BY LES McCARTHY
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
February 4, 2015
Learning to swim brings trepidation, anxiety and fears of sinking and drowning. However, after much splashing about and water up the nose, we realize that if we relax and lie along the top of the water and let Nature take her course, allowing our buoyant bodies to do what they do when in water…we float.
So it was with Whidbey Islander Allan Ament when he found himself immersed in the caregiving of his wife, Deloris, an award-winning journalist and author, after her debilitating stroke.
Learning to Float, Ament’s book-length memoir, chronicles the journey of a husband-turned-caregiver and the altered lives that became the new reality for him and his wife. The memoir is an emotional roller-coaster ride that describes the couple’s ups and downs as they are plunged into a life of hospitals and rehab. The heartbreak of limited cognitive and physical abilities, slow progress and set-backs is tempered by shared love and profound respect.
Ament is an engaging, humorous man whose background runs the gamut from criminal defense lawyer to university professor to massage therapist to caregiver to author. He grew up in Kentucky, landed in Seattle, and 13 years ago came to Whidbey Island “kicking and screaming.” But his effusive praise and palpable gratitude for friends and community makes it clear there’s no place he’d rather be.
What prompted Ament to “go public” about such a private matter and the life he shares with Deloris?
“The stroke’s impact on her brain had her processing information and interacting with the world in the only way she was able,” he said. “The main adjustment to be made was my own. I had to figure out how to make the best of a situation I never would have chosen. I realized the lessons I was learning needed to be shared.”
A week after Deloris’s stroke, Ament began writing informational emails to friends and family. When they urged him to share his story, the idea for Learning to Float—the story of their ever-changing, sometimes frustrating journey toward a new normal—was born.
Possessing an inquisitive mind and motivated to better understand his new role, he began reading books on caregiving. Many of these “how to’s” struck him as removed, as if the authors hadn’t lived the situations about which they wrote. “I started reading memoirs and found that there were very few from a male’s perspective,” he recalled. “And I realized that being male presented different challenges and emotional obstacles that females might not face.”
This summer will mark two anniversaries for Allan and Deloris Ament—the 10th anniversary of her stroke and, more significantly, their 28th wedding anniversary. Their “post-stroke” life has taught them unanticipated lessons in understanding, determination and resiliency.
How does Ament hope others will benefit from reading Learning to Float?
“I wanted to share the importance of laughter, and that, as difficult as it may be, it’s okay to ask for help.” A friend had told Ament that asking for help was giving his friends a gift; it allowed them to do something for him. When so much is out of the realm of control, people want to do something. That simple remark “helped me reframe my mindset and resolve my internal conflict that asking for help implied inadequacy. It gave me permission to figure out what I really needed and ask for it.”
Although Ament’s story is unique, his experience is not. Challenge, change, illness, grieving are all too commonplace in our lives. It seems everyone knows someone who has lived or is living a version of this story. Learning to Float could be the story of your life—or that of someone you love—told with a clear voice and an open heart.
“I hope the account of my journey helps others facing similar challenges,” Ament writes in the preface to his book. “Perhaps from my story, and from the guidelines for floating I’ve learned, they may find clues that will help them learn to float.”
Join Allan Ament for his book launch at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island (20103 State Route 525, Freeland WA 98249) on Saturday, February 7 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. The event includes readings, signings and music.
Les McCarthy is an author, tutor, life coach, and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition and Health for the Family” calendars. She is a recent transplant to the island and is busy loving every glorious moment while tending to the needs of her geriatric fur factory and local deer, squirrels and slugs.
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