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In the summer of 1833, a devastating cholera epidemic broke out in Kentucky, claiming hundreds of lives. Bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart delves into this sobering time in history in her new novel, River to Redemption. Readers will be captivated by this poignant and moving tale of courage, betrayal, and honor that will stick with them long after they turn the last page.

Orphaned in the cholera epidemic of 1833, Adria Starr was cared for by a slave named Louis, a man who passed up the opportunity to escape his bondage and instead chose to take care of the sick and bury the dead in Springfield, Kentucky. Twelve years later, Louis is being sold by his owners despite his heroic actions.

Adria has never forgotten what Louis did for her. She’s determined to find a way to buy Louis’s freedom. But in 1840s Kentucky, she’ll face an uphill battle. She must stand up for his freedomand in the process, find her own.

What is ONE thing you’ve learned the hard way so that others don’t have to?

I have to admit this question flummoxed me. I have learned many things the hard way but I couldn’t really think of anything I learned that might have kept someone else from taking the same hard journey to experience which is always the best teacher.

So I am sharing something I learned the hard way that perhaps can let others in the same situation at least see they aren’t the only ones to learn these hard lessons.

Mom and me

I had the best mother in the world. She showered me with love and believed I could do whatever I set out to do, even be the writer I dreamed of being. After a life well lived, Mom passed away at the age of ninety-four, but her last few years were difficult when dementia slowly stole her memory.

At first, it was little things. Something remembered wrong. Sometimes repeating things she had already told me. Worries about things that hadn’t actually happened. These were all very unusual for my mother who had an optimistic can-do attitude. She smiled and laughed easily and remembered everything. Her stories of growing up during the Great Depression became the background for my book, Angel Sister.

Mom always made crackerjacks at Christmas

So as the odd episodes of memory problems piled up, my sisters and I knew things weren’t right. Things became progressively worse until Mom needed a caretaker around the clock and eventually no longer knew us as her daughters. She drifted in time and was often a teen with the urgent need to go home because her parents hadn’t given her permission to stay away so long. Other times she was a young mother and wife who needed to care for her children and husband. And sometimes she was merely lost in a lonely sea, unable to find her way.

While being one of her caretakers, I learned the hard way. First, those repetitive comments and questions that were the first symptoms of her dementia were a minor thing that shouldn’t have bothered us at all. Secondly, I learned not to try to convince Mom of the truth that she was home or that her family members had passed away. It did no good to confront her with unhappy news that was going to be newly sad to her each time she heard it. I found it much better to simply say Dad was out in the hayfield or that her parents had gone visiting and would be home tomorrow. By the next day, Mom would be in a different time.

Curling our hair

I may be a fiction writer who continuously makes up things, but at the same time, I always respected the truth in my daily conversations. So at first, I was uncomfortable telling Mom things that weren’t true. After all, the Bible clearly condemns bearing false witness or lying, but I was confident our compassionate Lord would forgive my evasions of truth that helped keep my Mom from tears. When you are dealing with a person with memory loss, you do whatever you can to keep that person from being unhappy.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was to make the good minutes count. To rejoice in the smiles we could still share and the times when Mom was happy. I learned to let the bad times slide away from me like water down a creek. I learned to pray through the hardest times when each hour sitting with Mom seemed to last a very long time. I learned that prayer can make a difference–if not in what’s happening, then in how you can handle what’s happening.

The great grandchildren always made Mom smile

Each person caring for a loved one with dementia who is experiencing what some call the long goodbye or slow death has to find their own way along this dark path. If you are on that path, my hope is that you can find patience and even sometimes smile as you care for someone dear to you who has lost so many of the memories that tie you together.

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While I’m not sure the hard lessons I’ve learned can benefit others, it does sometimes help to know you aren’t the only one to make this sad journey and that love does make a difference even when the person you love no longer knows your name.
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, and The Gifted—as well as Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, Love Comes Home, Words Spoken True, and THE HEART OF HOLLYHILL series. She lives with her husband a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky.

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