Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll share a trio of love stories. But they may not be what you’re expecting.
Barbara Elaine Smith, a beautiful and outgoing African American woman, had two successful careers. As a model in 1976, she was the second black woman to appear on the magazine cover of Mademoiselle.
Her modeling work spawned her second career. As a model, she lived in Italy and France for a while. While there she developed a passion for what the Washington Post called, “food, drink, and beautiful things.” She was bent on success as she slipped into the role of famous restaurateur and lifestyle guru. Known simply as B., she opened her first restaurant in 1986 in New York.
Smith was once a customer of mine when the company where I managed the credit serviced her Washington, DC restaurant named (appropriately) B. Smith’s. That restaurant closed after twenty years shortly after B. was diagnosed in 2013 with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Her husband Dan Gasby (a second marriage in 1992 for both of them) has been a solid rock for B. as her disease has progressed. They have the desire, financial means, and family support for B. to remain in her own home. Dan’s adult daughter Dana moved in with them and helps care for her step-mother. This is love story #1.
The most widely known facts about Alzheimer’s are these:
1) It’s the most common form of dementia.
2) The disease is progressive.
3) There is no cure; Alzheimer’s is irreversible.
Some caregivers of Alzheimer’s-inflicted loved ones have noted that eventually it’s like caring for a toddler in an adult’s body. Patients may end up talking gibberish, wandering off, and stalling at bath time. Despite the deep and abiding love one feels, caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be an exhaustive life of frustration, depression, and guilt.
Professing a continuation of great love for B., Dan Gasby has fallen in love with another woman. He’s 65 and Alexandra Lerner is 53.
In 2017, having been in the midst of a struggle with her own father’s dementia, Alex overheard Dan talking to someone at a restaurant about his loneliness as a caregiver. The two struck up a friendship that soon blossomed into love.
An article in the fall 2019 People Health magazine stated Alex has her own room in the couple’s house. She commutes from Manhattan to spend weekends with Dan and B. Dan’s daughter supports the relationship. Not having outside help, the three of them care for B. who recognizes none of them.
Dan has been open about sharing this unusual relationship. As you can imagine, there are legions of judgmental people who have taken their hate to social media over this. Some tie their rants to racial hatred since Dan is black and Alex is white. When several of B.’s former (and famous) friends used their celebrity status to voice their negative opinions, Dana remarked that none of those “fraudulent friends” had been to visit B.
B.’s own neurologist Sam Gandy recently noted that “a third of family caregivers die before the Alzheimer’s patients they tend because of crushing stress.” Dan feels better able to cope with the caregiving with Alex in his life. He said, “I could have put my wife in an institution, but I love her. It’s just a different type of love now.”
(Be sure to watch the video linked at the end of this article.)
Their regular waiter at a favorite restaurant enjoys serving the trio. “It’s beautiful,” he says.
So Dan and Alex, in love with each other and both loving and caring for B., is love story #2.
I will tell you the truth: When I first read about this, my immediate response was that it was plain wrong. Then I slipped on Dan’s moccasins and asked myself, “What if it was Norma who no longer lived in the real world, who had no concept of who people were. Wouldn’t I want my caretaker husband to find new love and joy?”
And I would. Just as he would want the same for me.
And that’s love story #3.