Caring for a loved one with dementia is always challenging, but especially when dementia is accompanied by other illnesses, such as heart failure and bipolar disorder. Add to that an 86-year-old former pioneering pediatric heart surgeon, and that’s where artist Diane Pontius was when she started caring for and filming her father, Robert Pontius, MD.
“I really didn’t understand what dementia was,” Diane says, “I was told he probably only has 2 years to live.”
As Bob was being diagnosed and treated, Diane spent time learning about his illnesses and adapting to the news. She and her husband coped with this the best way they knew how, as filmmakers.
“We just impulsively started recording,” she says. “And one of the lovely things we discovered was that Bob liked to be recorded.” The activity engaged him intellectually and prompted him to tell his own life story. Diane was surprised by Bob’s many vivid stories of serving as a surgeon in the military as well as working as a pediatric heart surgeon.
Their recordings make up, I Still Love You, a 16-minute film to be completed in 2023 and streamed online. The film contains 10 intimate stories about Bob’s life, work and mental health imaginatively told with narration, family photos, videos and archival footage from the National Archives.
“I wanted to tell the story of my father’s accomplishments,” Diane says, but in context. “He was an individual in a bigger picture.”
Through the film, Diane hopes viewers will better understand dementia and mental illness. And, perhaps debunk a few myths regarding these topics and how they often intersect.
The film also has themes of educating yourself, advocating for your loved one, and navigating the twists and turns of a journey with dementia.
To learn more about I Still Love You visit DianePontius.com. To receive a private link to the film and/or support its completion through tax-deductible donations, visit New York Foundation for the Arts, the film’s financial sponsor.