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Speaker forum on dementia believes ‘stories are medicine’

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Tara Jeffrey

Just when she needed her most, Eve Morgan knew something was wrong with her mother.

The local radio personality had just had her first baby, but her 55-year-old mom Daphne was not her normal self.

“As a family, my siblings and I knew something was going on — she was no longer that capable woman who raised us.”

Daphne was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, news that left her family devastated. Morgan’s children would never get to know their real grandmother.

“She should have been chasing around her grandkids, babysitting, and enjoying life,” said Morgan, who visits her mother, now 71, daily at Sumac Lodge in Sarnia. “For most of my adult life, this disease has robbed me of my mom.”

Morgan is one of three panelists who will share their stories at the Sarnia Library Auditorium on Dec. 8 at Mini-Speaks: Dementia, a branch of Sarnia Speaks held in partnership with the Good Grief Committee.

“There’s just so many losses for the family in this journey,” said Elaine Walker, a retired hospital chaplain who still officiates funeral services and volunteers with VON. “I’ve really seen it from the inside — so the topic of dementia and grieving is near and dear to my heart.”

She helped form the Good Grief Committee earlier this year in hopes of promoting healing of various forms of grieving in the community.

“We started brainstorming the idea of bringing in a speaker and a few people said we should touch base with Danielle Cooper and the very effective format of Sarnia Speaks,” Walker said of the successful event launched earlier this year, covering topics like addiction and mental health. “So we got together and invited Danielle and it sort of took off from there.”

The open dialogue is intended to be a safe space to listen, contribute or learn about dementia, which affects some 2,800 people in Sarnia-Lambton over age 65, said Christine Wright, education co-ordinator with the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia-Lambton, who will moderate the event.

“The grief related to dementia is often not recognized,” said Wright. “Care partners experience grief for a person who is alive since there are ongoing losses as the person with dementia progresses through their journey.

“Friends and family often react differently given that it isn’t a death from a sudden chronic illness,” she added. “It is important for care partners to recognize the stress this grief can cause and reduce the risk of compassion fatigue.”

Also speaking at the event are Bob Lewis, and 12-year-old Brianne Machan.

“It’s an important reminder that children can play a part in this journey of grief; sometimes they can be the forgotten mourners,” said Walker, noting that Machan will share the story of her “Nanny.”

“I always think it’s good to include children to the extent that they’re comfortable.”

Sharing our journeys, she noted, can be therapeutic.

“Stories are medicine,” she said. “Pain is treated, but suffering needs to be shared.”

And despite the darkness of dementia, it’s important to find hope.

“This disease is bigger than you can imagine, but there is no need to suffer in silence,” said Morgan, who is also the events coordinator for the local Alzheimer’s society, which offers one-on-one counseling, education, support groups, the Mindful Music program and other supports.

“And every once in a while, there are still those surprising moments when you see a glimmer of that person,” she added. “Deep down, she is still there.”


WHAT: Mini Speaks: Dementia (Presented by Sarnia Speaks and the Good Grief Committee)

WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

WHERE: Sarnia Library Theatre

DETAILS: Free and open to the public



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