ISHPEMING - Lisa Cerasoli Weaver sat amongst a group at the Ishpeming Senior Center, her boisterous laugh and wicked sense of humor bringing smiles to the gathering.
She wasn't there to lecture about being a caregiver, she was there to share. Because like many of the women in the room, Weaver had been a caregiver for someone she loved - but unlike the others, she had put her experience into writing.
"As Nora Jo Fades Away" is Weaver's memoir about caring for her grandmother, who was going through the stages of Alzheimer's disease. It's a moving and humorous recollection of her time with her beloved Nora Jo, who passed way this past December.
The cover of a book penned by Lisa Cerasoli Weaver is seen. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"You don't plan to grow into a caregiver," Weaver said as she shared her experiences with the gathering.
Her path to taking care of her grandmother had many turns. Weaver grew up in Iron Mountain, the daughter of Sheri and Dick Cerasoli. Her college days started at Michigan State University as a pre-med major, but she ended up at Arizona State University, earning a degree in theater.
After moving to Los Angeles, Lisa Cerasoli won guest roles on shows like "Diagnosis Murder" and "The Pretender," but is best known for her role on "General Hospital," on which she played the quirky pilot Venus "V" Ardanowski, sharing screentime with daytime favorite Ingo Rademacher.
Her career was in full swing when a devastating phone call changed everything: Her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she returned to Iron Mountain to help care for him.
It was during that time she became reacquainted with a high school friend, Pete Weaver. The reunion turned into a marriage between the two lifelong friends.
After Cerasoli's father died, his mother - Nora Jo - began to show signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Despite some reluctance on the part of some members of her extended family, with her husband's complete support, Lisa Cerasoli Weaver brought her grandmother into her home to live with her; Pete, her husband; Brock, his son from a previous relationship; and the couple's daughter, Jazzlyn, who is now 5.
As she prepared to read from her memoir to her new friends at the Ishpeming Senior Center, Weaver asked them about their experiences. They talk about respite care, whether the person they care for is verbal and other issues.
Then Weaver shared one of her stories she called "Eat Pray Love and my Grandma's Bra."
Weaver and her sister-in-law Laura took her 89-year-old grandmother to see the Julia Roberts' film, "Eat Pray Love," and once Nora Jo was all tucked in, the movie began. But soon, drawing the biggest laugh of the showing, Nora Jo shouted: "Lisa, unhook my bra. It's cutting the @*% out of me..."
"That's why I wrote this book," Weaver said. "Nora Jo was funny... but this is a full-filled tearjerker of a read."
Caring for someone with Alzheimer's can be a rollercoaster ride, Weaver said.
"One thing Nora Jo said was 'There's only one man I've ever loved. We met when I was 14 and we were married for 67 years. What the hell was his name?'," she said. "That's how things were. Some things were clear, some things she didn't remember."
While Weaver found humor whenever she could during her caregiver years, there were tough times as well.
"There were some dark moments, too," she said. "A lot of things were hard for me. I didn't develop the patience I should have with the redundancy of it all. And I felt guilty sometimes."
Now a resident of Marquette County, Weaver is working on her next project, a documentary called "14 Days with Alzheimer's." She showed some footage to the group at the Ishpeming Senior Center.
"I have been working on it for three months. It's a 30-minute short made from footage of Nora Jo and my family, especially my daughter, Jazz," she said. "We were going to call it '50 Days with Alzheimer's' but they said that sounded too daunting.
"But caregivers know, 50 days is really just a drop in the bucket."
Weaver also screened a public service announcement for the Walk to Remember, an Alzheimer's benefit. Her daughter, Jazz, lights up the screen in the PSA, along with footage from Nora Jo.
Riche Producutions, a Los Angeles-based media company started by former "GH" producer Wendy Riche, is trying to sell a pilot based on Weaver's life as her grandmother's caregiver.
"My grandma was so entertaining, so colorful," Weaver said. "She was such a character, I feel like I could watch her forever."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.