Walking Each Other Home:
Spiritual Companionship for Dementia Caregivers
By Jean M. Denton
Morehouse Publishing, pp. 176, $16.95
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Review by Christine Havens
Part of my everyday morning routine is word-based puzzles in The New York Times. First I do Mini Crossword, then the Spelling Bee, then Wordle, then Quordle (Wordle x4). It usually doesn’t take me too long to solve any of these, with the exception of the Spelling Bee. Mostly I do these puzzles for enjoyment, but lately it’s also become a canary in a coal mine, allaying fears of early-onset Alzheimer’s or other age-related dementia.
The more likely scenario is that within five years, I will be a caregiver for my parents, one of whom, while not having Alzheimer’s, is probably on the way to a dementia diagnosis. I am far from the only one who will experience life in this manner. This makes Jean M. Denton’s Walking Each Other Home vitally important.
Companionship is the key for those undergoing a life with this diagnosis. As Denton points out early on: “No dementia is solitary, especially for those whose lives have intertwined. We walk together, caregiver and care recipient, each having a different experience with the same dementia. We walk together even if we are living apart. We walk each other home, even though dementia takes us to different destinations.” Both of the people within the bond of caring need companionship, and often the spiritual aspect is neglected. Walking Each Other Home addresses this need.
Denton devotes space in chapter three, “What It Means to Care,” to emphasizing how much “caregiving is minimalized and marginalized, viewed as a private matter rather than a social responsibility.” She wants to open that perspective, as well as the view that women are society’s natural, and only, caregivers.
While this book is focused on the individual, Denton’s background in public health and in nursing suggests that she would love for individuals to advocate together for a change in attitudes toward this crucial role. More than once does she remind the reader that all of us “are caregivers, will be caregivers, or will be care-receivers.”
Walking Each Other Home is not a read-straight-through memoir, as other chronicles of dementia have been, though it does function in part as a memoir of Denton and her husband, Tom, who died of Alzheimer’s.
The format is that of a devotional, divided into five engaging and accessible parts that map out what life with a dementia care-receiver might look like. Each part is then subdivided into chapters, each of which includes a bit of memoir, followed by Denton’s reflection on that experience, wisdom in the form of a poem or passage from a spiritual guide (the Gospels, Wendell Berry, Emily Dickinson), and questions for the reader to reflect on. All of this is quite apt for the author’s stated purpose to “help you articulate your own spiritual story.”
Denton’s experience as a spiritual director and Episcopal priest, not to mention her journey with her late husband, shines in her professional and pastoral writing. Her afterword wraps all up by talking about what success looks like. Denton’s excellent caregiving in Walking Each Other Home makes this a book every cleric should keep a few copies of on the shelf, in order to give to those in such situations.
When my turn comes to be a caregiver for a parent with dementia, this book will be one of my companions, thanks to the Dentons’ journey of faith in love.
Christine Havens is a poet and writer and a graduate of the Seminary of the Southwest whose work has appeared in The Anglican Theological Review and Mockingbird Ministries blog, mbird.com.