When Fran Tilton Shelton first fell in love with her husband, twenty years her senior, she might have considered that one day she’d need to take on a caregiving role. But that’s not the kind of thing you think of at thirty-five, or when you’re falling in love.
In honor of National Caregivers month in November, Lakewood will host a special author talk with Shelton, on Thursday, November 2, followed by a discussion of her book, “No Winter Lasts Forever: A Memoir of Loving Bob and Loathing Alzheimer’s,” on Tuesday, November 14.
Shelton’s heartfelt journey delves into her husband’s battle against Alzheimer’s, offering a candid portrayal of her experiences and the transformation she underwent as a caregiver. Reflecting on her initial observations as she watched her husband gradually succumb to memory lapses, Shelton remembers trying to rationalize these moments, attributing them to stress or circumstances. She recounts a time when he left his luggage behind at an airport rental car desk, another when he wound up lost for hours after going to the theater, and an erratic drive during a hurricane. At first, these incidents seemed like isolated occurrences, easily dismissed.
Accepting and becoming a caregiver
The turning point came when her husband asked for help with a writing project. As a teacher and theologian, regularly writing academic papers, sermons, prayers, and a love letter or two with ease, Shelton expected that her husband wanted her to do a straightforward task, likely typing a document. Instead, her husband presented her with a yellow legal pad filled with disjointed sentences and fragments. This chaotic collection reminded her of the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” where Russell Crowe’s character, a brilliant mathematician, scribbled equations that made little sense. This moment marked the realization that they were embarking on a new, unexpected and challenging journey.
Months later, medical tests confirmed a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Shelton, prepared or not, transitioned from being a loving wife and patient partner to a devoted caregiver. As a seasoned pastor herself, specializing in congregational care, she possessed some relevant experience but understood that a steep learning curve lay ahead.
Shelton’s account of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s paints a vivid picture of the exhaustive toll it takes — physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s a journey marked by numerous starts, stops, restarts and U-turns. While she would never wish this path upon anyone, Shelton acknowledges the personal growth and insights she gained. She hopes her journey through grief, resilience, sympathy, empathy and compassion can serve as an inspiration to others.
Join Lakewood for two events; an Author Chat and a book discussion
On Thursday, November 2, from 6 – 7:30 PM, Shelton will share both her book and personal stories and insights. On Tuesday, November 14, from 5:30 – 7 PM, Emily Stacken, a death doula, will lead an in-depth dialogue on the book and the realities of caregiving and the unwavering strength of the human spirit. Stacken is a frequent leader for Lakewood’s Book Club which features diverse fiction and non-fiction books related to grief and remembrance.