Richard Masinton’s journey started with chocolate cake.
One morning, the author’s wife, Dana, decided to bake her husband’s favorite treat: a dessert so familiar she didn’t even need a recipe. “It’s really good cake,” Masinton recalls via phone from his Scottsdale, Arizona, home.
Only this time, she couldn’t remember how to make it. The incident occurred soon after Dana, a successful real estate agent, suddenly couldn’t balance her own checkbook. Two years later, Dana was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease—and Fade to Gray,Masinton’s debut book, began to take shape.
“The subtitle is ‘Surviving Alzheimer’s’ because it’s written for people who survive,” says Ruth Ingall, who helped supervise Dana’s care at the Mayo Clinic and eventually contributed her own professional insight to Fade to Gray.“[Richard’s] motivation was to describe the lived reality. Although you can’t change the outcome [of Alzheimer’s], you can certainly change the experience.”
A chronicle of Masinton’s experience as his wife’s caretaker, Fade to Gray is part memoir, part instruction manual, and part survival guide for those watching loved ones succumb to Alzheimer’s. The title, Masinton says, is a play on the phrase often used to describe the disease—which he says isn’t fully accurate. “The picture that so many people think of Alzheimer’s…is Grandpa sitting in his chair, and he isn’t quite as with it as he used to be, and he forgets more, and he kind of fades away.
“Alzheimer’s is not fading away,” Masinton clarifies. “[It] is vicious and it is relentless and it is very, very turbulent. You see your loved one die, day by day by day.”
Dana was diagnosed at age 55, which is young for an Alzheimer’s patient and affects the disease’s trajectory. “In young patients it’s quite aggressive,” Ingall claims. “It looks more like a staircase. You hit a plateau and then you drop. [Early-onset Alzheimer’s] is a very different disease than with the elderly.” Furthermore, Ingall says, the loss of executive function is now thought to be an early warning sign of the disease, which explains Dana’s previous issues with everyday tasks like paying bills and making her beloved chocolate cake. As Richard remembers:
That may have been the turning point in how we were going to approach the next days, weeks, months, and years. She started to make the cake and simply could not even begin to do it. Even with the recipe and my help, she was unable to follow the simplest steps in a familiar process that at one time had been effortless and enjoyable for her. The sequential steps of following a recipe were simply overwhelming. I gently offered to help in a way that wouldn’t embarrass her or make her frustrated. We made the cake and enjoyed it, but it was the last one that ever successfully came out of her oven.
Masinton, who’d enjoyed a successful corporate career, suddenly found himself responsible for his wife’s survival. First caring for her by himself, then employing part-time and then full-time assistance before finally placing Dana in a nursing home, he tried to use the same strategies that had served him well in the business world. “In retrospect, I sort of attacked this thing like I would any other commercial challenge,” he remembers. “[I said,] ‘I’ll figure out a solution to it and make it better and solve the puzzle; it doesn’t have to be that bad,’ only to realize the disease itself was not something I could challenge successfully.”
Using his business training, Masinton explored different ways to combat the ever increasing challenges—and, as he claims, made plenty of errors along the way. “I think that’s a big part of the book, [that] I made mistakes in caring for my wife,” he says. “I thought it would be very important if I could let other people who might face the same kind of situation…know how one person handled it, and how that person would suggest to help you handle it better than he did.”
The idea for Fade to Gray came to Masinton when Dana, who died in early 2018, was still under the care of the Mayo Clinic. “I said, ‘I can write a book about this so other people don’t go through what I went through.’ ” Masinton found the straightforward approach most effective: “I sat down at my computer and started to write, as simple as that.”
When it came to soliciting an expert opinion, there was only one choice for Masinton: Ruth Ingall. Though Ingall didn’t meet Dana until mid-diagnosis, she recognized the other woman’s dynamic personality right away. “She just had that ‘it’ factor,” Ingall recalls. In helping with Fade to Gray, Ingall says, “I felt like I was both an observer and a day-to-day participant in this story. And I wanted to let my writing reflect the remarkable bond between Dick and Dana.”
Besides penning the book’s introduction, Ingall also added italicized passages throughout, containing what she feels is key advice for the reader. “We’re writing it for someone in a state of panic,” she says. “We knew that if you’re desperate and looking for someone to tell you something that makes sense, you’re not going to sit down and read 16 chapters.” Ingall adds, “We brainstormed how to segment the narrative with helpful [passages] that would offer the readers hope in the form of two authors who knew what they were talking about.”
Unlike Masinton, Ingall does have a background in books. She previously worked as an acquisitions editor for the Australian branch of Prentice Hall, a publisher specializing in university textbooks. Because of this, she says, “I was able to throw in some suggestions and persuade him to submit his creative work to the hands of a good editor!”
The hard work paid off: Kirkus gave Fade to Gray a glowing review, calling the book “[f]orthright, edifying writing about Alzheimer’s caregiving” and “an invaluable lifeline for caregivers seeking guidance.” Masinton especially hopes for the latter. “If I wrote this book and helped only one person,” he says, “it will be well worth the effort.”
Though Masinton says the “excruciating pain of witnessing my wife go through this” will never leave him, he was able to find his own happy ending. Masinton and Ingall’s relationship continued after Fade to Gray was published—in fact, Ingall was on the same phone interview because the two share a house and a life. “She spent most of her career at the Mayo Clinic,” Masinton says proudly, “and now, she is my wife!”
Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of four books for young adults. She lives in Chicago.