When Radio Hall of Famer Dayna Steele's mother, Fran Nicholson, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2013, the former KLOL on-air personality and music director had no idea what was in store.
The changes in her mother's personality. The grueling exhaustion of caring for her. The guilt of having to finally move her into a facility that catered to memory care patients. Her mother's deterioration was awful, but worse that that, was feeling so alone.
Steele took to Facebook to vent, sharing her sadness, her anger, her helplessness, even the humor of those long days as her mom's grip on reality lessened and lessened, ending, ultimately, with her death.
And then, she turned those vents into a book, Surviving Alzheimer's With Friends, Facebook and a Really Big Glass of Wine. Now, that book is a one-woman play, The Woman in the Mirror, which debuts at the MATCH (in Midtown) on November 4.
"Not a day goes by since the release of the book that someone doesn't reach out on Facebook," she tells CultureMap. "It can be a friend or a stranger. 'Can you talk to so and so?' And it's always for the same reason: nobody talks about this, and nobody knows what's to come."
Steele's book was born from her feelings of isolation, and she didn't want others to feel what she did. The play is a natural extension of that, she believes. The Woman in the Mirror stars Steele, playing herself, and Chris King in the role of best friend, confidant, stage manager, and voice of reason. It's directed by Marley Singletary, who also wrote the show.
Even though the story is deeply personal, blending Steele's trademark honesty with biting humor, she knows it's a story that will resonate for anyone who's watched a loved one battle this disease.
"It is unbelievably isolating," she says. "It will monopolize your whole being."
Friends and family, of course, she says, want to help, and definitely lend a hand.
"But, the truth is, people stop coming. When Mom didn't recognize people anymore, they stopped coming. I couldn't. And I found community [on Facebook], which turned into my therapy."
Steele emphasizes the show isn't a downer. In fact, she worked hard to bring out the humor in situations. Her mother had been a jewelry designer with Nazar's Fine Jewelry for decades, crafting bracelets and other pieces.
"I was with her one day and she had a napkin ring in her hand and she was turning it over and over," she says. "'Someone made this bracelet too small,' she said.
'That's a napkin ring,' I told her."
"'What's that?'" she asked me. And I told her that people put them around napkins to make them look pretty at table settings. And she just looked at me. 'Well, that's stupid.'"
Allowing herself the ability to laugh at moments like that took Steele a while. She admits to sitting in her car and crying the first time she laughed at something her mother did, because she felt so guilty. She came to realize that it's laughter that helps us get through the trauma.
"I'm not going to let my Mom die in vain," she says emphatically. "And I want others to know there are no rules in Alzheimer's. What you can do is the best that you can do."
Each performance will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Steele and Alzheimer's experts. Steele will also sign copies of her book following the Q&A.
"I am stating to feel like she's coming back to life [as we put the show together]," Steele says. "I get to talk about her antics. She loved being the center of attention. And I know she'd be in the front row, cheering us on."
The Woman in the Mirror runs through November 14 at MATCH; Midtown Artist Theater Center; 3400 Main St. Tickets start at $35. For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit the MATCH website.