“Love isn’t for sissies.” Author Phyllis Chinlund will amplify that theme as she reads from her memoir Looking Back from the Gate: A Story of Love, Art, and Dementia at 1:00 Wednesday, July 12 at the Camden Public Library. “Love isn’t for sissies” could have been the motto for the 30-year marriage between Phyllis and photographer Ray Witlin. Even after the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Ray didn’t forget it. “I love you. We’ll be OK,” he would frequently declare. “But things don’t stay the same, and we’ll get through.”
From the unique perspective of two careers, documentary filmmaking (over 20 films directed or edited) and geriatric social work (25 years of clinical practice in New York and Maine), Phyllis tells the story of how they “got through,” and how moving from Manhattan to Maine made it possible.
Since the start of their relationship, which was both strained and strengthened by each one’s need to be independent as well as to be together, they had been practicing getting through. The tension between those two poles is the emotional backdrop for the book. When he traveled, Ray would steel himself for their parting by striding towards the gate without looking back. As his widow, Phyllis discovers how poignantly those painful partings paved the way for what was to come.
In documentary style, Looking Back interweaves journals, photographs, and conversations to carry the reader along on the rollercoaster of their lives. The sensibilities Phyllis brings from her counseling career help her to puzzle out what Ray is talking about and, as he explores with his camera, to keep him engaged with life.
Readers coping with caregiving are finding Looking Back both helpful and heartening. From comical misunderstandings to harrowing obstacles, it doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of Alzheimer’s, but is “an inspiration to caregivers who question whether or not they have the strength to stay,” writes Sally Haggarty, spousal caregiver.
Other readers take a broader perspective; psychotherapist Nancy Coleman pronounces the book “of interest to anyone who’s curious about how our brains work and don’t work. And it’s a love story. Who wouldn’t want to read it?”
No, love isn’t for sissies, but as portrayed in Looking Back from the Gate, it’s worth the effort.
The presentation will feature some of Ray’s photographs and include a discussion period. The event is free and open to the public.