Elaine Soloway memoir shares much about caregiving, loss

I sent a few dollars a couple months back to a kickstarter fund so Chicago author Elaine Soloway could turn her blog posts from The Rookie Caregiver and The Rookie Widow into a paperback and ebook.

Boy, am I glad I did. Now the rest of you can read her stories and benefit from Soloway’s wisdom and compassion.

Called “Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion” (She Writes Press, $16.95), the book begins with
GreenNailsCoverSoloway’s life as a caregiver after her beloved second husband, Tommy, is diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration and primary progressive aphasia, conditions that rob him of his voice, reasoning and eventually his life.

With grace and candidness, Soloway shows how the once-happy life the two shared slowly becomes smaller and more difficult. Reading it you feel for Tommy, such an independent guy who eventually has to lean on Soloway to navigate so much of life. Your heart breaks for Soloway as she describes her worry waiting by the window to see when — or if — her husband will make it back from a bike ride or walk in a nearby park.  Fun things the two had enjoyed, such as dinners with good friends, become difficult and eventually abandoned when Soloway sees without speech Tommy is left to sit silent on the sidelines at these gatherings.

Soloway is an empathetic soul, and in “Green Nails” she describes different things she figured out so Tommy could maintain his independence. Although she gets him (and herself) medical alert bracelets, in one piece she gives a poignant explanation of why (and how) she could go along with Tommy’s insistence of not wearing it to the Y, a place he’d always felt so strong and capable. (She called the Y director to explain Tommy’s condition and how to get in touch with her in an emergency.) She knows she’s the caregiver here, but works hard not to destroy his dignity, something all caregivers should remember.

The essays, while of course dealing with her life with Tommy, also drop in little nuggets of information so helpful to any caregiver.

Elaine Soloway/ Ron Gould, Ron Gould Studios

Elaine Soloway/ Ron Gould, Ron Gould Studios

The second part of the book contains essays about life after Tommy’s death. (The book’s subtitle is “Life After Loss.”) While again the stories are about Soloway’s particular situation, they do impart good information and opinions about widowhood and starting over.

For example, she talks in one piece about how burdened she feels following the traditional advice (“don’t sell your house for a year”) until she realizes she has to do what is right for her. She sells the car, their house and enjoys a newfound independence.

Yes, “Green Nails” addresses a sad subject, a husband’s serious illness and death, but it also celebrates the resilience of Soloway’s spirit. There are many humorous turns that will have you chuckling.

You’ll be rooting for her as she carves out a new life. I know I was.

Soloway will be reading from her book and signing copies at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark.