“SWIMMING SOLO”

Columnist Lois Caplan

By Lois Caplan

“SWIMMING SOLO,” Susan Rava’s recently published book, is subtitled “A Daughter’s Memoir of Her Parents, His Parents, and Alzheimer’s Disease”, and that’s exactly what it is.  Possibly because I knew her in-laws, Silvia and Paul Rava and her parents, Dorothy and George Roudebush, I found this book fascinating. Rava brings to life the interesting backgrounds of all four parents, especially the life in Venice of the Rava family whose Jewish roots in that Italian city go back 400 years.

I remember Paul as a gallant and charming man who never lost his hand kissing, European appeal and Silvia as his beautifully dressed companion.  Dorothy and George, both from old local families, became pillars in this community where she was known as one of the leaders in the Planned Parenthood movement and he an outstanding lawyer.  All four exceptional people – all four stricken with Alzheimer’s.

In “Swimming Solo,” Susan Rava chronicles the 14-year rocky downhill road that started in 1993.  She recalls Paul’s attempt to swim alone from their Michigan vacation home to Milwaukee across Lake Michigan, the first hint that he might be slipping into dementia.  Eventually Alzheimer’s overtook both his parents and her own, and this memoir captures the complexities of caring for – not just one – but four individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Caveat – this is a tough book to read as it deals with death and dying, and with all the torturous problems affecting the family, especially the primary caregiver, which Susan Rava was. It is also instructive and I am sure helpful to people who are facing this kind of future with their parents. Rava, a retired senior lecturer in French Language and Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, tells it all in “Swimming Solo” (Plateau Books, $14.95, 299 pages), which is available at Left Bank Books, Sue’s News in the Galleria and as an e-book from Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

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NO, IT’S NOT FRED ASTAIRE OR BING CROSBY OR EVEN FRANK SINATRA, but rather a bunch of talented guys (and dolls) performing in “Broadway Fantasies Goes to the Movies.” For its 22nd season, Broadway Fantasies will present popular tunes (think “The Way You Look Tonight” and “High Hopes”) that have made it to the big screen. The show will be performed at John F. Kennedy High School, 500 Woods Mill Road on June 11 and 18 at 7:30 pm and June 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. To purchase tickets at $17 each, email [email protected] or call 314-615-4041.

Broadway Fantasies is not your usual amateur production.  Its cast includes experienced performers of all ages who are vocalists and dancers, some professionals and other talented non-professionals who have been selected by audition for their stage skills. Ticket and playbill advertisement proceeds are donated to the County Older Resident Programs (CORP) established in 1975 to meet the needs of older adults such as transportation, light housekeeping and legal assistance. Since its establishment as a nonprofit corporation, Broadway Fantasies has raised more than $100,000 for CORP.

JAMI may be a new acronym in your vocabulary of acronyms.  Let me introduce you to Jewish Attention to Mental Illness (JAMI). Arlen Chaleff who is on the national board of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, explained, “About a year and a half ago a group of individuals in the Jewish community got together, under Rabbi Jim Goodman’s leadership. The group felt there were needs to support individuals and families living with mental illness in our community that were not being addressed.” Out of this grew two support groups, one for individuals living with mental health issues and the other a spiritual support group for families. On Sunday, June 5, JAMI will present a special symposium led by Rabbis (and spouses) Jim Goodman and Susan Talve on “Finding Fulfillment and Freedom Through Acceptance” at the Kopolow Building, Jewish Federation 12 Millstone Campus at 12:30 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ADAM CRANE who has been appointed St. Louis Symphony’s new Vice President for External Affairs. Until May 16 Crane was the Director of Communications for the SLSO.  He will continue to oversee all the communications and public relations efforts for the symphony but will add other responsibilities including its education programs, community engagement activities and government relations.  As if this were not dayenu, Crane will direct, develop, plan, oversee and evaluate all of the institutional activities and initiatives in these areas. He is the son of Meg Crane, senior communications writer at the Jewish Federation.