MARQUETTE - When Negaunee resident Jim LaJoie's mother, Shirley Jandreau, was diagnosed with dementia in the summer of 2010, he said that he and his family were absolutely devastated by the news.
"We were speechless," LaJoie said in an interview earlier this week.
After a two-and-a-half year battle with Alzheimer's disease, Jandreau passed away on April 28, and LaJoie again found his voice. He responded to the loss by writing down the thoughts and emotions that he had experienced.
Jim LaJoie is releasing a book next week titled “Hi Mom. It’s Me,” which details how he learned to cope with his late mother’s dementia. (Photo courtesy Jim LaJoie)
"As I began to write, a flood of wonderful boyhood memories crept into my mind," he said. "So I began writing more, and 14 chapters later, a book emerged."
That book, titled "Hi Mom. It's Me," is scheduled for release next week. LaJoie, a graduate of Negaunee High School who serves as executive director of Superior Health Foundation in Marquette, stated that sons don't often talk about the special relationships they have with their mothers, but his was a relationship built on respect, love and admiration.
"I learned so many wonderful lessons from her that I wanted to share it with others," he said. "My mom was my first teacher; she was a tremendous listener, a terrific storyteller and simply, above everything else, someone I could talk to about anything at any time of the day."
A large portion of the book is devoted to those lessons. It also contains a combination of humorous anecdotes and more painful lessons he learned along the way.
He said that there are no words to describe how difficult it is to watch a loved one go through this horrific disease.
"It robs us of the person we once knew," he added. "But by the same token, some of my greatest memories spent with my mom were holding hands and singing silly songs when she was in the last stages of her life."
The book, which sells for $10, will be available at Snowbound Books in Marquette and will also be available on Amazon.com within a few weeks of its release. Interested parties can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In addition, LaJoie will be selling and signing books at the TV6 Craft Show in the Superior Dome from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, and from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 7.
"I miss her terribly," LaJoie added. "My hope is that this book will call attention to Alzheimer's disease and trigger loved ones to reach out - not pull away - to that relative or friend who has this."
He said that his family will forever be indebted to the many great caregivers at Brookridge Heights Assisted Living, where Jandreau began living in the summer of 2011.
"The care and compassion that occurred between those walls was terrific," he said.
Justin Marietti can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.