When Gail Matthews' husband, Glenn, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 71, life for both of them changed drastically.
As Glenn began slowly deteriorating in mind and body, daily life had to be redefined.
"My husband would climb mountains, he would kayak, he would sail. He would ride his bike 26 miles. He would work out every day. He was an investor who was on top of things. He was so well read. He loved movies, the Patriots, the Red Sox, being with his grandchildren, being out socially," Gail Matthews said. "All of that was taken away from him."
The Matthewses lived in Wilmot, N.H., but have a home in Bluffton where they lived about four months a year.
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During Glenn's last two years of life, Gail began writing, "Did I Die? Managing the Mayhem of Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Guide to Peace and Quality of Life," which was published in July.
Question. Why did you begin writing "Did I Die?"
Answer. It wasn't a book at first, it was a journal. Glenn asked me to write the book. He wanted to help people, and he wanted a cure for this disease. He told me to start taking notes and to write something about it because he wanted to bring awareness to this disease. And, ironically, it came out on the day that he died.
Q. Why did you write the book?
A. We tried so hard from the time of the diagnosis, because it's just a dreadful diagnosis. We were both wanting to live a quality life and to keep on going with our animals and families and friends, and do what we normally did.
He was a fitness buff who worked out all the time. He read constantly, he invested. We tried very hard to do positive things. And that's what the book is about.
Q. What do you hope people get from this book?
A. For the caregiver, it's so hard. You get so tired. I put in the book all the little hints we had to keep quality of life going.
I used to take him to Buffalos at Palmetto Bluff. We could take our dog, and it made it a fun lunch for us. That was something he could do. We turned our normal day into a new normal.
I also had an editor say the book wasn't only good for an Alzheimer's caregiver, but for people living life and, for example, taking care of a child with disabilities.
Q. Where did the title come from?
A. One day the funeral director said: "I have your obituary on file, Gail, but not Glenn's." Glenn didn't ever want to write one. He felt you lived, you died, and that was it. So, I wrote it up and handed it to him to read when he was lucid, and he asked "Did I die?" Which, when you think of it, is what happens with the disease. Dying starts at the beginning of diagnosis, and you fight for quality of life every inch from prognosis on, and that is what we did. His name is on the book because it is his story. I was just along for the journey. Glenn was my inspiration for 54 years.
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.
"Did I Die?: Managing the Mayhem of Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Guide to Peace and Quality of Life," by Gail Matthews, is available for purchase through her publisher at Town and Country, at www.reprographic.com.
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