When I turned 61 in 2011, I was diagnosed with cerebral microvascular disease, a precursor of dementia. I retired from my job as the associate director of Gender Studies at the University of Utah. Since I have always processed my life stages by writing about them, I started keeping a journal about the effect of my brain’s unraveling on my identity. Five years later, I completed a book-length memoir, MEMORY’S LAST BREATH: FIELD NOTES ON MY DEMENTIA, which is forthcoming from Hachette Books in June 2017. But dementia does not hold still. Like anyone with a degenerative brain disease, I continue to dement every day, never done until I die. Every time my brain suffers an additional insult, I have less brain power to puzzle out my remaining “self.” There will come a time when I don’t care or don’t know who I am. Until then, though, I hope to maintain this website with the help of my saintly and tech-savvy husband, Peter.
THE STORY OF THE HOME PAGE PHOTO
My husband Peter and I met each other in a Physics class at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, in 1967. I was 17 and he 19. We started “going steady,” as we said in those days, about a year later. The photo above shows us at a university dance—called a bokjol in Afrikaans—on Friday, March 28, 1969. I can give the exact date because of our fancy dress costumes: we are wearing pajamas under a white sheet that enfolds both of us, a costume intended to evoke John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s weeklong “performance ‘peace’” honeymoon that started three days earlier.
That was then. Here we are now, 47 years later, during one of our whenever-we-can-get-away “honeymoons,” this time in Las Vegas.
You can learn more about me and my dementia by following a series of short films that VideoWest is making of me and my family.
I was born in South Africa in 1949, the year apartheid became official. Peter and I met as university students and married in 1971. In 1984, when we were in our mid-thirties, we emigrated from South Africa to the US with our young children, Marissa (7) and Newton (4). Today our children are in their mid-thirties. Marissa is married to Adam and they have a little boy, Dante (3). Newton is married to Cheryl and they have a son, Kanye (9), and a daughter, Aliya (6).
As new immigrants, we could seldom afford to go to South Africa as a family. Once we were somewhat established, we did manage a few family trips. Since we had our first grandchild, I had a yearning for us all to visit South Africa together once more. When I was diagnosed with dementia, my wish became more urgent. For Christmas 2014, my brothers and sisters in South Africa helped us buy tickets so that all 9 of us could make that journey. In my blog, you will get to know more about my family and how they support me and each other as we grapple together with my fly-away self. For starters, here is a video of us, the Salt Lake City Saunderses, thanking our generous South African siblings for the plane tickets.