Dan Gasby and his celebrated wife B. Smith (known as Barbara to family and close friends) have always been partners — in love, in business, in life. As a former model turned lifestyle icon with cookbooks, restaurants, a line of home goods at Bed Bath & Beyond and host of her own TV show, Smith had built a wonderful life and achieved fame with Gasby’s management of her personal brand.
But after 22 years of marriage, Gasby writes in their new book, Before I Forget, he and Smith started having struggles. He worried their marriage was in trouble. It began as small arguments, with Smith becoming more distant and angry, a side he had never seen in his wife before. When a reliable, punctual Smith began showing up very late for important business meetings or missing them all together, Gasby knew something was wrong.
But after an alarming 2012 Today TV segment where the ever-chatty and effervescent Smith went silent and stared blankly at her co-hosts for what seemed an eternity, Gasby knew this was no midlife crisis. A series of medical tests and visits with specialists in Manhattan where they lived led the couple to hear a word they never thought would apply to either of them: Alzheimer’s. Smith was only 62.
“B. has always been fearless, she has never been afraid of anything,” Gasby told Sherri Snelling, a caregiving expert and columnist for NextAvenue website. “But both of us sat there in shock after the doctor told us B. had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Little did we know the journey we were about to take. But we both knew it was flight or fight and we are both fighters. I knew wherever we were going, we’d take the steps together just like we’d always done.”
That was three years ago. Since then, the couple have sold their Manhattan apartment and moved to their Sag Harbor, N.Y., coastal home. The soothing sea sounds and walks along the beach — together or alone but always with their cherished dog, Bishop — are a comfort to them both as they cope with this difficult diagnosis.
Smith is one of only 45 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers or their caregivers who report being told of their diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization reports that just 5 percent — about 200,000 — of the more than 5 million living with the disease receive a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, meaning it occurs in their 40s, 50s or early 60s. This awareness has made it easier and harder for the couple.
They tackled the writing of the book (with help from Vanity Fair contributing editor, Michael Shnayerson) as they tackled everything — together. Both Gasby and Smith wrote chapters about how they were feeling through the years since Smith’s diagnosis.
Gasby’s passages are filled at times with hilarity and at times heavy-hearted emotion. Some situations he calls the “WTF” moments help give a humorous theme to the chapters he writes. One example has Gasby learning to manage his ongoing frustration with not being able to convince his wife to let him hire someone to help her organize her once pristine, but now chaotic, closet (he would not dare attempt the job). Then there are the more melancholy chapters about losing his lover, the woman he calls “sweetie,” whose flirtatious, affectionate nature before and after making love is now dimmed.
“I have learned the greatest language of all: patience,” he explained to me. “I came to a realization that Alzheimer’s had not just changed B., it changed me too. I also realized my frustrations weren’t really with B. they were with this disease, and that helped me let go when I found myself getting annoyed at her.”
To read more about B. Smith and her husband, Dan Gasby, visit Nextavenue. org