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Revelstoke Senior Life: Battling the black dogs by writing

As seen in the Revelstoke Senior Life Newsletter

Laura Stovel

Revelstoke Senior Life

This article is part of the Revelstoke Senior Life Newsletter, printed monthly in the Revelstoke Review in collaboration with the the Community Response Network.

Many of us write adequate prose; we can tell a story clearly and directly.

But very few get to the very heart of things. Leslie Davidson writes like that.

Leslie is the winner of the 2016 CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction prize for her story, Adaptation.

She is the author of two children’s books, In the Red Canoe and The Sun is a Shine, both published by Orca Book Publishing. Her 2022 memoir, Dancing in Small Spaces, made several national book lists.

In her children’s writing, Leslie shares her love of nature and human connections across the world. Her memoir and essay delve into painful, tender and sometimes funny experiences of living with Parkinson’s disease while caring for her husband, Lincoln, who had Lewy body dementia.

READ MORE: Senior Life: What is the Revelstoke Community Response Network?

Leslie has always loved writing yet she did not begin to write for publication until she retired in 2008 from her career as a kindergarten teacher.

A self-described “army brat,” (she attended five elementary schools in three provinces) who became a “preacher’s kid” when the family settled in Kingston, she completed a degree in English and theatre at Queen’s University in Kingston and a teaching degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

After teaching for a few years at 100 Mile House, she took a job at Williams Lake where she met Lincoln, the love of her life.

Lincoln and Leslie were soon married and began a life of adventure together. “At the end of that school year we sold everything we had between us and went to Europe and North Africa for 15 months. We lived in a Volkswagen van.”

After their daughter Sarah was born, they found their “perfect jobs” in Grand Forks – “kindergarten for me and library for Lincoln half-time so one of us was always home with Sarah. Then we had our second child, Naomi, five years later.”

The couple lived in Grand Forks for 34 years. Leslie became involved with the theatre group there and Lincoln took every opportunity to be outdoors with his close friends – the “lost boys.” Life was never dull with Lincoln, a nature lover who once thought it was a good idea to bring a rattlesnake into the school for show.

The family often enjoyed outings in their red canoe, outings that would inspire Leslie’s first children’s book.

After Sarah and Naomi left home, Leslie and Lincoln began to think of retirement and resuming the adventurous lifestyle that they’d had before the children arrived. Lincoln, who was eight years older than Leslie, retired first in 2004 and took some solo trips to Europe and Tanzania.

In 2008 Leslie joined him. As she wrote in her memoir: “We are circling back to our early days, our travelling days, and we delight in the freedom. Several winters in a row, we wander the familiar route to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and up its windswept eastern cape. We free-camp in palm-sheltered bays, paddling our kayak to the sound of dolphin breath and the cranky barking of seal colonies.”

But in 2011, during a trip to Costa Rica to visit family, it became very clear that things were not right. Leslie had developed a tremor and her left foot was acting up. Lincoln was unable to figure out things that he normally could do with ease. When they returned home, Leslie received her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Despite years of night terrors and increased confusion, Lincoln was reluctant to see his doctor, but finally agreed. Both had lost fathers to dementia and Lincoln’s sister had died of Parkinson’s disease so they knew what might be ahead.

Lincoln’s dementia had another cruel twist. People with Lewy body dementia (related to Parkinson’s disease) can hallucinate people and animals that are not there. They also sometimes believe that their care giver is an imposter.

For Lincoln: ‘She looks like Leslie. She talks like Leslie, but I know she isn’t and that’s scary.’ Lincoln would wake up in the middle of the night and think there was a strange woman in bed with him. Leslie had to move to another room.

Naomi and Sarah were both raising families in Revelstoke so in 2013 Leslie and Lincoln bought a condo here. Although they initially only visited, an opening came up for Lincoln in Mount Cartier Court in 2015 and the couple moved to Revelstoke permanently.

In 2010, about a year before her diagnosis, Leslie began to realize her dream of writing for publication. She started by writing articles for Cricket children’s magazines. “It was a good way to build a resumé and get some experience with editors asking you to change your work, which is very humbling,” she said.

She began to work on a children’s book, In the Red Canoe, inspired by Lincoln and their family outings. She also began to write about her experiences with Lincoln and submitted the story Adaptation to the 2016 Canada Writes competition for creative non-fiction.

The story was based on a time out hiking with Lincoln when he thought she was an imposter and would not follow her home. The week that In the Red Canoe came out she learned that she had won the 2016 Canada Writes prize of $6,000 and, most importantly, a 10-day residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

After her success with Adaptation, Leslie began to work on a memoir about her experiences with Lincoln.

She joined the Revelstoke writers’ group Writer’s Bloc, whose members gave her encouraging yet helpful feedback. As the memoir progressed, Leslie began looking for publishers of memoirs that accepted unsolicited manuscripts.

Rejection after rejection left her wondering if she would just self-publish the book for family. One last submission, to TouchWood Editions in Victoria, was successful. In 2022, Dancing in Small Spaces was published, a year after her second children’s book, The Sun is a Shine.

Lincoln passed away in 2017 at Mount Cartier Court with Leslie by his side. Leslie continued to write through her grief but had to focus increasingly on her Parkinson’s symptoms.

“Michael J. Fox says, ‘I have Parkinson’s, it doesn’t have me,’ but I’m not sure I agree with that,” she said.

“The image that really defines the disease for me is how small it makes your world. I had to give up driving. I had to stop biking. I’ve tried a tricycle but that’s not very successful because my hands spasm and do what I don’t want them to do.

“I’ve had brain surgery (DBS or Deep Brain Stimulation), which has been a life enhancer but I have a very uncomfortable battery in my belly. I don’t feel well more and more of the time, though I still feel more well than unwell. I’m appreciative of the medication because without it I would be bed-bound.”

“But it takes a lot of work. It requires paying attention to your diet, what you eat and when you eat it. Exercise is a critical piece. Trying to stay…I call it battling the black dog…stay ahead of the despair.”

“Writing Lincoln’s story and a little bit of mine really helped me figure out what I was feeling, why I was feeling it and how I wanted to feel,” she continued.

“Almost like I was writing myself to be the person I wanted to be.”


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