Gavin Lawrence

A Light in the Midst of Darkness

Caregiver Gavin LawrenceIn February 2015, Gavin Lawrence’s 78-year-old mother — who has dementia — disappeared from her DC condo. Gavin — who lives in Chicago — credits Iona nurse practitioner Fiona Druy and social worker Catherine Paitz with getting him through that crisis and many other challenges.

“Mom was a trailblazer,” says Gavin. A native of Guyana, she was the first in her family to come to the U.S. where she earned her PhD, raised Gavin on her own, and taught literature and AfricanAmerican history at Howard University. “She’s always been independent,” he says.

That became more challenging when she had heart surgery in 1995, a minor stroke in 2000, and, over time, developed dementia. In 2008, she took early retirement from Howard.

At the same time, Gavin was struggling to care for her from his home in Chicago, where he also was raising two children. In addition, his work as a stage actor takes him all over the country. (You may have seen him in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Arena Stage).

In November, Gavin and several relatives decided it would be best for his mother to return to Guyana, where her sister and a live-in nurse could care for her. That turned out to be “miserable for everyone,” says Gavin. His mother stopped eating and lost weight. She was unhappy, frustrated, and angry. “She thought she had been kidnapped,” Gavin says.

So the family moved her back to DC and, with Iona’s help, began looking for safe housing options. Still, that conversation always ended with her saying she wasn’t moving.

Then came the call every family member who has a loved one with dementia fears. His mother was missing. After a frantic search, relatives found her near American University, disoriented and alone.

In the weeks that followed, Gavin was plagued by questions such as: “Do I want her happy — or safe” and feelings of guilt that grew out of the fact that, in his culture, most elders live with their adult children until they die.

Throughout the experience, it was Iona’s staff that helped him to navigate these emotional and practical issues. “They have been nothing short of angels,” he says. “They spoke directly and frankly with my mother about the benefits of assisted living in a way that reinforced what I needed to do,” says Gavin, who moved his mother into a senior living community in June. “Until the move, Catherine and Fiona visited my mother in her condo twice a week. They were professional and personal, compassionate, and honest. They were the one little light in the midst of a lot of darkness.”

If you or someone you know needs help navigating eldercare issues, call Iona at (202) 895-9448, and ask for our Helpline.

Written by Janice Kaplan