blackbirdonline journalSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
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A Conversation with Artist and Author Joan Gaustad

On September 8, 2021, artist Joan Gaustad read from her recent memoir Someone’s Missing . . . and I Think it’s Me, published by VCU Publishing, at an event at James Branch Cabell Library. After reading from the memoir Gaustad participated in a conversation about the book with Sara Monroe, M.D.—a former professor of infectious diseases at VCU, and a friend of Gaustad who provided feedback and advice through the book’s initial writing. The evening ended with a question-and-answer period with the audience both in-person and virtual.

The book, a self-described “picture memoir,” details Gaustad’s experience with her late husband, Richmond artist Gerald Donato, as she herself says, “We tried to navigate the terrors and mysteries of early onset dementia.” Gaustad’s reading is from one piece from the book, which gives the reader a glimpse into the psychological and physical toll that treatment took on Donato’s body while he resided in a nearby assisted living facility. Her reading describes the process of attempting to figure out the undiagnosed symptoms of early onset dementia and the various testing Donato endured while doctors and neurologists winnowed down from a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, the picture of a classic “absentminded professor,” to a more serious result. Gaustad explores the emotional process of the disease in Donato as well as in herself as the wife attempting to cope with this illness, approaches to treatment, and ways to adapt their lives to the new reality.

In the conversation portion of the event, Gaustad further details her own personal experience in helping to care for Donato. In discussing her emotional temperature after his death, Gaustad says, “There is no beyond, only loss.” Gaustad’s picture memoir is her own adaptation to life after Donato and to finding her way forward after experiencing a loved one slowly succumbing to early onset dementia. To do so, she created the memoir by using her diaries and her own artwork as well as artwork from Donato himself.  end

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