BY Peter Worden
Leslie loves words. They help a lot. She has sought inspiration in literature all her life from the Dalai Lama’s teachings to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. She just finished Fallen, a memoir by Sunshine Coast author Kara Stanley.
“I read to distract myself. I read to educate myself,” she says. “I read because words are wonderful and I am astonished how they create pictures and clarify thinking.”
And she’s writing her own story—one about life and death and both her own and her husband’s illnesses. In 2011, Leslie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Soon after, her husband Lincoln was diagnosed with young-onset dementia. She shared her story in a wonderfully written essay, “Adaptation,” which won CBC’s creative nonfiction contest last year. This summer, Lincoln passed away. Now she’s searching for the right words to make sense, and slowly finding them.
“Writing it down has been incredibly helpful. When you lay something out on paper you can see when it’s whiny or self-pitying. That helps me move to what I want to be, to see the gold.”
Love is what you do …
It’s a verb. An action verb.
—not something you wait
to be given to you.
Self-pitying or whiny, Leslie’s not. She spent a great deal of every day with her ailing husband. Now he’s gone, and she’s starting to do more. She looks forward to getting out this winter on her cross-country skis.
“I wouldn’t wish him gone for anything, but the truth is with Lincoln,” she pauses, and puts it this way: “He would be saying, ‘You go girl!’”
Leslie was born in Dinsmore, Saskatchewan (population: coupla hundred) in 1951. An army brat, she calls herself. The third of four. Her family lived all over Canada from B.C. to Ontario and up in Churchill, Manitoba. Teacher training at UBC brought her back out west where she met Lincoln at William’s Lake in 1975. They married in 1979.
The two crossed North Africa and Europe in a brand new VW van they bought in 1976. They came home and taught together across B.C. When they were both offered half-time jobs in Grand Forks, it was a perfect fit, since they had a kid and could both do baby-duty and breadwinning-duty.
They lived together the next 34 years in Grand Forks, in a relationship she says that had its bumps along the way. But they remained committed.
“A big change for me was deciding that love was what you did. That it was a verb. An action verb. Not something you waited to be given to you.”
ON THE GOLDEN YEARS
Retirement came for Lincoln and “then we had so much fun,” Leslie says. She retired early to join him and the couple spent three magical years together, travelling all over in another VW van. (The first one from Germany, they brought back to Canada and it blew up on the highway near Inuvik.) Their life came almost full-circle, she said. “It was just as fun as old people as it was as young people.”
Their daughters discovered Revelstoke and bought places here, and in 2015, Leslie and Lincoln followed suit with their own health in mind.
“I love it,” she says about moving to town. “It’s where we always thought we would end our days.”
Revelstoke, it turns out, is a nice place to be distracted in a good way.
“There’s so much going on here all the time. I am grateful for the physical beauty of the community and its vibrancy,” she said, adding importantly: “I am creating for myself a community that is inspiring and supportive and not entirely dependent on my kids for my social life.”
ON BEING SICK
Lincoln had Lewy body dementia, the second-most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, affect the brain regions involved with thinking, memory and motor control. As it develops, it looks like later-stage Parkinson’s symptoms.
“There is that irony and that fear because I know what it looks like,” worries Leslie, adding the two diseases are very related.
She counts her blessings. Dementia can change a person’s demeanour, sometimes turning gentle people violent, and so forth. But, aside from some paranoia, which Leslie discusses in Adaptation, the family was incredibly lucky that Lincoln stayed good-natured to the end.
“I feel so lucky for ourselves, our girls and our grandkids, that there was something still so recognizable,” she says. Lincoln could always find a smile. “He stayed gentle and sweet and funny. His sense of humour never left.”
In a serendipitous and somewhat literal sense, he lives on in Leslie’s children’s book In the Red Canoe. The book is illustrated by Laura Bifano, who, entirely by coincidence, painted a grandfather looking very much like Lincoln.
There’s also the story of her life with Lincoln that she’s been writing metaphorically and literally for the past four decades. Maybe it will be for all of us to read, or maybe just herself. She continues to write it regardless.
“Stories matter whether you’re reading them or writing them,” she reminds us, “whether you have an audience or not.”
*Leslie is by no measure the “oldest,” however, she is wise beyond her years. If someone is the oldest and wisest person in your life, and should be featured in this section, please contact, me, Peter, at: email@example.com