Interview with Irene Frances Olson, Author of REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO
I had the pleasure of reading REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, a novel about a caretaker’s experiences with an Alzheimer’s patient, the narrator’s own father, in the Seattle, Washington area. The author, Irene Frances Olson, cared for her father, who suffered from the same disease. She currently participates in various organizations dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients and their family and friends.
What kinds of novels do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Any nonfiction?
I always read Fiction and Non-fiction simultaneously. Lately I have been shying away from any Fiction themes that are too intense, violent, or suspenseful as I have enough intensity in my life without having my leisure time fall into that category. With that said, however, I will most likely return to such themes when/if the world calms down a bit. Current authors in fiction I tend to always read: Elizabeth Gilbert, Kristin Hannah, Elizabeth Berg, and any unknowns that pop up that look intriguing.
My non-fiction reading leans towards autobiographies, self-improvement, and topics that teach me something I don’t already know – so that leaves my TBR pile a pretty tall one. Current authors in non-fiction toward which I gravitate: Anne Lamott, Brené Brown, Pico Iyer, Cheryl Strayed, Haemin Sunim, Michael Singer, Piero Ferruci…and many, many, more.The protagonist for REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, Colleen, seeks solace in a support group for caretakers of Alzheimer’s patients. If one were just starting on the journey of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, where could that individual find such a group in the real world?
Those groups should exist in just about every community out there. The best place to start ones’ search in the US: www.alzheimersassociation.org; in Canada: www.alzheimer.ca; in Australia: www.fightdementia.org/au; and quite truthfully, an internet search will find similar support organizations world-wide. For those caregivers that are not able to leave the house, there are even telephone/online video groups that have proven quite helpful, something that is occurring worldwide right now, given the social distancing we are encouraged to exercise.
Colleen is the emotionally strong caretaker of her father but is brought to tears on a number of occasions. Can you share the most difficult part in your journey as a caretaker or family member of an Alzheimer’s patient?
The diagnosis itself brought me to my knees because I already knew what to expect. I worked in long-term care in Washington State – in both assisted living and memory care – so I was quite familiar with the disease’s progression timeline. With that said, however, each disease is different because every individual is different. If ever one class of disease could be characterized as unpredictable, dementia is that class.
Many of my crying-jags, however, occurred after visits with my father. I was a long-distance caregiver, flying to his assisted living/memory care location every 4-6 weeks, staying a week at a time, and meeting with his care staff and doing what I could to improve my father’s life experience: picnics, walks in the park, always focusing on getting him outside. Because I am human, I would get frustrated at times and raise my voice or simply show my impatience toward his inability to remember something I had told him just minutes earlier. Upon my return home, my husband would be on the receiving end of my download, telling him how guilty I felt having demonstrated my frustrations towards my extraordinarily loving father who had no choice but to be as he was. My husband would assure me that Dad didn’t take it personally and you wanna know something? I knew that was the case and I also knew that Dad forgot my mini-outbursts almost as soon as they had ended. I recall apologizing to Dad for raising my voice and he responded, “When was that? I don’t remember you doing that.” Therein is a blessing and a curse, all wrapped up into one.In the novel, Colleen has a number of great individuals on whom she can rely. Who was your biggest support while taking care of your father?
Colleen’s brother, Jonathan, was not a support, which does not at all reflect the reality of my caregiving experience. My brother and sister were very supportive, knowing that my work experience was something they couldn’t replicate so they were very grateful for all I did for our dad. But hands down, my husband was my greatest support; he witnessed the emotional and physical toll on me and supplemented my life in every way he possibly could.
Have you learned of any new developments in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease since finishing your novel?
Unfortunately, there are still no treatments, still no vaccine, still nothing that makes a dent in the disease’s existence or progress. What has improved, however, are sources of outreach to support the family caregiver and their loved ones. Whether respite care (also called adult daycare) provided by professionals or church people, or an extraordinary literary resource, AlzAuthors (www.alzauthors.com) that has curated hundreds of books – both fiction and non-fiction – to support the family care provider, the world has come to the realization that if we can’t beat it, we need to support its victims, and that’s what many worthy organizations are doing.
What are you working on now?
My main focus is family, especially my 3-year old grandson for whom my husband and I provide care several days a week, and our future grandchild who will arrive in September. But I have another completed novel with a theme that focuses on the similarities between us all – regardless of economic, educational, or cultural standing. In my almost 67-years of life, I’ve come to really appreciate how important is community, and a diverse community can be a very affirming and supportive element of one’s life. I will self-publish this title within the next several months. Your followers can track my goings’ on by checking out my blog: www.babyboomersandmore.com, aka, Living: the ultimate team sport, and my author website, www.irenefrancesolson.com.
Thank you, Irene, for your candid responses. Good luck with your current project!
Daniel Oliver has bachelor’s degrees in both Spanish and Physician Assistant Studies. In writing his debut novel, The Long Road, he drew inspiration from his experience as a physician assistant in a psychiatry ward and his own struggles with mental illness and hospitalizations.
Oliver is a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, where he enjoys the single life–and the oysters.
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