Comic and actor Gene Wilder died on Monday, August 29th. Only after his death, per Wilder’s wish, was it revealed that for the past three years he’d suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Going viral, a statement by Wilder’s nephew reads: “…He was eighty-three and passed holding our hands with the same tenderness and love he exhibited as long as I can remember. As our hands clutched and he performed one last breath the music speaker, which was set to random, began to blare out one of his favorites: Ella Fitzgerald….She was singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, as he was taken away.”
With a gasp, I cried remembering this delightful painting of Martha’s…
Of the 50-something posts I’ve written since last September, my most popular is the second one, Finding Unexpected Gifts Deep in a Crisis. Many readers were surprised, as was I, that a talent such as art could emerge so serendipitously out of Alzheimer’s. But in 1999, at age 51 and a year and a half after my wife was diagnosed with this disease, Martha's did.
In honor of both Martha and Gene Wilder (“Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein”), I’m sharing some of her paintings again. Since writing that second post, more than 200 readers have signed on to my blog and may not have seen these the first time around.
Our sister-in-law KK encouraged Martha to join her in an art class—four hours a week for about six months. I was surprised when Martha said ‘Yes’ because she’d always enjoyed more active things like tennis, dancing, hiking, and politics. But she didn’t just agree; she jumped in feet first.
Martha’s teacher, Judi Dazzio, would hand her a sketch to paint, and Martha began to do so with a complexity and boldness of color that reflected a dimension I’d never seen in her. I still have no idea where that came from. Neither does Judi, who pulled me aside one day. “Carlen, this can’t be taught,” she said of Martha’s use of color.
What a delight to see this talent unfold out of a dark and scary place, and to see the surge in Martha’s confidence after so many months of despondency. Her face would glow as she talked about her works. I describe the affect of her painting—not only on Martha but also on our children and me—in my forthcoming book, A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s.
The ‘Feeding the Ducks’ painting affected our daughter Kathryn deeply. So much, in fact, that she wrote a poem about it for a workshop her senior year in college. The painting somehow helped change her perspective on Martha’s condition, and on how Kathryn subsequently related to her mother. I shared this in an early post: The Power of Art and Poetry in a Crisis.
The Latest on My Book
My publisher Paraclete Press tells me my book should be released around the first of October. It’s now at the printer. It will happen, however, when it happens, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, this will be my last post until I announce my book’s release. I’ve got a lot of loose ends to tie up between now and then. “So much to do, and so little time to do it.” If you’ve joined us recently, you might want to check out my Archive of Posts by clicking here. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past 12 months.
As an aside, Paraclete tells me that of all the books they have on Amazon, A Path Revealed is its fourth best seller right now. In case you haven’t heard, it’s available to pre-order on Amazon.