Rebecca Warner is the author of the new novel My Dad My Dog, which focuses on a woman who is taking care of her father, who has Alzheimer's, and her elderly dog. Her other books include Moral Infidelity and He's Just a Man. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Q: You note that My Dad My Dog was based on your own experiences. What was it like to revisit those experiences in fictional form?
A: It was a bit tricky, actually. My dad never lived with me, but I saw him every day, year in and year out, so that the love and attachment I had to him was very real and was poured into the fiction prose. But to put him in my home 24/7 for the purposes of the book required a lot of heartfelt, tearful conversations with in-home caregivers. I just wrapped all of that into the novel, but it was an emotional ride.
Q: What do you think the novel says about caring for someone with Alzheimer's?
A: A Stanford University reports that 41 percent of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies; and that caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers. Many caregivers do not have the support of family and spouses and take it all on themselves.
I think the novel says it's a darn hard job, in many cases the hardest job anyone will ever have; and it is made even more difficult because it is a job that must be done, but with no training and no compensation. Caregiving for Alzheimer's-afflicted loved ones should be considered a valuable contribution to society.
Q: What do you think it says about the relationships between humans and dogs?
A: This question gave me goosebumps because I have such strong feelings about this phenomenon. When there's love, there is such give and take of emotional support, not to mention the actual physical comfort and health benefits which both get from the relationship.
One Goodreads reviewer said it very well: "A powerful tribute to the contribution which animals make to human well-being. Yes, there is pathos here, but the biggest message is one of love and the Joy of friendship which transcends species." Isn't that lovely?
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: A better understanding of the physical and emotional toll on the familial caregiver, and the need for greater appreciation for the job they do. Maybe an uninvolved sibling to a parental caregiver will read it and realize he/she could be doing more to help. But most importantly, how family--and all species within--can give each other the strength to get through the hardest, saddest times.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A book called Ballet Barres, about a group of women who took ballet lessons together for 20 years from their beloved Madame Sophie, and who come together years later to save her from a dastardly, menacing relative who has taken over her life and is keeping her a virtual prisoner in her own home. Her life is becoming imperiled through neglect.
When the ballerinas discover the situation, they come together from all points to save her. Lots of shared memories, humor, life-lesson stories among the kick-a** women who get the job done in banishing him in the most satisfying way from Madame Sophie's life!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thanks for asking this question. One of the main reasons I wrote the book was to bring awareness to the caregiving crisis we're experiencing in this country. Sadly, and scarily, it has become much more evident during this time of coronavirus. People are moving their loved ones out of nursing homes and bringing them home, where they are doing the very hard job of caregiving.
It's a shock to many, but love motivated them to remove their loved ones from a dangerous situation. They fear their loved ones are imperiled on two levels: Catching the virus, and rapid deterioration through imposed isolation. Sometimes things have to hit a crisis level to bring about awareness.
I hope that my book will give comfort, perhaps a little hope, advice and direction to those people who find themselves in that position.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb