Sometimes, it takes a minute for you to step into your dream. For Awilda Prignano, it was more like 30 years. But the author of Loving Lulu wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to tell the story of her mother’s journey with memory loss (through the eyes of a child) helped create healing — and launch as second career as a writer. Here’s her story of strength, leaving security behind to pursue her dream (even becoming an Uber driver to support herself), and what it’s meant to go on the road less travelled.
Loving Lulu is all about how a family copes with a grandmother’s descent into dementia. What prompted you to write the book?
I wrote the story through the lens of the child but also for the adult reading to the child, too. It has a lot of special meaning personally because it’s inspired by my life. The grandmother is my mother and the little girl, Lulu, is my daughter. I’m kind of Lulu weaving in and out of there. My mother was diagnosed with dementia, and I became her caregiver. I wrote the story to help families transition to that moment when someone is experiencing memory loss.
I don’t use the word dementia and I don’t use the word Alzheimer’s. I don’t even say memory loss because some of those words can be overwhelming for a child but it’s also overwhelming for adults. It’s an uncomfortable situation that people don’t want to have. You want that other person to feel comfortable, because in the end, they’re changing, but as a family, we’re all changing together.
I saw it happen in my own family and when my mom transitioned into assisted living because eventually, she needed full-time care, I would go visit her regularly and see other families not being able to communicate as their loved one went more into that phase of darkness. And as they couldn’t communicate as they used to, they would get less and less visitors. So, I was thinking about what message to open that door and say, you don’t have to just tell people that you love them; you can show them by doing activities with them — activities that maybe can help trigger some memories.
And music has such an effect on people. When I say in the story that the grandmother was tapping her shoes, that’s what happened with my mom. I would see her close her eyes and I thought that she was having some memory. In the beginning of the story, the Abuelita is the caregiver for Lulu, and by the end, they’ve transitioned roles.
It’s the full circle moment. I love that’s there’s a glossary in the back of the book with different terms and Spanish words. I think it makes you think, as a parent, what are the traditions that I’m giving to my kids now and what do I want to pass on.
Absolutely. I want this book to be an experience for the family. There are some teachers who have this book in their classroom, and they share the story to help explore that lesson. I want to create a universal guide for caregivers on how to share that message. The idea of expressing love in the way you see, hear, and feel things can be transitioned into any relationship, if you think about it. That’s why I didn’t want to lock this down as the kids’ dementia book, but have it work for any family going through a life-changing transition.
It can be scary for a child who only knows their loved one in a certain way, and then has to go to a hospital which looks and smells different and has a clinical, sterile feeling, knowing that this is where they live now and not really being able to put it all together. But if you say that you’re going to be bringing some empanadas to your Abuelita and play some music that she loves and that you’re all familiar with, it makes the experience less scary.
Right. When you express love that way, the engagement doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I think you touched right on that.
So is Loving Lulu your first book?
It’s my first children’s book; I’ve been published in other collaborations. I just started writing five years ago. Writing has been in my heart since I was a little kid. I’m 57 now but back in the 1980s, you went into what you thought was normal, like business, and not follow your heart. You just did what you thought you were supposed to do. I think it’s great that it’s shifted, and people are following their passion. I had been in retail management for over 30 years, and I happened to stumble across this group that was looking for writers for a collaboration book. I was published and I was so excited; I just wanted to keep writing. It had opened a door for me.
I left the retail world and the safety net of a regular paycheck. I was driving Uber full-time to support myself and my dream. It was something I never pictured I would do. I did it and I loved it; I was so surprised. But paying the illustrator for the book’s illustrations; I did it all on my own. It was a scary journey of getting this to become a reality. I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s in English, and I’m now writing my memoir. So now I’m in a Master’s program because I wanted to focus on my creative writing.
After turning 50, I’m finally pursuing the things in my life that I wanted to do my whole life. As you grow older, you learn that lesson. You stop living for everybody else and you just live for yourself. And that’s why I wrote Loving Lulu, because I hope that this message ends up with people who really need to hear it.