I attended the most
extraordinary book party on June 15, for the award-winning CBS News
Correspondent Barry Petersen, held at the Regency Hotel.

jans-story-cvr.pngIt was to honor his
inspiring and heartbreaking book about his wife Jan’s sudden early onset
Alzheimer’s and his battle in caring for her and coping as her condition
declined. 

He opened the event with a video of his beloved wife and gave an
inspiring, tear-filled talk about losing his wife to this disease–and their experience today.
Here are some of the things he shared and information provided in a press release for the book:

Barry and Jan Petersen had a fascinating
life as foreign correspondents, and the kind of relationship that everyone
dreams about.  They were best friends, confidants, and even after 20 years, 
passionate lovers.  Jan’s vivacious personality could fill a room with warmth
and charm. 

With no warning, Jan had her first episode
– a terrifying three days during which she heard voices in the local market,
couldn’t make coherent sentences, and would turn the stove to high and walk
away. 

A frightened Barry called a California neurologist at 4 a.m. from their
Tokyo home. Without even needing to see her, the doctor made the diagnosis – it
was Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Perhaps it is good to have a name for a
disease that will rob and cheat and steal and slowly suck the person you love
away from you,” Barry recalls in Jan’s Story: Love Lost to the Long
Goodbye of Alzheimer’s
. Jan was only 55, and they had no idea that the
life they had worked so hard to create…was over.

“On a Monday we are ordinary people doing
our jobs, raising our families, and fretting over mortgages or kids.  Then on
Tuesday, with no more warning than a doctor’s diagnosis, we are recruited
without asking, into a job for which we have no preparation and facing sudden
downward changes in our lives that we cannot predict,” writes Petersen of the
millions of caregivers faced with a loved one’s diagnosis.

In the world of Alzheimer’s caregivers, it
is called…as one social worker puts it…”the dirty secret of the disease.”  A
secret about love lost and then facing the question of moving on. 

This secret
is explored openly and frankly in Jans’ Story.  Petersen, an Emmy
award-winning CBS News Correspondent, tells not only of losing the woman he
loved intensely for 25 years, but also of the guilt and doubt over finding a new
relationship as Jan slipped ever deeper into the mist of Alzheimer’s. Still
married and caring for Jan, what woman would want a relationship with him?  In
the end, Barry found Mary Nell, who reached into the depths of her own
compassion to become a friend and co-caregiver helping to oversee Jan in an
assisted living facility. 

Barry, Mary Nell and Jan are part of a rapidly escalating
trend, says the press release: the New American Family where one person is alive, but mentally gone.  The
Alzheimer’s Association warns that as America’s Baby Boomers age, this type of
family will number into the millions.   And each and every one will have to
answer one question as Barry did:  Is finding a new person in my life right…or
wrong
?

Barry said he was guided during this process by what Jan had taught him. “You must do your best to
love what you have, in that moment, at that time. You must choose love. You must
choose life.”

With a grieving and guilty heart, Barry tentatively opened himself
up to love once again. Jan’s care would always be his first priority, but he
needed to move on. He needed to choose life.

We met Mary Nell at the book party and she was lovely and sincere. There
were many “Alzheimer’s widows” there who shared their stories about
losing the loves of their lives to this disease. It was very touching and, even though the room was filled with CBS news stars, it was a down to earth event focused on love, loss and renewal.

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