I was a grant writer. I really was. And that's all I was. I was quite successful at it. I secured millions of dollars for my employer. I'd started out writing grants at the University of Cincinnati Department of Family Medicine in 1978 at the age of 28. I loved it. I loved the challenge and I loved writing. I loved that job so much I kept it for 29 years.
Then, an unexpected opportunity arose. I took an early retirement at age 57 and changed from being a grant writer at that single mid-western university to doing the same at the prestigious national headquarters of the American Academy of Family Physicians in Kansas City. Being at a national organization, that job was even more challenging, and I loved it just as much as I'd loved the one in Cincinnati. I kept that job for seven years before taking another early retirement, at age 63.
My transformation, to be completed after that second retirement, actually began several years earlier, when I was still at Cincinnati. It started with a stressful life event. My life partner, Dr. Edward Theodoru, developed Alzheimer's. I became his caregiver for the next seven years, until he passed away in 2007.
That extremely stressful caregiving experience was to be the seed of an exciting transformation. Life gave me a lemon and so, although I didn't plan it and really wasn't even aware of it, I made lemonade.
While Ed was living with Alzheimer's, I kept a detailed daily journal. I chronicled his descent into dementia. I wrote about my eventual acceptance of his condition. I wrote about how I learned to interact with him and I wrote about the joyous loving visits we had near the end of his life.
Then, when he passed away, I got the idea to write a book about our 30-year relationship, focusing on the time when he had Alzheimer's. Loosely based on my journal, I originally wrote the book as a love story, but when the reviews began coming in, readers who were caregivers said it helped them a lot. And readers who were former caregivers said they wished they'd had it when they were caregivers. Thus I changed my marketing strategy -- namely, I now focus primarily on selling the memoir as one that will help caregivers.
My marketing activities subsequently carried me further into my new world. I began blogging about Alzheimer's caregiving here on The Huffington Post, on the Alzheimer's Reading Room and on Maria Shriver's website. Some of my articles have even been translated into French and published on the French Huffington Post. To date I've published more than 250 articles on the topic.
Then, after my second retirement, which I took to allow me to devote all of my time to my new endeavors, I continued blogging and also began doing public speaking on Alzheimer's caregiving.
The next stage in my transformation took place when I started volunteering to visit some ladies with Alzheimer's at a local memory care facility. This, too, has turned out to be enormously rewarding. "My ladies," as I refer to them, are so grateful for my visits and we always have a good time. One lady and I often laugh so hard we have tears streaming down our cheeks.
I always swore I'd never write another book. Nonetheless, to complete my transformation, I recently decided to write another one, together with Daniel C. Potts. A respected neurologist, he is involved in a wide range of activities in the field of Alzheimer's. Plus, his father, Lester Potts, became an artist of acclaim when he had Alzheimer's. Our book's working title is Joyous Visits to Loved Ones With Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers.
And so my transformation is complete and I am now a solid proponent of support for Alzheimer's caregivers. I now have a purpose in life, whereas when I was a grant writer it was only a job, not a passion. I am truly blessed to have this new career, which I anticipate will last throughout this, my final stage of life.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.