Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Phyllis Newell Kirkpatrick

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Phyllis and I were introduced at her daughter's home where she's been living for the past few years. Energetic and eager for conversation, Phyllis regaled me with stories of her life and work.

 

Born in 1934 in Queens, New York, she studied piano at the Mannes Music School in Manhattan and stumbled into modeling after she began babysitting the infant of a model who soon connected Phyllis with her agent. My favorite story was how she met her husband. “We met under a table cloth at a party. He was not my date. He saw me crawl under there and a few minutes later he joined me. And that’s how it all started!” This anecdote captures so much about Phyllis, flirtatious, funny, independent and keen to write her own story.

 

She had four children in New York and her growing family eventually moved to Ashfield, MA where she started an antiques business.

 

The last few years have brought enormous struggle and change. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, first she had her driver’s license taken away, which she compared to having a limb removed. Next she had to give up her own home and control of her finances, and then had to move in with her daughter Beth. She maintains a positive disposition most of the time, but the loss of independence and being categorized as “elderly” or “sick” clearly chafes Phyllis.

 

Phyllis and her daughter are on a humbling path together. Frustrating and sad perhaps, but also beautiful. A reversal of who is the caregiver, offering unconditional patience, comfort, and sanctuary. Together they are finishing the last chapter of a beautiful adventure.