and beauty is comparable to her favorite flower, the orchid. Shortly after Dean settles into his position on the Eagle Base Station, she and Dean split. This spirals into an acrimonious encounter, which will provide Ivan and Kevin the perfect ammunition for the finale of their grand plan to eliminate those with knowledge of the entities: kill her and frame Dean for her murder.
“UNCLE” JOHN BECKER, the Minister of Transportation and Communication for the planet Draco, is an African-American and a good friend of Laura’s who will prove instrumental in helping Dean and Laura.
MATT JENKINS, Karen’s brother, is head of security for Eagle Base Station. He is tough and hot-headed, and he and Dean are best of friends. But, when Matt finds Karen’s body in her apartment and signs point to Dean as her killer, his friendship for Dean corrodes into barely containable rage. He wants Dean convicted and sent to prison for life.
Behind THE DELPHI BLOODLINE:
The Philosophy of “The Flow”
by Donna Del Oro
How to explain my vision of “The Flow” or spirit world that my heroine Athena Butler, a gifted clairvoyant, alludes to often in my romantic thriller, THE DELPHI BLOODLINE? Below is a passage that might begin to explain this vision of mine and its important role in the story.
Athena has just explained to her friend, Kas Skoros, that she has telepathic visits with her psychic mother. That is how they keep in touch with each other at night when they are separated by thousands of miles.
“How do your night visits with your mother work?” Kas asked.
“Difficult to explain. I send my Upper Mind, which is separate from my biological brain—anyway, I send it out there into…”
“Into the Flow, a dimension where our spiritual consciousness lives. I can float about at will, go where I want, observe, interact with other spiritual entities or souls. Sometimes, a spirit will call me. Sometimes I’m drawn to a certain spirit or moment in time.
“My mother calls it The Flow, or the World of Spirits. I think physicists would call it a dimension we have not discovered yet, the invisible dimension around our planet that holds all of the thoughts and memories of past and future mankind. Everything that humans have experienced or will experience. A kind of vast CD storage place. Did you know, Kas, that most physicists believe there are at least ten dimensions? Humans know and experience only three. Einstein discovered a fourth. The others will become known as humans evolve.”
“Uh-huh,” was all Kas could manage.
“Anyway, it’s our way of connecting with each other when we’re apart. My mother and me. She comes to me or I go to her. Tonight I’m going to try to go to Italy and find her. I feel she’s in the mountains somewhere.”
Athena’s disembodied voice, soft and modulated, was lulling him to sleep. He wanted to keep listening to her, fought to stay awake. The Flow. Spiritual entities. In his concrete, material world, this was all bizarre as hell.
“Wow. You bottle this, Athena—this ability to move your mind around this planet and it’ll put the airlines out of business,” he joked. His own voice sounded rough and slurred, like he’d just been shot with Novocain. “It’s a kind of time travel. My mother travels forward. You travel back in time to ancient Greece. Incredible.” He yawned loudly. “Tell Annabella hello for me.”
Although Kas Skoros claims to be a Guardian of the Delphi bloodline, like his father is to his mother, he lacks the psychic ability of these women he admires so much. Nevertheless, his courage and commitment to the survival of this bloodline compensate for this lack. His dark, good looks and good humor ultimately win Athena over, and she allows him the privilege of being her Guardian. They do not plan on falling in love with each other, and it is this newfound love of theirs that prompts Athena to visit The Flow again, this time to visit the spirit of Kas’s dead brother. What she tells Kas about that visit becomes the emotional and philosophical climax of the book.
Writing about The Flow was a wonderful release for me spiritually. I’ve always believed in another dimension of spiritual energy, and the physics of such a dimension made so much logical sense to me. I’m looking forward to hearing from readers about The Flow. Do they believe such a dimension is possible, even likely? How closely does this vision of The Flow align with the Judeo-Christian idea of heaven? The Hindus’ belief in the Afterlife? Have they ever experienced a connection with such a dimension?
Present day descendants of the ancient, psychically powerful Delphi bloodline face the threat of extinction when an evil tycoon hunts them for his own nefarious intent, a global spy network.
When artist Athena Butler, the modern-day descendant of a powerful, ancient bloodline of psychic women, realizes she’s the target of mysterious and dangerous kidnappers, she gets help from strange sources—the spirit of an ancient ancestor and a handsome man who claims to be one of her bloodline’s Guardians. Her mental powers and his brawny skills keep them one step ahead of the mastermind behind these kidnappers. Until the time when an FBI task force decides to use Athena as bait.
Pyramid Valley, Nevada
Athena Butler’s eyes blinked open and she sat up.
Coming back from The Flow was always jolting. Emerging from the stream of spirits was like a water skier lurching out of the water, pulled by a strong, invisible force. The mind caught up later to the body as if it required a rough snap to break free.
Likewise, to go there was like jumping out of a plane and feeling the air rush to your face, your limbs weightless and wobbly. Most of the time, it was a joy to enter this world of unseen spirits. Athena welcomed her visits, especially at night when she found herself invariably alone.
When she was a child, she’d often emerge from The Flow with a fearful whimper and a cry. She’d wept and wanted to stay in The Flow. Now, at twenty-six, Athena had grown accustomed to her mental flights. They were no longer fear-inducing for she understood their purpose. But her exits were still mind-wrenching and she often lay in bed afterwards, disoriented.
This morning, fear clutched her heart and she could barely breathe. With a trembling hand, she reached for her phone.
Breathless, she raked her other hand through her hair and kicked her legs over the side of the bed. Six AM, Nevada time. She punched her mother’s mobile numbers. It was nine o’clock in D.C.
“Thank God, Mama! Where are you?”
“I’m in Baltimore, near the—.”
“Mama, I had a dream about you. A Flow Dream. The spirits—they want me to warn you! Whatever you’re doing right now, get off the streets. Go home and lock the door. Call the police!”
Her heart felt like a ticking bomb in her chest. Athena could barely speak. But her mother knew her and understood her Flow dreams. They were seldom wrong though sometimes a little off in timing. Today, a threat was imminent. She knew it.
“Slow down, Thena. Take a deep breath and tell me slowly about your dream. I don’t doubt you but we must be able to interpret it correctly. You know how these Flow Dreams are. Sometimes the symbolism is strange and difficult to interpret.”
“Okay—just go home and lock the door. Now, Mama!”
Athena had to swallow hard and take big gulps of air in order to speak. Losing her mother was unthinkable. She’d already lost her father, and in a way, her brother.
“Where are you, Mama?”
She inhaled and counted to five. Her mother wasn’t in Georgetown, where she lived with her second husband. Athena sensed water nearby, a large body of water. Her mind jumped ahead. The body of water in her terrifying dream was vast, a bay leading to the ocean. The Baltimore harbor—of course!
“Near downtown Baltimore. I’m heading toward a section of the city where I believe a little girl’s body was hidden. The police need the evidence from that location. They think she was hidden somewhere, killed and then a day or two later dumped into the bay. I think I’ve found the monster’s hideout.”
“I had a session with the homicide detective last night. I handled a few articles of the poor child’s clothing, what she was wearing when they found her. I got some visions so I drove up here to pinpoint the location. It’s not in a very nice part of town but I thought I’d drive around, and then call Detective Bonner when I got something.”
Athena groaned. Her mother was at it again. Getting involved with homicide cases and trying to use her powers to bring killers to justice.
“Mama, get out of there, please! Go home—”
“I’ve had no sense of this danger, Athena, not to me personally,” her mother said. “Listen, we must talk soon. There are other dangers that I’ve seen…but don’t fret, my car doors are locked, I’m driving my big SUV. I’m in traffic, so relax.”
“Maybe you’re too focused on that homicide case,” Athena stressed. Her mother had no idea the danger she was putting herself in. First-hand experience had taught Athena that working with the cops was a dangerous business. Let them do their work and solve their own cases.
I’m done with all that.
Her mind darted back to the vision in her dream. She took a deep breath and steadied her voice.
“I saw you in your car, Mama. You stopped to get out. A black car pulled in front of you and another one—a long white one—blocked you in back. There was a woman driving the car in front and she was with men who had guns. Someone grabbed you and carried you to the white car. I could smell salt water and then they took you away. Some place far away. And then I was in the mountains, the Sierras, searching for you.”
Athena bent over, clutching the cell phone, her lifeline to the one person she loved most in the world. Her stomach cramped into a hard ball.
There was silence. “Mama, go home,” she repeated.
“Okay, Thena, I’m turning back toward the freeway. The harbor shops are on my left. Remember that eight-sided tower, the one with a great view of the harbor and breakwater. The octogon tower. You remember going there on your last visit here, don’t you?”
More silence followed then as an image sprang to Athena’s mind. Yes, they’d had lunch there…
Her mother gasped loudly. A screech of brakes, metal crunching, glass breaking. Her mother cursing a blue streak in her native Italian.
“What happened, Mama? Are you all right?”
“Yes, dear. Just a stupid fender bender. Merda! Daniel’s going to throw a fit. My second one this year! I’m getting so distracted with these cases—not paying attention to what I’m doing. I swear this car pulled right in front of me, cut me off. It’s not my fault this time.”
More angry muttering followed.
“Dio, I really smashed up that rear end! Thena, I’ll call you right back as soon as I exchange insurance information with the driver. Be right back, Thena.”
“Mama, don’t get out of the—”
The line went dead. With a cry, Athena sank to her knees on the cold, tile floor. Shivers of dread rippled through her. Her mind went numb with panic.
For God’s sake…Think! Get help!
About Donna Del Oro…
My pen name is Donna Del Oro and I live in Northern California near the Sierra Nevada foothills and Folsom Lake. After retiring from high school teaching, I decided life was too short to waste. Thus, began a journey doing what I’d been wanting to do for many years–write fiction. I sold my first novel, OPERATION FAMILIA, right away and this book went on to win an award for the Best 2010 Latino Books into Movies Award. Following that first sale, I published three more women’s fiction books, then branched out into writing my first love, romantic thrillers. This year, 2012, saw the launch of A BODYGUARD OF LIES and THE DELPHI BLOODLINE, both ebooks and available on Kindle, Nook, Apple, and elsewhere. If you have read any of my books, I welcome your input. Leave me a review on Amazon and your name goes into a pile for a $50 gift card at B&N, my favorite bookstore. You can email me: email@example.com. Thanks for dropping by!”
Mute by Brian Bandell
This recently released science fiction thriller caught my eye. Look for a review here this fall!
Mute is a twisting ride that will leave readers speechless.
A detective’s love for an orphaned girl witness has her turning a blind eye to evidence that could stop a wave of unnatural murders.
Mute follows detective Monique “Moni” Williams, who has never lived an easy life—with an abusive ex-con father, a two-timing, pistol-wielding ex-boyfriend and a racist boss—it’s hard to see how things could possibly get more difficult for her. After she meets a child that she bonds with, Moni must protect the girl from a mysterious threat stalking everyone near the Indian River Lagoon.
A serial killer is on the loose on Florida’s Space Coast, and Moni has been put in charge of the key witness in the biggest case of her life: an eight-year-old girl called Mariella. The child has gone mute after losing both her parents one harrowing night. Now, Moni struggles to protect the child and break her silence, while more reports of inexplicable deaths and animals with eerie purple eyes pile up. Her bond with the child is tested by a police force demanding answers. What does the lagoon’s rotten stench have to do with a mute little girl? Can Moni save Mariella from what lurks along the water? Who is really facing the most danger? Find out in this suspenseful, page-turner that will keep you guessing until the very end.
By Joanne Elder
The Summer Solstice
The Seasons –
The four seasons arise because the Earth is tilted at an angle of approximately 23.5 degrees. The tilt of the planet is known to fluctuate very slightly over long periods of time as a result of the complex motion of the Earth and moon. During the summer months the intensity of the sunrays hitting the Earth is greater than in the winter. An easy way to visualize this is by shining a flashlight directly (perpendicularly) onto a flat surface. It will brightly illuminate a small circle. When the surface is tilted, the area illuminated becomes larger and oval, and the brightness at any particular location is diminished, particularly at the far edge which would be representative of the northern, cooler regions on Earth. As the Earth follows its elliptical orbit around the sun, the tilt of it remains essentially constant. Therefore the intensity of sunlight hitting regions north and south of the equator will vary causing the seasons.
The Equinox and Solstices –
The Equator is the imaginary line that divides the Earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. The equinox occurs at the point in Earth’s orbit when the sun’s rays are directly perpendicular to the Equator. At this time, when you look to the sky at noon, the sun will appear directly overhead at its zenith. This happens twice a year: the first day of fall (September 21st) and the first day of spring (March 21st).
The Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are two other imaginary lines drawn around the planet and are located at the latitude of 23.5 degrees north and south of the Equator, respectively. They are defined by the tilt of the Earth. At the summer solstice of June 21st, the sun shines directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer. This not only marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, but it is also the longest day of the year. The winter solstice for the northern hemisphere occurs on December 21st and marks the shortest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, during the months surrounding the summer solstice, the sun rises toward the northeast and sets toward the northwest. This shifts to the southeast and southwest around the winter solstice.
The Arctic and Antarctic circles are the last two of the five imaginary lines or major circles of latitude marking the globe and run 66.56 degrees north and south of the equator, respectively. In the northern hemisphere, the region north of this circle is known as the Arctic. In this region the sun is above the horizon for at least one entire day per year (land of the midnight sun) around the summer solstice. Around the winter solstice, the sun is below the horizon for at least one entire day per year.
The five major circles of latitude do move slightly as a result of the tilt of the Earth fluctuating. Because of this, the exact date and time of the equinox and solstices vary from year to year. The time of the summer solstice for 2012 is June 20th at 11:09 p.m. Interestingly, if the Earth were completely upright, there would be no Tropics, Arctic or Antarctic. At the equator the sun would always rise in the east, pass directly overhead at noon, and set in the west. In the Arctic and Antarctic, the sun would just circle the horizon. There would be no seasons.
Ancient Understanding of the Solstice –
Stonehenge – This ancient stone monument is believed to have been constructed anywhere from 3000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. and is located in the British county of Wiltshire. The northeast opening of the monument precisely matches the direction of the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset of that period. On June 21st, the rising sun shines its light in between the Heel Stone onto the Alter Stone and the center of the horseshoe.
Temple of Kukulcan – Located in Chichen Itza, Mexico, the Temple dates back to between 300 and 450 A.D. On the summer solstice, the northern side of the Temple is fully illuminated by the sun, while the southern and westerly sides are shaded by the temple itself. From the air it appears as though the temple has been divided in half by the sun’s rays in a perfect diagonal line. Even more astounding is what occurs at the spring and fall equinoxes, where a shadow resembling a snake slithers down the stairs on the northern face. When it reaches the bottom, two stone serpent heads become illuminated.
Mesa Verde National Park – Located in northwestern New Mexico, the Chaco Canyon was once home to the ancient Chacoan civilization. Examination of the ruins in the area revealed a structure that what was once known as the Community House, but has since been renamed the Sun Temple. It was renamed as the front wall of the Temple is aligned to the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.
Leave a comment and you will be eligible to win a signed print copy of SPECTRA (US and Canada) or the ebook version for those outside North America.
Author of Science Fiction Thrillers, SPECTRA and ENTITY
Three Great Examples of How First Impressions Count in Sci-Fi
By Imogen Reed
They say that you only get one chance to make a first impression; a revelation which may at first be painfully obvious given the nature of the adage, yet bears closer scrutiny. In the making of first impressions comes the time where you have the one chance to grasp the attention of whomever you are interacting with, which is fairly indicative of an important action and this is doubly so for writing of any kind.
The opening line of a novel – science fiction of otherwise – is arguably one the single most important lines in the entire thing. It is the chance that an author has to proverbially grab their audience and keep them hooked and in some ways, the chance to create a lasting impression. Sad though it is to say, there are people that have such a short attention span that they will come to their own conclusion as to a book’s merit and worth within the first few lines, with the first being the most important. Obviously, not everyone is like this, but nevertheless the first line and by proxy the first impression is one of the most important aspects to a good read.
The first sentence or two “hooks” you, draws you in with intrigue, anticipation, verdant imagery, excitement, or a mixture of the aforementioned. Like waiting for a city link package, the first line instils that bizarre feeling of expectancy, as if the first line were to somehow encapsulate the feelings that would exude from the book for the duration of reading it. With the overall tone for the novel set, the reader is free to experience the rest of the novel in accordance with how they felt right from the start.
Many opening lines have come before this time and hopefully many will come after. Each writer will have their own particular style and substance, so we – as readers – are guaranteed an abundance of emotions with regards to each new opening line. There are many different ways to go about creating the perfect opening line, with the greatest and most memorable being stuck not only in the mind of a particular reader, but also in the societal collective consciousness. Lines such as these:
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Taken from the classic 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451. Chronicling the life of a “fireman” whose job it is to burn books, all of which have become illegal in this bleak envisioning of the future. The line grabs the attention as much as the subject matter (fire) does for pyromaniacs. The reader is at once curious as to what it is that is being burnt and why it might be a pleasure to do so, thus being completely drawn into the world of the firemen and their burning. All that is left is for the reader to experience it for themselves.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
This line is from the opening for George Orwell’s 1984, which was published in 1949. 1984 follows the life of one Winston Smith and how he rails against an oppressive regime in a dystopian version of London (in an area called Oceania in the novel). This opener grabs our attention by contrasting the mundane notion of the weather, coupled with clocks striking. The unique part is obviously that the clocks are striking thirteen, a number which is typically not included on traditional clocks, lest they be of the twenty four hour variety. This conjures up some bizarre imagery as to why the clocks would be referenced as striking such a number and the reader’s imagination is captured and drawn into discovering why this might be occurring.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Arguably the one line that everyone remembers somehow and a great example of how to create exciting and vivid imagery that captivates and entrances the reader, almost willing them onwards to the conclusion of the novel. The line itself is of course from Neuromancer, William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk novel, about a has-been computer hacker named Case, as he gathers allies and resources to pull off the ultimate hack.
Sub-genres of Science Fiction
Science fiction is truly a genre that lends itself to subgenres—whether it’s romance or thriller, as in the case of MuseItUp novels, Spectra and the soon to be released sequel, Entity.
The subgenre classification of science fiction arises from the broad definition of science fiction. Stories are often classified as science fiction as a result of the setting, which can be real or imaginary, on earth or in space. The story line can also take place in any time period, the future being quite common to the genre. Certainly, science might enter into the plot. If the science is accurate the novel is classified as hard sci-fi. Soft science fiction delves into what is thought of as impossible, such as warp drive. When a novel has any of these aspects, it is considered science fiction. But what about the other plot elements—mystery, romance, suspense…the list goes on.
Thrillers are adrenaline-rush novels, packed full of action and suspense. The reader will find themselves at the edge of their seat with the uncertainty and anxiety that comes from plot twists and cliff hangers. The plot typically focuses on an unscrupulous villain, who creates impossible obstacles for the hero to overcome.
Combine elements of science fiction with that of a thriller and the science fiction thriller genre is born. Many authors have their brand, and my brand is the science fiction thriller. Spectra, is a story about the discovery of an energy-based life form. Those exposed to the life forms become temporarily gifted with extraordinary intelligence. After a rogue group of scientists continue to expose themselves to the entities, they quickly learn that the line between genius and insanity is quite fragile. Entity picks up where Spectra finishes off and is arguably a darker novel. As I’m a sucker for romance, both stories also contain a solid romantic element. Spectra is currently available through the MuseItUp Publishing website and other major vendors, and for those interested, you can check out the reviews on this site. RT Book Reviews Magazine rated it Top Pick!
A Tribute to Gloria
By Gail Branan
“Special moments of life come unexpectedly, highlighted in bright spots of color. Join me in my special moments, the moments when I gather fresh flowers, in this Writer’s Blog dedicated to the memory of a friend who shared with the world the Flowers on The Fence which I now share with all of you. For Gloria. With love.”
Thus reads the dedication to my own blog, Flowers on the Fence. Anyone who followed my blog from its inception knows that Gloria is Gloria Kernells, a spicy Southern lady (think The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, think Steel Magnolias) whose yard sported the most wonderful fence – a fence full of painted flowers. Flowers that just shouted “Hey! How y’all doin’? Ain’t life grand?” That fence purely waved to any passersby who cared to glance over long enough to see it. I met that fence long before I met her. I’d admired it for years before she invited me down for cake and coke. “Just follow me and watch where I turn. But you can’t miss it. It’s the house with the flowers on the fence.” Just typing those words even now gives me the same instant thrill of recognition I felt at the time.
Gloria was a one-of-a-kind lady in Jeffersonville, the one you could count on to be there when needed. Anywhere. For sick folks, for terminally ill folks. Doing the yard work, straightening the house, bringing food, collecting blankets for the local nursing home. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. There was nothing saccharine or artificially sweet about Gloria Kernells. She was something of a power in the town, both by dent of her forceful personality and because she was a Jeffersonville, Twiggs County native, a member of several sprawling, entwined, intermarried, and interrelated families with deep, deep roots in the county. She was everybody’s cousin, and if she wasn’t related by blood, she either knew them or knew of them, and either liked or disliked them. With Gloria, there wasn’t a lot of in-between. And trust me on this – if you didn’t want to know what she really thought, you didn’t ask her. In fact, you didn’t even give her the opportunity to tell you ‘cause if you did, she’d tell you whether you asked or not.
Gloria didn’t like me. She loved me. She lost her daughter in a kitchen fire some two months after we first struck up our friendship. That changed a growing friendship into something more. I was adopted. In my early fifties. And that was fine with me. I’d never been close to my own mother, whom I frankly think with the hindsight of age and the advances of modern medicine, would now be classed, at best, as bi-polar and sometimes frankly psychotic. Being mothered and friended simultaneously by the same person was a new and heartwarming thing for me. Saturday afternoons were ours. Sometimes we’d visit on her back porch by the gold fish pond, hidden behind the flowered fence. Sometimes the weather required we adjourn to her den. Sometimes we’d take ourselves down to Dublin, Georgia for an afternoon of shopping. During the week, if she had to come into Macon, the city where I work, we’d go to lunch. We had several restaurant favorites, The Rookery downtown, the Ole’ Times Buffet on Gray Highway, Ruby Tuesday out at the Macon Mall.
Now, you’re probably wondering what all that has to do with a guest spot on Joanne’s blog during her Alzheimer Awareness Month blogs. I don’t in fact know whether it does or not. You see, Gloria never allowed herself to be diagnosed. She just decided she was going to die. And she did. “Just like that?” you say. “Why, that’s impossible.” Yeah, I’d have thought so too, were any else telling me this story. But no, it wasn’t impossible. And yes, it was pretty much just like that.
What I know for certain is that during the course of a year’s time, Gloria – she who enjoyed everything – began to enjoy nothing. It was gradual, this change in her attitude, so slight as to be almost unnoticeable. I mean, everyone has bad days, right? Then there was an increase in tension level, and again, everybody has bad days, right? Besides, Gloria was almost the perfect definition of high-strung. So some days she was more high-strung than others. Sometimes she seemed to waver more in her decision-making process. So what? Gloria was always impeccably dressed, impeccably groomed. Well, alright. Nobody gets their eyeliner or lipstick perfect every time, do they? She took an intense dislike to driving in Macon traffic and then to driving even in neighboring small town Dublin. Well, who likes traffic, anyway? Trust me, people. When someone like Gloria is seen occasionally with a less than perfect eye-liner or lipstick line, that’s a big deal. When someone like Gloria agonizes over a decision, that’s a big deal. When someone like Gloria, who considered life a hayride to enjoy, begins to enjoy nothing, that’s a big deal. When someone as independent as Gloria drives only when she has to, that’s a big deal.
We didn’t notice. None of us from Gloria’s inner sanctum of the small-town sisterhood noticed. Some of us noticed some things. None of us noticed everything. None of us put everything together. Worst of all, we didn’t notice till it was way too late that she’d stopped eating properly. And we didn’t find out until the night she broke down and called one of her oldest friends from childhood to take her to the ER at the Fairview Hospital in Dublin. Where they put her immediately into Intensive Care. We’d known she wasn’t feeling well. She claimed it was her back. It wasn’t. It was a total and complete depletion of sodium. There was no sodium in her body. Contributing factors? Not eating and drinking massive amounts of water.
We got her through that. She came home. We thought everything would be alright. It wasn’t. She didn’t want company. Any of us. A Round Robin group of friends checked regularly anyway. Two of her oldest friends from childhood lived nearby and were retired, one of whom had transported her to the Dublin Hospital that awful night. These angel friends took point position. Within three weeks, they found her on the floor, incontinent, unable to get up. And refusing to allow anyone to call a doctor or take her to a hospital. But enough’s enough. Her daughter-in-law bodily picked her up and carried her out under protest to the car to take her to their home. She never came back to her own house or to the flowers on the fence. She steadfastly refused to go the doctor and when advised that an appointment was made, she went to sleep one night five days before that appointment date and never woke up. She always was determined to get her own way.
I truly do not know whether Gloria was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I firmly believe so, as her father also died of this horrible disease. What I do know is that it had to be some form of dementia, whether it was Alzheimer’s or not. And that there were signs that we, her circle of town sisters including myself, her daughter by mutual choice, missed. I don’t know whether noticing would have changed a thing. Maybe. By one of those freaky coincidences, I’d talked to a former nursing home aide the very day before Gloria died.
“Honey, sure sounds like end second stage or maybe even third stage Alzheimer’s to me.”
“Well, really strong-willed people, they fight it. And they fight to hide it. And then something happens, like the sodium depletion. And they go straight to end stage. They got nothing left to fight with.”
“But within three months?”
“Honey, I had this college professor on my shift when I lived in California. She went from teaching classes to writing on the wall in feces in two months’ time. Yes, that fast.”
I can’t tell you how much I miss Gloria still. I can tell you – hindsight is the best sight. Notice the older, even the not so older, friends and family members in your life. Pay attention to the little things because they might not be little things. Taken together, they could be a pattern that alerts you to a developing problem.
I didn’t notice. And so I remember Gloria with my own creation, Flowers on the Fence Country. Because she and the real fence are no longer there to visit. I don’t have an actual picture of Gloria and really don’t need one. Her face and the sound of her voice remain in my heart. The pictures of her fence remain on my blog. And so, folks, that’s the background story, the history, the reason, that a writer’s blog named Gail Roughton Branan’s Flowers on the Fence was born. For Gloria. With love.
J.M. Frey was kind enough to be a guest blogger today in support of the Authors Fight Alzheimer’s book signing fundraiser. She is an honoured participate in the fundraiser and comes to the event with the memory of her Aunt Doris, who passed away in 2008 from this horrific disease. Her great-uncle, Doug Gilmour, is also attending the book signing with his memoirs, which touch on the difficulties of his wife’s decline with the disease. Please take a moment to read J.M’s reflections of Doris and a lovely excerpt from Doug’s memoirs. Doris is one of millions of people who have suffered and been lost to Alzheimer’s disease and it’s vital that they are honoured and remembered for the people they once were. Thank you J.M. and Doug for sharing!
Remembering Aunt Doris
Doug A. Gilmour* is J.M. Frey’s great-uncle – her grandmother’s brother. The love of his life was a spitfire named Doris, a star ladies softball pitcher who had been invited down to the United States to join “A League Of Their Own” during the war, but had declined to stay home and look after her friends and family. She was a warm, no-nonsense woman who, though not farm-breed, took to the farming lifestyle and community with aplomb and enthusiasm.
Aunt Doris was one of J.M. Frey’s particular favourite family members. As neither had been graced with any sisters, they decided that despite the age difference they would be each other’s sister. At every family reunion, party, or gathering, Doris and J.M. would gossip and trade sisterly barbs, keeping and entrusting secrets to one another in a corner. Doris especially loved J.M.’s singing, and J.M. made a point of learning a new song to sing to her Aunt each time they met.
The last time J.M. saw her sister, it was at the 2007 Ord Reunion, a large family gathering that happens annually in Puslinch, Ontario, and celebrates the descendants of Andrew Ord, one of the first Scotsman to emigrate to Canada. J.M. is a 7th generation descendant of Mr. Ord, and the day-long picnic usually attracts over a hundred cousins from all over the country.
At the end of day, J.M. wished her Aunt and Uncle a safe journey home. Aunt Doris said: “What a lovely party that was! Why were we here? Who are all these nice people? They were very kind.”
“I know,” J.M. replied. “They’re all your family and they love you.”
“Isn’t that nice!” Doris replied.
J.M. waited for their car to pull away and vanish down the dirt road of the county line before retreating to the washroom to cry. This was the last thing J.M. ever heard her beloved sister say.
In 2007, Doris Gilmour, Doug’s wife and the love of his life, succumbed to Alzheimer’s.
Below is two excerpts from Doug Gilmour’s memoir, “A Successful Life: Overcoming Adversity with Persistence” (General Store Publishing, 2011).
The first section is from the chapter “Doris”, in which Doug meets and woos Doris. The second is from the chapter “The Shadows of Death”, which details the decline in Doris’ health and eventual passing.
Excerpts reprinted with the permission of the author.
*Not the hockey player, though they are probably distantly related.
My sisters Helen and Evelyn played ball for the Guelph Royals. They and their teammates were very successful, and the team had a large following of fans. While I was working in Hamilton, I attended their games when shift work permitted. They frequently played teams from the Rochester area in the United States. It was common to listen to them describe their games and spectacular plays. Often, someone they referred to as “Butch,” their catcher, was one of the stars. She certainly had enthusiasm, played hard and well, and inspired the others. I played ball for our local team in Badenoch, first as shortstop, then later as catcher; however, my capability was much more limited.
One time, the Morriston ball team — our local competition — invited the Guelph Royals to play a game against their men’s team. They exchanged pitchers; the men’s pitcher threw for the ladies against his team, and the Guelph Royals pitcher threw for the men against her team. It was an interesting game, and a lot of fun. Later, they had a party in the Forrester’s Hall in the village. Butch was encouraged to participate in the program. My sisters discovered that their catcher was also an accomplished acrobat and tap dancer. How envious I was of the Morriston ball club. If only Badenoch had thought of doing something like that. But then the girls might beat us. What a humiliation that would be! Anyway, besides feeling a bit inferior to such female athletic ability, shift work made it difficult to organize any kind of game.
Helen and Evelyn became good friends with Butch. It was not long before she was invited out to the farm. She was introduced to me as Doris Butler, but my sisters still called her Butch. I was over-awed. I was not in that girl’s class. She was an exceptional ball player, an acrobat, and an excellent tap dancer. Besides that, she was extremely good looking, had well-groomed curly brown hair, with deep, dark brown eyes. She was enthusiastic about everything. I mused, “She puts me to shame. She is such an accomplished city girl. How did someone acquire so much talent?” It was much later that I discovered her dad and his family were raised on a farm in Oxford County. Doris loved the country.
A few weeks later, Doris and a couple of other girls, whose names I have long forgotten, decided to ride their bicycles from Guelph to the farm. Cruising around in my Model A, I stopped at MacDonald’s store in Puslinch. I found the three girls, including Doris, resting there. Slightly out of breath, they were a bit uncertain how to get to the farm from the village of Puslinch. I mounted the bicycles between the front fenders and the hood of the Model A. Fortunately, this car had a rumble seat. Then everyone squeezed in for the three mile ride to the farm. Doris was very appreciative of the ride. After, we all played a game of ball out behind the barn and had a lot of fun. I thought, “For such a talented girl, she can be a lot of fun out here in the country playing ‘pick up’ baseball.”
The work at the railway car shop became very boring. The war was over, and working in a factory in late summer was not agreeing with me. I longed for the country and outside work. Help was still scarce in western Canada to help with the harvest. Our government was encouraging people to go west to work, by giving them free train fare. The harvest was complete in Ontario, so I quit my job and Charley “Chuck” Cook and I applied at the local employment office. It was soon was time to catch our train to once more work in western Canada’s harvest. To be as cost effective as possible, my sisters prepared food to eat on the train. We had no meal or bunk tickets. Doris Butler was visiting, so she helped my sister Helen to kill a chicken and roast it for me to take on my journey.
When I arrived home late in October, I was anxious to rejoin the fellowship of my friends. Popular activities were the Friday night dances in the township hall in the village of Aberfoyle. Doris was there, and I found enough courage to ask her to dance. She was a good dancer, and at intermission, with my courage bolstered, I invited her out to the Model A to talk about the weather. Hah! I rediscovered what a nice girl she was and I even had the nerve to suggest that there might be a future for us together. She did not run! She seemed to like me. Wow!
We began seeing each other regularly. My dad liked Doris very much. When I began to bring her home more frequently, he was ecstatic. I was working at Didero’s, trimming and waxing turnips, during the winter of 1945–46. This was a business situated just west of Brock Road about five miles south of Freelton. Our country roads were cleared of snow only intermittently, so I boarded with my sister Jean and her husband Ray. They had two children, Terry and baby Lynne, and lived on the west side of Highway 6 at Beechgrove. It was time to become more serious about my future.
I had never formally asked Doris to marry me. It just seemed to be a mutual understanding for our future.
Now I wonder — how did she feel? What did she expect? What would she have liked? We never discussed this! Nevertheless, one evening we visited a jeweller on lower Wyndham Street in Guelph. Inside, we examined several sets of engagement rings and matching wedding bands. I could not afford to spend a lot of money. Doris understood, and between us we chose a beautiful, petite pair. It was an extremely meaningful and emotional evening.
Social functions included visiting our good friends Susie and Bob Scott in Guelph. Doris helped complete Bob’s income tax returns. On occasion, her brother Doug accompanied her. He entertained with his guitar, sang and/or accompanied himself with a harmonica. We attended local ball games and community programs that were held in the auditorium of Guelph City Hall. On warm summer Sunday evenings, we would park in Exhibition Park and listen to band concerts. We enjoyed several Sunday dinners as Grandma Butler (Florence) entertained her whole family. We enjoyed many a rousing euchre game, either with Doug and Mabel Butler, or at Aberfoyle with my brother Dick and his wife, Vanora.
One evening, when I was returning Doris to Guelph in my 1928 Durant car, the left rear axle broke. With a jolt, the rear driver side of the car hit the roadside. The wheel and tire then rolled past us into the ditch of the opposite side of the road. Luckily, the occupants of the car following us stopped and then helped push the car off the roadway.
Doris and I were given a ride to her home, where I stayed until the next morning. The next day, a replacement axle was acquired, and repairs were completed at a recently opened garage operated by brothers George and Don Pentelow.
Our future occupation was a frequent conversation topic between us. Rural Ontario was becoming supplied with electrical energy. Transmission lines needed to be built and farm buildings wired for electricity. Since I had no trade or formal education, Ontario Hydro seemed a likely future employer.
Doris liked the thought of farming, and I was raised on a farm. Dad offered to sell us his farm, where I was born and raised. I declined his offer, mainly because of my dislike for picking the numerous stones and the difficulty in working steep hillsides.
My work at Didero’s often involved loading turnips purchased from local farmers. One day, we were loading turnips at Fred Mast’s home. Fred knew I was engaged to be married and was pondering my future occupation. He offered to sell me his farm. I was a frequent hunter for rabbits, pheasants, grouse, and sometimes deer, so I had walked over this farm on numerous occasions. It did not have as many stones as Dad’s, and the hills, except at the barn, were not as steep. The soil had less clay in its composition, so was easier tilled. It also had a stone house similar to, but larger than Dad’s. That was the clincher! A few weeks later a deal was made.
We now had a place to live but had not set a date for our wedding.
Doris was working at Hammond Electric, and I was busy finalizing the farm purchase and acquiring livestock and machinery. We were also learning more about each other. Occasionally, we became upset with each other, and relations were strained. Doris was a city girl, and I, a country guy. Sometimes our personalities clashed, mostly because our city/country perspective varied. I felt uncomfortable in the presence of her urban friends and co-workers. She was an accomplished bookkeeper, doing payroll at work for Hammond Electric. Her girlfriend was engaged to a chap training to be a chartered accountant. Doris did not understand or appreciate the demand a sick farm animal placed on my schedule.
Work on the farm affected my ability to attend some of her social functions and ball games. When our schedules matched, I felt outclassed, rubbing shoulders with white collar associates, me with my sunburned nose and work-stained, calloused hands. Our relationship deteriorated. It appeared to her that I was not completely devoid of feeling for a former girlfriend. When Doris challenged me on this, I was unable to truthfully identify our problem. Did I really still care more for the other? Was it my discomfort with Doris’s many abilities and her sophisticated friends? Was our mutual attraction for each other real and sincere? My confused, uncertain answer to her challenge was, “I don’t know.”
I quickly discovered another aspect of Doris’s character. She gave absolute loyalty and devotion to her betrothed and expected the same in return. With my uncertain answer, “I don’t know” barely out of my mouth, her engagement ring was placed in my hand, and she got out of the car and left. Luckily, we were parked in front of her mom’s house. (I have since learned, as I am sure all our children have, that their mother was a loyal, devoted person, who expected the same in return, with an uncanny ability to detect insincerity or deception.)
As one might suspect, we were both devastated. It is not for me to attempt to describe Doris’s feelings. No doubt they would have been somewhat similar to my own. Our relationship was strained; our plans awry. Explanations seemed impossible. I had a farm and livestock to look after, and a house that, when the former owners vacated, would be empty. How do you begin to develop new relationships, or do you really wish to? It was a long, difficult summer. I do know that Doris confided in my sister Helen, who was her good friend, as did I. I learned later that, unknown to me, Doris and I were once both at Helen’s house at the same time. Later that year, Doris agreed to a date with me. After picking her up, we went to the farm, where the house was now vacant. After exploring, we stopped in the front hall. The afternoon sun was shining through the side windows of the front door. We stopped where the sun was shining through some cobwebs. I mentioned that I was not a very good housekeeper, took her engagement ring out of my pocket, and asked if she would wear it. She said yes!
We married the following year on February 22, 1947, in Dublin Street United Church. I was excited and apprehensive. The only weddings I had attended were those of my uncle, Jim Ord and Helen Grey, then my sister Helen to Jim Martinson. Both were small; the Ord wedding was in the bride’s home. My sister Helen’s was in a Hamilton church. What was my role? What was required of me? My future mother-inlaw, Florence (whom I was already calling Mom) assisted me. We went shopping together. With her guidance, I bought a pearl necklace for Doris, and a suit and matching shirt and tie for me. I cannot recall who arranged for f lowers, corsage, and boutonniere. Doris and I arranged and paid for the photographer.
Her mother arranged the reception in the church hall. On the Christmas prior to our wedding, my gift to Doris was a large cedar chest, lined with British Columbia cedar. I borrowed my neighbour Charley Cook’s farm trailer, hitched it to my 1928 Durant car and transported it to Guelph.
The sun shone brightly the morning of our wedding. Dad was excited. He thought quite highly of Doris. He was not convinced that the wedding we had planned should be so large, but was accepting. Soon the weather changed. By noon, we were experiencing a howling blizzard, and my car was undependable. My best man, Roy Winer, was driving us in his car. My usher (and brother) Dick brought his daughter Joan as a f lower girl. Doug Buttenham and Chuck Cook, the other ushers, had their own transportation. The matron of honour, Helen Martinson, travelled from Hamilton. She was nursing her firstborn son, Andrew, so he came along.
The roads were beginning to drift. We became stuck in a drift at the corner of Wentworth County Centre Road and Mountsberg Road. Eventually, as some of us got out to push, we cleared the drift. We chose this route to Highway 6, since the most direct route was impassable. Arriving at the church in time, we were dismayed that Doris had not arrived. It was a long wait. What could have happened?
Her home was only a few blocks away. Everyone else was here. Only later did I learn that Doris’s brother Doug forgot that it was his duty to bring Doris to the church. She was about to call a taxi when Doug remembered to drive home to get her. Whew! I was nervous!
To sign the wedding register, we had to walk along a narrow passage behind the front of the church, walking single file. I repeatedly stepped on the train of Doris’s wedding dress. The wedding pictures were taken at a portrait studio in downtown Guelph.
The reception in the church hall was catered by the Dublin Street Church ladies. I do not remember much about the meal. Guests were mostly aunts and uncles from both sides and a few close friends of Doris’s and mine. We went back to Doris’s home for her to change into travelling clothes, and then we caught the evening train to Toronto.
My brother John, at seventeen years of age, looked after farm chores until we returned.
We had hotel reservations at the Walker House Hotel in Toronto, close to Union Station. We stayed there for two nights. We attended a radio station to see a live performance of the “Happy Gang.” This was a very popular wartime noon-hour radio show, featuring Bert Pearl and his Happy Gang with Kathleen Stokes at the organ. We also visited Mr. and Mrs. Thorne Cook, the brother of our neighbour Charley.
My friend Chuck and I had stayed at their home when we went to Maple Leaf Saturday night hockey games. Doris and I travelled by train to Detroit to stay a week with her Aunt Alma and family. We also visited her Uncle Fred and family. They were all gracious hosts and showed us many attractions there. In later years, Doris and I, while very much appreciating their hospitality, agreed it would have been better to have spent a more private, intimate time together.
We arrived back in Guelph to find that all the country roads were blocked with snow. We had arrangements with my brother-inlaw Lloyd Cummins to move our furniture to the farm when we returned. Township employees were attempting to clear the roads, so we stayed for several days with Doris’s mother. Finally, we decided we must move. Lloyd arrived and everything was loaded in his truck.
The roads were still blocked with snow, but the road crew promised to send the snow plough. They kept their promise but could not move the drifts. We stayed with Lloyd and Doris for two days, to the delight of their children, Audrey, Doris, and Joyce. Finally, I arranged with Charley Cook to help me with his team of horses and sleigh. I walked from the highway to the farm and got our team and sleigh. We met Lloyd, his truck, and our furnishings at the highway. Transferring everything to the sleighs, we started for the farm. The roads at the two hills were impassable. We detoured around them through the fields, finally arriving at the farm. Before entering the house, I picked Doris up and carried her across the threshold.
Coincidentally, Dad was there. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “Had you not been in yet?” We did not answer. I picked Doris up in my arms, carried her into the large farmhouse kitchen, and then set her down. Dad took it all in with a pleased look on his face.
We soon completed unloading and placing our furniture. Then Charley advised us that his wife, Rose, had supper prepared. We were invited to their house. Doris was delighted, as was I. We enjoyed a delightful dinner and visit. So began our life together at the farm. There was no snuggling together in our new home that first night.
Doris was too tired; I was not. Was this the first hint of our marriage adjustment? I could write much more here about Doris, but will include it in later chapters. Doris was always there. She was very capable of questioning disagreement, and sometimes determined resistance. Often as advisor, and always loyal, Doris was my mentor.
Farming practices continued much the same as I was used to while growing up, so I was familiar with them. We both needed to adapt to each other as well as familiarize Doris to the farm, but she was enthusiastic.
With the help of Jim Cook and my brother John, I cut trees for next year’s firewood. In early spring, we had a “wood circling bee” and neighbours came to cut the wood into stove lengths. The meal that Doris prepared for the hungry men was a success. My brother Dick was still farming, so we shared implements and labour and worked together during planting, haying, and harvesting. He acquired a W4 International Harvester tractor, plough, cultivator, and a drop-head hay loader. His land was ready earlier than ours so we planted his spring crops first. In haying time, we alternated each year about who started first. Harvest times at each farm were determined by the ripeness of the grain.
Doris offered to continue working to supplement our income. I was uncomfortable with this, mostly because she would be associating with the people in whose presence I was uncomfortable. We also needed time to improve our farmhouse living space and become accustomed with living together. We both agreed to have children, and Doris wished to continue playing some ball games. We agreed she would not go back to work. I found it unsettling when she left early in the afternoon for a ball game. I was home alone, just starting evening chores. I began to wonder: Had I made the correct decision to farm? If I had no evening chores would I have joined Doris and her friends? In late June, I did join them and travelled to a game in New York State. When we returned, we were walking in the lane together, talking about our trip. I was concerned about leaving evening chores, and our mutual desire to have children. She chose that occasion to reveal that we were expecting our first child.
The Shadows of Death
Doris and I were changing, Doris more than I. It was not readily obvious at the beginning. I had to help her remember past and future events. Anticipating this to happen as we aged, we were not overly concerned. She worried a little more than I about changes in her health; she experienced frequent headaches and irregular bowel movements. Visits to her doctor were made as required. These were frequently unsatisfactory because she forgot to disclose all of her symptoms. Similarly, his diagnosis and prescribed corrective measures were forgotten. We corrected this by making a list of her health concerns and a list of all of her prescribed medications. Use of Metamucil was not included in her medication list. The list and the doctor’s diagnosis were filed electronically and updated as necessary. Doris kept a paper copy of this in her purse. I attended her appointments with her to ensure all her concerns were disclosed, and then directly received the doctor’s diagnosis. For several years, Doris regularly used Phenobarbital as protection from potential epileptic seizures. We were concerned this was affecting her memory. Dr. Upton, neurologist at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton confirmed the dosage level. Other testing (care needs) revealed the initial stages of dementia. Doris and I were advised there was no cure. Its progression could be delayed through regular exercise, especially walking, but it was difficult to get Doris to exercise regularly.
She took a long time to do things and was always “too tired.” In 2004, I had the opportunity to go to Nicaragua on mission work from Duff ’s Church. Would Doris be able to care for herself? A plan was devised where each day I was away would be marked on the calendar with a large X. This would ensure she knew what day it was. I prepared several casseroles and stored them in our freezer, and noon meals were available at the nearby seniors’ centre. With meals taken care of and good neighbours close by, I was assured she could manage.
The walk to the seniors’ centre for meals and playing shuffleboard would provide some exercise.
In 2005 on a hot July day, Doris became lost. I was late picking her up from her hairdresser. We frequently walked together to and from there, taking a shorter route through Woodlawn Cemetery.
She decided not to wait for me, turned the wrong way as she left the hairdresser’s, and then became confused. I drove all around the area without finding her. Police were notified, and an alert was sent out. About two hours later, she found her way home, very hot and upset. Police were notified and came to speak with her. Their recommended cool bath, followed by a long nap, revived her.
It was taking Doris longer and longer to look after personal hygiene, dressing, and eating meals. She had extreme difficulty choosing clothes to wear and food to eat. Volunteers at the seniors’ centre were very patient, but I was becoming impatient. It was very trying for me. I tried to ensure she arrived on time for her various activities, including shuffleboard. She did not realize that when she was late she was inconveniencing others. Paradoxically, she was a very good and competitive player. When we did arrive to play, she was cheerful and recognized everyone. She was much admired and highly respected.
Irregular and difficult bowel movements became frequent problems, and she took more and more time in the washroom. When we were at home, I could investigate. Away from home, I sometimes asked a female friend to check for me. We wondered if Metamucil, a fibre supplement to develop regularity, might be accumulating in her system. Her doctor recommended drinking plenty of water, using a different laxative, and eating more high fibre food. Doris did not like the laxative he suggested, although we did begin eating more of the proper vegetables. The problem continued and required several professional interventions.
Doris had two fused vertebrae in her upper spine. Her left wrist did not function normally following a severe fracture in December 2000. She also had osteoporosis. Besides chronic tiredness, her body ached. We arranged for regular massage treatments, which relaxed her and made her feel better. One day, I was again late in arriving for her following a treatment. She decided to walk to meet me but went the wrong way. After wandering for a half hour, she returned to the massage parlour. Staff there telephoned me as I was about to, once again, report her missing.
Doris had another “care needs” test. She rated only as “low” — fifteen out of thirty. We were relieved, but shortly after that I noted her taking a wrong turn when walking alone to the seniors’ centre. Because I was watching, I was able to call out the correct direction. Awakening one night after midnight, I found her gone and our exterior door unlocked. I entered the hall and met her returning from attempting to discard garbage in the garbage room that was locked at night.
I encouraged her to not lock the bathroom door when she was looking after her morning personal hygiene. One morning, I heard her fall. She had forgotten and the door was locked. I used a short section of stiff wire to stick through the door knob to release the lock.
Fortunately, she was not lying in front of the door. She was semi-conscious, so I called 911. Several tests were taken during the five hours in the emergency ward. Everything appeared normal, and she was allowed to go home. Early in September, we were spending a few days at our trailer north of Durham. Needing to use the bathroom before daylight one morning, she went out the outside door. I felt the cool air, awakened, and discovered her on the ground outside. She was unhurt, and I was able to help her up. Those events concerned us, so the Community Care Access Centre agreed to another “care needs” test.
Doris did not do as well this time. Her needs were rated as high! We both agreed — she reluctantly — that we should investigate retirement and/ or nursing home care. Together we visited the services offered by the village of Riverside Glen. If I would not be staying with her, secure facilities were recommended. We completed the tour, and Doris emphatically said, “I do not want to be here!”
Thursday, October 18, was “hair day.” It was still difficult to get her there on time. I picked up a copy of the Wellington Advertiser while waiting for her. When she was finished, we went to the seniors’ centre for lunch. Friends and acquaintances greeted her cheerfully and complimented her on her appearance. That night, we were late going to bed. Doris’s bowels were still irregular. We disagreed on treatment, differing about her doctor’s suggestion as opposed to her regular regime. To my continuing regret, I retired without waiting for her. About three twenty a.m., I was awakened by a loud noise. Doris was lying in the fetal position on the bedroom floor.
Thankfully, she was conscious. As I attempted to help her up, she complained of pain in her hip and pelvic area. I dialled 911, and soon she was being examined in the emergency area of Guelph General Hospital. X-rays did not reveal bone fractures; however, she could not bear weight on her left leg. She was admitted to the hospital shortly after noon.
The hospital physician requested additional information about Doris’s medication list. I neglected to tell him about her regular use of Metamucil. That evening, they were about to prescribe Tylenol Two to relieve Doris’s pain. I objected because it contained codeine, a contributor to constipation. I now regret suggesting morphine because Doris became disoriented. Extra prune juice was provided, and the nursing station alerted that Doris required this regularly, and that they needed to pay close attention to avoid severe constipation. She was still in pain.
Further x-rays revealed no fracture, but she was still unable to put weight on her left leg. A pelvic area ultrasound examination revealed two hairline fractures; one in the cusp of her hip, the other in the pelvis. Guelph Wellington Community Care Access Centre staff conducted another test to determine Doris’s need for care. She rated twenty-six out of thirty — very high need. I was surprised they would do the test while she was sedated. Were it not for the confirmed hairline fractures, she would have been considered ready for alternate level of care. The next day, Doris was unable to eat. She was very, very constipated. Nursing shifts changed just after being advised of Doris’s need for special attention to avoid this. Her irregularity and use of Metamucil was not listed in her medication file, so her special needs were not revealed to all involved. She endured a very painful, humiliating experience to partially relieve this condition.
Doris began to improve. Gradually, she could bear a little weight on her left leg, using a walker and help from a nurse. I received another visit from a CCAC social worker. Doris was well enough for alternate level of care. That meant, first, we must begin paying for her time in hospital at a rate based on her annual income. Second, we must choose three nursing homes to apply to for residency. This was a complete surprise to me. We had previously considered the possibility of a nursing home. Now I was anticipating her transfer to a rehabilitation centre. The social worker argued that Doris’s dementia was such that she did not qualify. I was devastated. Another shock was to learn that if there was no room in the nursing homes we chose, the Ministry of Health, via the CCAC, would decide on the home! There was no room in any of the nursing homes we chose. On November 21, Doris was transferred, as a transition patient, to the Grand River Hospital in Freeport. “Transition” I later learned, meant transition to a nursing home when space became available. More surprises were to come. The first surprise was that new patients to Freeport must bring their own hair shampoo and hand soap. No one had told us that. Also, the CCAC head office was in the region of Waterloo. Guelph/Wellington CCAC was a subsidiary of Waterloo, so the region of Waterloo CCAC now had jurisdiction over the nursing home placement.
The transfer of Doris’s medical history while in Guelph General was incomplete. She was still showing signs of constipation and was unable to eat very much. I needed to be insistent. With help from a sympathetic nurse, I was successful in obtaining all the records and eventually discussing them with the house doctor. With the co-operation of the resource nurse, I successfully had both hospitals’ medical history of Doris provided to our home doctor. We reviewed these in his office early in January. No one affirmed it, but all alluded to the probability that dementia was responsible for Doris’s condition.
I acquired a very good paper entitled “Understanding the Dementia Experience,” by Jennifer Ghent-Fuller, BA , RN , and M.Sc.N. of the Alzheimer Society of Canada in Cambridge, Ontario. I found it through searching the Internet. This helped me understand what was happening to Doris.
I was very disappointed that Doris was not receiving walking rehabilitation. Sue and Bruce [Doug and Doris’ daughter and son-in-law] brought Doris a wheeled walker. With their help, and others, Doris became much more mobile. Assistance was still needed as she did have difficulty remembering how to use it. She had difficulty chewing and swallowing food. Food preparation was changed frequently from all liquid to minced food. Doris never could tolerate minced food, always finding that it scattered inside her mouth and made it more difficult to swallow. I was very concerned. She was unable to digest food however prepared, and then was sick to her stomach. Bowel movements were difficult, infrequent, and painful.
We did enjoy quality time together. Early in December, hospital volunteers prepared and served Christmas dinner. Patients’ spouses or other family members were invited, and the meal was delicious. I insisted that Doris be given her food as normally prepared. She did not eat very much but seemed to enjoy it. Entertainment followed. The next day, I became ill with a severe chest cold. I was afraid to visit and missed eight days. Shortly before Christmas, we were granted permission for Doris to go out to help celebrate George Pentelow’s eighty-fifth birthday. We celebrated Christmas Day at Nancy Dickieson’s, and then Doris was permitted to be home overnight. In February, we helped celebrate Karla’s birthday. We enjoyed a lovely visit with Karla’s Grandpa Dickieson and other family members at Twin Oaks Nursing Home. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Doris participated in these activities. She was weak from eating so little, but we caught mini glimpses of her vibrant personality.
They held musical entertainment with a sing song that Friday afternoon, and Doris enjoyed it. Her feet were always moving, keeping time with the music. They had a bingo game and Doris needed help with the bingo cards. They had slotted covers to move over the number as called instead of little tokens, and she could not learn that new method.
The CCAC worker advised us that this section of the hospital would close at the end of February. Doris’s care would be transferred unilaterally back to Guelph/Wellington, and she would likely be moved to Arthur. Sue was aware there would soon be room available in Maryhill, where Bruce’s father and other relatives were. A lively discussion ensued with an unhappy Guelph/Wellington social worker.
I reluctantly agreed that Doris would go to Arthur, unless Maryhill became available. To our relief, room did become available in Maryhill, and Doris would be transferred there on February 25.
I was becoming excited. I obtained permission to bring Doris home to spend the next day at home. It would be February 22, our sixty-first wedding anniversary. I hoped Doris would be feeling well and alert. We needed to talk about her move to Maryhill. Susan and Bruce had left the day before to go to Australia for a holiday. Karla [Doug and Doris’ granddaughter] and I had a lunch date in St. Jacobs. Before going to the hospital, I planned to purchase a corsage for Doris. I was late leaving Karla so did not have time. I hurried to visit. When I arrived, Doris immediately confided, “I am not feeling very well!” I had heard this expression before, but as we visited and talked, she frequently felt better. Today I noticed more emphasis in her voice. I had some mixed fresh fruit with me and offered her some. She usually enjoyed it, but this time she declined.
Just then, Isabel Crow and George Pentelow arrived for a visit. I suggested she use her walker and we all go to the lounge for privacy. Before we reached the lounge, Doris collapsed on the floor. Nurses quickly appeared to assist, and soon she was back in her bed. She had suffered a massive stroke. We previously had given each other power of attorney for health. Neither of us wished to be kept alive in the absence of substantial recovery or improvement in the quality of life.
Karla obtained a corsage and brought it to the hospital. Judy came home, and Sue and Bruce cancelled the rest of their holiday and came home. I remained two nights with Doris until they arrived. Late one night, Scott, Karla, and Krista [Doug and Doris’ grandchildren] serenaded Doris with lovely singing.
The lady in the next bed enjoyed it and joined in. Doris did not regain consciousness. She died in my arms early in the morning of February 26. Judy and Sue had been with Joanne when she died. They both assured me that Doris was relaxed from the sedatives administered, but I was apprehensive. Just before dying, Doris managed a long mournful moan. It troubled and grieved me greatly.
I recalled the biblical record of the last questioning words of Jesus from the cross, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” I knew that God had not forsaken her. I pondered, and it has remained with me, the mystery of the depth of our awareness as we pass from mortality into immortality.
A frequent stressful time for Doris was after the evening meal. She would beg me to stay with her. Holding hands soothed her as we watched the evening news. She loved watching Wheel of Fortune. When it came on TV, she was more relaxed, and I could go home. I was holding her hand as she was dying until I let go to swab her dry mouth. I lay beside her for several minutes after her last breath. As I finally left her side, I discovered both her hands firmly wrapped about the stump of my left arm.
Reverend Marty and his wife, Barb; Krista and Scott; and Sue, Judy, Karla, and Ian [Doug and Doris’ grandchildren] were all there. Over the last several years, Doris, aware of her increasing dependence upon me, repeatedly warned me, “You must not die before me!” Her wish was granted. As long as I live, I shall remember our grandson Ian’s comment, “Until death us do part.”
Doris’s funeral was held on March 1, 2008. Duff ’s Church was filled and overflowing. It was a fitting tribute to a wonderful woman, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, neighbour, and friend.
J.M. Frey is the author of TRIPTYCH (Dragon Moon Press), and “The Once and Now-ish King” in WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME (Dragon Moon Press, August 2011), THE DARK SIDE OF THE GLASS (Double Dragon Publishing, June 2012), and “Whose Doctor?” in DOCTOR WHO IN TIME AND SPACE (McFarland Press, Fall 2012). She holds a BA in Dramatic Literature, where she studied playwriting and traditional Japanese theatre forms, and a Masters of Communications and Culture, where she focused on fanthropology. She is active in the Toronto geek community, presenting at awards ceremonies, appearing on TV, radio, podcasts, live panels and documentaries to discuss all things fandom through the lens of Academia, and has lectured at the Pop Culture Association of America’s Annual Conference (San Francisco), at the University of Cardiff’s ‘Whoniversal Appeal’ Conference, and the Technology and Pedagogy Conference at York University. Frey’s pie-in-the-sky dream is to one day sing a duet with John Barrowman.
Doug Gilmour has lived through the better part of the twentieth century and on to current times. He wrote his memoirs, Throughout A Successful Life, to record memories of his mother, experiences of rural life and wartime during the twentieth century and to prove that experiencing adversity and challenge need not discourage or deter one from achieving success in many ways. The challenges that Doug and his wife, Doris, met and conquered throughout their life together are poignantly chronicled, including Doris’ fight with Alzheimer’s disease. A Successful Life: Overcoming Adversity with Persistence is a wonderful record of one ordinary man’s extraordinary journey through life.