When Allan Ament’s wife Deloris Tarzan Ament suffered a debilitating stroke in 2005, the routine and concept of normality that he had become familiar with were gone.
“My life had inalterably changed in that moment,” Ament recalled, adding that witnessing his wife’s pain was “devastating.”
In some ways, she had changed, though Ament said his love and respect for his best friend and partner never waned or wavered in the slightest.
“In many ways we are probably closer now than we have ever been,” he said.
In the coming days, weeks and years after her stroke, Ament and his wife of 18 years, Freeland residents, would come to find what he refers to as “a new normal.”
As a means of coping and of updating family members and friends of his wife’s condition, Ament penned numerous detailed emails. As the days passed, these communications became increasingly confessional, personal accounts.
They, along with journal entries, anecdotes and pieces of advice, make up Ament’s memoir, “Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver- Husband.”
It is Ament’s first book-length written work.
The book launch and celebration will take place from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freeland. The event is open to the public and will include readings and music.
The book is available for download in e-book form and printed copies will be sold at Moonraker, Through the Reading Glass, Barnes and Noble and Amazon and at the launch party.
“’Learning to Float’ offers a male perspective — from an authentic, vulnerable, heartfelt, spiritual warrior,” wrote author Christina Baldwin of the memoir. “Allan Ament allows us into the marriage that was and the marriage that is, writing honestly about the love that bridges through his wife’s profound stroke.”
In the book’s preface, Ament recalls his first childhood swimming lesson. Like most beginning swimmers, he first learned to float, to relax atop the water, trusting that it would support him if he did not struggle.
He continues by explaining that, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, learning to float is essential for survival.
“I moved from being husband and friend to the woman I loved to being her guide,” wrote Ament. “To succeed, in fact, to survive, I would have to learn to float.”
In many ways, said Ament in an interview Wednesday, they were lucky due to the fact that Tarzan Ament was never paralyzed and had maintained the ability to speak. Like many stroke victims, she had difficulty with tasks such as walking, bathing and dressing herself and suffered cognitive damage which resulted in short-term memory loss and some difficulty with communication.
While she was in the hospital, Ament made a daily commute to visit her. Once she arrived home, he became her full-time caretaker “without a second thought.”
“I don’t remember making that decision. That’s just what I was going to do,” said Ament. “She is my wife and she needed me, so I was going to be there for her as much as I could be.”
Working from home for the University of Phoenix made it possible for him to continue working while caring for Tarzan Ament, and the couple’s prior experience caring for Tarzan Ament’s aunt had prepared him in some capacity.
It was only later, recalled Ament, that he realized that he had a choice as to whether to continue acting as caregiver full time.
“I realized it was not only my job, but my spiritual path,” he said of his decision to continue.
Ament explained that he previously had a meditation practice which he discontinued upon his wife’s return home from the hospital. Caring for her became his meditation and spiritual practice.
The couple moved to Whidbey in 2002 when Tarzan Ament began volunteering with the local literary organization now known as Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, of which Ament is now board chairman.
Ament had previously worked as a criminal defense lawyer and, afterward, as a day spa owner.
Prior to her stroke, Tarzan Ament was in the midst of working on two new books. Prior to retirement, she had worked for several years as an award-winning journalist for The Seattle Times. She is also the author of books such as “Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest Art.”
Tarzan Ament continues to write as articulately as ever, said Ament, though she sometimes struggles to maintain focus.
Over the years, she has improved considerably.
“If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong,” Ament said.
He is hopeful that his story can help others, particularly other men, who face similar situations.
“Do it with as much grace and joy that you can bring into it. It takes a village; ask for help,” Ament advised others. “Laugh whenever and wherever you can; and take care of yourself.”