My mom was diagnosed with young onset dementia shortly after my son was born in 2005. My daughter had just turned two. It was not a surprise as mom had been showing signs, but it was heartbreaking - she was only 62.
What I didn't know then was how much my two small children would help when faced with this disease.
Early on, we discovered things that gave mom great joy from having kids around. She loved blowing bubbles. She liked all their musical toys that played old familiar tunes. We would sing and dance together. She enjoyed Christmas tree decorating with reckless abandonment, literally throwing the decorations on the tree. My kids loved that too! She would often colour in colouring books and liked touching my son's Touch & Feel books, especially as her ability to communicate started to fade.
But what was also significant about having young children involved, was how they developed strength in the presence of the disease. From the start, my kids were gentle, non-judging and natural with my mom. Then, over time, they not only were able to look beyond the illness but learned to give loving care. And in this new role of caregivers, they became more confident. They were transforming in the face of the disease and this change helped heal my heart.
From this positive outcome, I was motivated to look for ways to help other families further engage children in the dementia experience. Often the changes kids witness from these diseases can be scary. I decided I would create a picture book to help kids understand, and encourage their involvement.
Inspired by my daughter’s observation that diseases in the brain can be compared to weeds growing in my mother’s beautiful garden, I wrote and illustrated a book using a garden metaphor to explain these illnesses based on that garden. Filled with imaginative images to draw in the young reader, Weeds in Nana’s Garden, released last month, tells the story of the bond between a grand-daughter and her grand-mother within a magical garden. Colourful painted illustrations spread across all the pages.
It is a candid yet approachable book as it covers the different stages of dementia diseases while also celebrating the remarkable strength of the heart. After the story, a Question and Answer section is included that was developed with input from kids. What’s more, to extend the reach of this effort further, I founded Flipturn Publishing to publish the work, enabling me to contribute $1 from each book purchased to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
My mom passed away from dementia in 2010. Now, 6 years later, I realize more than ever that this difficult disease revealed inspiring strength from my children that helped us all. I am thankful for this and want to share it through this story and my book.
Buy Weeds in Nana’s Garden from http://weedsinnanasgarden.com, at specific bookstores and at major online retailers like Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk.
You Are Not Alone: stories of hope, by Lisa Browning