Excerpted from “You Got to Have Friends”
Ultimately, I found the strongest and most important strategy for learning to float was, and is, to have friends and to maintain social interactions. Isolation breeds loneliness and ultimately depression. Becoming mired in my own story to the exclusion of everyone else’s can result in an inability to function, in resenting what I perceive to be the cause of this situation—in my case, Deloris’s reduced capacities. Even though my contact was primarily through email and phone calls, I valued maintaining friendships and sought out opportunities for interaction with others.
About a year after returning home, Deloris started going to the local Senior Center three days a week. There she could develop new friendships and have her own social interactions. I scheduled lunches and walks with friends during these break in my caregiving responsibilities. These connections made me feel some normalcy was returning to my life. The inherent insular nature of life on South Whidbey–it was a small community on an island after all–encouraged the development of relationships with what Seattle based therapist Marv Thomas calls “familiar strangers.” These people, who appear in our lives on a somewhat regular basis either because of their relationships with others (think degrees of separation) or the roles they play in our lives (e.g., the cashier at the grocery store, the librarian, physical therapists, doctors) add another important layer of social dimension. It wasn’t that I had deep or personal connections with any of these people; I didn’t. Yet I would see them with some regularity, or perhaps interact with them with a cordiality that provided a type of comfort I enjoyed, and perhaps needed.
I moved from the East Coast to the Northwest because I did not want to live through any more cold, icy winters. Then in December of 2006, I returned from a business trip to Atlanta, where the weather was so cold a walk across the hotel parking lot was more than I could handle; what awaited me at home on Whidbey was even worse. The streets were slick with ice, frost covered the trees, and, most disturbing, the electricity was out. A major wind and ice storm had moved through the area, taking down power lines and plunging all of Whidbey Island, along with much of Seattle and surrounding areas, into unheated darkness. For almost five days, we had no heat, lights, or—since the pump is electric—running water. Deloris spent much of the time huddled under blankets, wearing a coat, hat, and gloves. I was only slightly more mobile. Since we had a gas stove, I was able to cook and make coffee. Some friends near Seattle had regained power several days later, and when I called, invited us to come and stay with them. When we arrived, they greeted us with hugs, warmth, and great food and wine.
About The Book
Author: Allan Ament
Allan and Deloris Ament’s lives take a dramatic turn when Deloris suffers a debilitating stroke. No longer an equal partner in marriage, Allan becomes Deloris’s primary caregiver, responsible for maintaining their household and her well-being. Learning to Float describes Allan’s transformation from a criminal defense attorney to a compassionate, emotionally vulnerable caregiver. Drawing on contemporaneously written emails and private journal entries, Ament unflinchingly exposes his emotional, mental, and physical ups and downs, consistently focusing on the love, humor, and opportunities for personal and spiritual growth he experiences on this journey. Anyone with the possibility of becoming a caregiver for a loved one, now or in the future, will benefit from the insights Ament shares. Everyone will be buoyed by the love Allan and Deloris experience as they face their new normal.
After successful careers as a criminal defense attorney, higher education administrator and instructor, and day spa manager, Allan Ament now enjoys retirement with his wife, an award-winning journalist and author, and their semi-neurotic cat (are there other kinds?) They live on an island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, where, in addition to writing and being his wife’s primary caregiver, Ament serves as board chair for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (nila.edu). His work has previously appeared in academic, professional, and literary journals, and is included in an upcoming anthology, Being: What Makes a Man. Learning to Float is his first book-length work.
Win a signed paperback copy of the book along with a Whidbey Island, WA goodie basket with bonus Seattle coffee and mug.