A Conversation with Sharon Marchisello

In early 2000, author Sharon Marchisello’s mother, Lolita, seemed to understand that something was different and once told her daughter “Losing your mind is a terrible thing.” She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the whole family was learning how to adjust to life with a loved one who was quickly changing.

Years later, with past conversations with Lolita still on her mind, Sharon was prompted to write a mystery thriller book titled Going Home. She wanted to explore what it would be like to question a witness (or suspect) with memory issues.

I recently had my own Q&A conversation with Sharon about her mom and her research for Going Home.

What were some of the early signs that your mother was developing Alzheimer’s?

We lived in different cities, so I probably missed a lot of the early signs. I remember she’d repeat herself a lot, and ask the same questions over and over. I wrote it off to her not listening to me. I also noticed that when she read a magazine, she’d always put a checkmark at the top of an article she’d finished. (My brother and I used to laugh at this. “Can’t she tell if she’s already read something?” we’d ask ourselves.) And she was always a list-maker, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a sign of dementia.

Was Lolita in good health with the exception of Alzheimer’s?  

She was in very good health into her late seventies–until she got a diagnosis of lung cancer. (And she’d never smoked a cigarette in her life.) They found the tumors when they ran routine tests before a scheduled hip replacement surgery. They ended up canceling the hip replacement and removing one of her lungs. After her surgery, Alzheimer’s really manifested itself, and she wasn’t able to live on her own again. It seemed like she never came out from under the anesthesia.

I was not aware of a link between anesthesia with surgery and Alzheimer’s. What is the story there? Did the doctors share this risk with you?

I didn’t talk to her doctors; my brother might have had that conversation. My mom was quite independent up until the time she went in for her surgery.  We’d made arrangements for her to go to a nursing home for after-care when her surgery was over. She ended up staying there three months, and even when she was released, she needed in-home care.

I remember a friend of mine told me about the effects of anesthesia on the elderly, and I read articles about that afterward.

Part of the problem too was that I think my mother gave up when she was diagnosed with cancer. She assumed it would kill her, and she almost seemed disappointed when it didn’t. When I saw her in the nursing home (and afterward, when she was back at home), she seemed very uninterested in life. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t do her physical therapy, she didn’t want to do much except stare at the TV or sleep. I’m sure those habits contributed to the dementia, and I believe she suffered from depression as well. 

What types of things were you able to do for your mom that brought her joy or made her smile? 

There wasn’t a lot of joy in her life the last year or so. Things I used to do, like cook for her, show her pictures of my travels, barely produced a reaction. Especially not cooking her favorite foods; she all but stopped eating. (One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is difficulty swallowing; the body forgets how to do it.)

She used to love watching the Dallas Cowboys football games. One Sunday, we watched the game together, and the Cowboys lost. Mom was devastated. She took a nap afterward. Later, my brother called, and she told him all about the game. “We won! We pulled it out,” she told him. I suspect she was remembering a different game, but it was real to her.

How did you manage working full-time and spending time with your mom? 

I worked in Atlanta, and my mother lived in Tyler, Texas. Fortunately, my job was with an airline, so I was able to fly there free a couple of times a month. I still had to rent a car and drive two hours from the airport to her house, so it made for a grueling weekend. (And my free pass travel is standby only, so I didn’t always get on the first flight I tried.)

Did Lolita have siblings and if so, did they suffer from any type of dementia?

My mom had a younger brother and an older sister. As far as I know, neither had cognitive difficulties.

Her brother pre-deceased her; her sister lived to be 89, and her mind was sharp until the end.

The family did have some history of mental illness and depression, however. One of her aunts spent time in a mental institution. (I didn’t get a lot of details; she died before I was born.) Two of my cousins suffered from depression, and one committed suicide at age 31.

What was the time span between the surgery and your mom’s passing?

My mom’s surgery was in December 1999 and she died in March 2001. So she lived a little over a year with Alzheimer’s (that we knew about). The cancer didn’t resurface, but she succumbed to pneumonia. She was 78 when she died.

Were you ever able to take Lolita out for short trips such as a scenic drive or to buy her something new at a store nearby? 

My mom spent three months recovering from her surgery in a nursing home. When she went back to her own home, we hired round-the-clock care. The caregivers occasionally took her out, and the family did a few times when we visited. She had purchased season tickets to the civic theatre, and one of her caregivers took her to several plays.

Is there anything you wish you had known on ways to interact with your mom, but only learned after she had passed? 

I think it’s important to be patient and respectful.

My mother and I were never close, like a lot of mothers and daughters are. Sometimes I regret that.

I’m curious about your book Going Home. When was it published and can you share a couple of examples of the “techniques” the character used in questioning the witness (or suspect) with memory issues? 

It was published in 2014 by Sunbury Press. It was my first novel to get published. Some of the conversations with Lola in Going Home were based on real conversations I had with my own mother. A lot of them go in circles and become almost humorous. In the book, no one can tell if she’s relating an incident that’s relevant to the investigation, or remembering something that happened years ago.

For example, when the crime scene investigators make them leave the house, Michelle (the protagonist) and Lola (her mother with Alzheimer’s) stay with a neighbor across the street. This neighbor had been Michelle’s babysitter when she was a child. After they’ve been sitting there for a while, chatting, having tea, Lola walks up to the neighbor and says. “I know you. You were over at my house this morning, babysitting my kids.”

That’s an interesting ambiguity! For your research, did you speak to or know of any law enforcement who have actually faced this situation? Or worse, needed to arrest someone with dementia? 

I didn’t interview anyone specifically with dementia in mind, but my husband’s cousin, a former law enforcement officer, was one of my beta readers. Also, I emailed a GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigations) representative who had been a guest at our Sisters in Crime meeting with specific questions about police procedures.

The policemen in Going Home don’t have a lot of experience with dementia suspects. They try to treat Lola like a normal witness, and she frustrates them. Also, there’s a lot of history and animosity between them and Michelle; they’ve known each other since grade school.

You referenced Sisters in Crime. What is that? 

Sisters in Crime is a national organization for mystery writers and readers. Its original mission was to combat discrimination against women in the crime fiction field. Although our membership is mostly female, we do allow men to join, and more and more are becoming involved in our group.

Atlanta, where I live, has a local Sisters in Crime chapter, and we meet once a month, often bringing in a guest speaker who is a subject matter expert. We’ve hosted police detectives, arson investigators, PIs, medical examiners, prosecutors, crime scene clean-up teams, etc. Great resources for writers of crime fiction!

What was the most surprising question or wise comment your mom ever shared with you even as she was advancing with this disease? (A sign that her brain still had lucid, insightful moments.) 

You mentioned her saying “losing your mind is a terrible thing.” And she also often lamented the fact that her own mother passed away suddenly in her sleep.

Even though she often couldn’t remember what we’d just talked about, she could recount in vivid detail stories from her childhood. Alzheimer’s sufferers tend to lose short-term memory first; long-term memories last a bit longer. 

Fortunately, she never forgot my name or the fact that I was her daughter. 

Sharon and her mom on Sharon’s wedding day 1993

Sharon likes to travel, volunteer and is the author of a second book Secrets of the Galapagos published in 2019. To learn more about Sharon, purchase her books or contact her, I’ve included her links below. I would like to thank Sharon for an interesting and candid conversation. 

Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Magazine brought Sharon and I together and I wanted to share Sally’s review of Going Home which she just posted last week.

Buy Links: 

https://amazon.com/Sharon-Marchisello/e/B00NH6N4WK/

BarnesandNoble

Social Media Links: 

Website: sharonmarchisello.com (https://smarchisello.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SLMarchisello/

Twitter

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4297807.Sharon_Marchisello

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharonmarchisello/

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/sharon-marchisello

http://sharonmarchisello.blogspot.com/  (Personal Finance blog, Countdown to Financial Fitness

Contact Info: 

Email: smarchisello@hotmail.com 


27 thoughts on “A Conversation with Sharon Marchisello

  1. This is a wonderful interview with Sharon Melanie and I hope it is read by many, particularly those with elderly parents. I looked after my mother for six years for three weeks a month and then full time for the last two when she developed dementia. I know the toll that it takes on the carer however willing you are to take on the role. It is the saddest thing in the world to see someone you have known all your life change so much over a short period of time. Sharon’s book fully deserved the review as she brought the tragedy of this condition combined with a murder mystery with mastery.. I will share in tomorrow’s blogger daily..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Sally. I will always encourage placing a spotlight on Alzheimer’s and other dementia diagnoses to help educate anyone who is looking for information (and not looking too!) I’ll freely admit that I didn’t know much about it until I was suddenly living it. Support from others facing it has become so important to me; like your own story about your mom and your own challenging years. Sharon’s story was so unique and bringing it into fiction to educate people was a brilliant idea. Thank you so much for sharing it tomorrow.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, Melanie, for your thoughtful questions and for featuring me on your blog. And Sally, thanks again for reading and reviewing Going Home. I didn’t realize you’d also gone through the experience of losing a parent to dementia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am very glad that we were able to connect Sharon. Your experiences with your mom and your book Going Home sparked an excellent conversation between us and I believe with others now too. I very much appreciate your time. Thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sharon, I read with high interest your Alzheimer’s journey with your mother. As Melanie knows, my 10-year-span of time with my Aunt Ruthie followed a similar trajectory. About five years into her disease, she broke her hip, got pneumonia, which probably hastened the decline.

    I admire how you don’t waste any part of your experience: “Some of the conversations with Lola in Going Home were based on real conversations I had with my own mother. A lot of them go in circles and become almost humorous.” Also, your well versed in forensic science it seems, a must for writers of mystery thrillers.

    Thanks for featuring Sharon today with a very in-depth interview, Melanie. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Marian. 🙂 I think your Aunt Ruthie was amazing in spite of her struggles. For many of those 10 years, she just seemed to try and live a full life as best as she could. I very much enjoyed interviewing Sharon and am happy that it brought out new aspects of Alzheimer’s (the surgery issues.) There is always something new to learn about this awful disease.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I enjoyed reading this interview and found myself nodding to many of Sharon’s memories. My mom’s issues began to manifest themselves much more after a trip to the hospital when they gave her something for her anxiety. I didn’t know anything about “Sundowners syndrome” until I witnessed it first-hand with my mom. It scared the hell out of me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Pete. Thanks for reminding me about your mom’s trip to the hospital and the medication they put her on; I had forgotten that detail, however, I did not forget the story of her onset of “Sundowners syndrome.” Experiencing that with a loved one would be devastating. Until I worked with Sharon, I had not heard of anesthesia bringing out Alzheimer’s, I find that frightening. Thanks for reading and sharing! (P.S. I like your new photo! 🙂 )

      Liked by 2 people

      1. One of my former students took that. She is a stylist who wants to become a photographer. I told her I’m putting this photo on the back of my first children’s book (Whenever that finally happens, sigh). I’m finally at the querying stage as I’ve put a lot into my book over the past couple of years.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. How perfect is that, that a former student took a photo of you for your future children’s book! Talk about full circle! And I FULLY believe that it will happen Pete. Congrats on the querying stage!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting interview. I never thought about the idea of law enforcement interviewing a person with dementia. I’m assuming they would experience the same frustrations (and let’s face it-occasional humor) while trying to extract certain truths buried in the thought maze. My mom worked at the CIA in the agency’s early days. While visiting her at her care facility she blurted out something we had not known about her time there. While prodding her to reveal more she was already on to her next subject. A true “operative”taking her secret to the grave!
    Great read Melanie!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Pam. I love that term “the thought maze.” It’s so true. How interesting is that about your mom in the CIA? I wonder if they ever worry about aging employees “slipping” with secrets, although your mom (intentionally or unintentionally) changed the subject immediately. That’s so interesting and sounds like a great seed of an idea for Sharon to use in a future story. Thanks Pam.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing your touching story, Sharon. For those of us dealing with the decline of loved ones, your words are particularly soul-calming. Thank you, Melanie, for featuring Sharon today. 💗

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This was an informative interview, and thanks to Sharon for sharing her personal experience with her mom here Melanie. From what I’ve seen from my own experience with anesthetic and older seniors, I would definitely say going under could most definitely contribute to your mother’s cognitative abilities afteward. My husband had several procedures done in our time together and bounced right back, but not the case in the last two years before his recent passing. I noticed him taking 2-3 days after going under, to get back to his own self. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Debby, that is interesting that you could see the change in recovery time (over time) with your husband. Boy, it’s an added worry to decide whether an aging loved one should have surgery, but in Sharon’s mother’s case, lung cancer was too serious to debate it.

      Liked by 2 people

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