A local author is trying to bring his memoir of life with his mother, who passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease, to the big screen.
When Shirley Schriftman died in 2009, her son Ross dealt with the loss the only way he knew how — by writing. He began jotting down memories and stories of life with his mom. The flow of memories was eventually compiled into his 2011 memoir, My Million Dollar Mom.
Now, Ross Schriftman, 62, from Maple Glen, is bringing his recollections to life through a just announced film version of his book.
Shirley Schriftman was 84 when she passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease. All her life, she valued tikkun olam and helping people, Schriftman said — a constant thread in the stories that will now be shown onscreen.
“I started picturing scenes in my head of life with my mom, and I started to realize in my mind, this could be a scene in a movie,” he said.
The way she helped others served as inspiration not only for his book and movie, but his life as well, he added.
His mother worked a number of careers, including with Congregation Rodeph Shalom to help Soviet Jews settle into a new life; as a Spanish translator for the State Department; as a USO hostess during World War II; and as a documentation specialist for UNIVAC.
She would advertise English lessons and teach English to whoever in her community needed it and to those preparing for citizenship tests. She also rented rooms out to international guests and shared in their culture — right in her own home.
“It was kind of like ‘Shirley’s International House,’ ” Schriftman joked. “It was the other U.N.”
She did all this in addition to working in politics — she served as a committeewoman for Upper Dublin and she was the first woman to run for district justice in Montgomery County in 1975 — all while raising four boys with her then-husband.
While the book took him three months to write, the movie script has taken Schriftman three years to complete. He has balanced working on the script with his day job as an insurance representative, specializing in Medicare and long-term care.
The challenge with a film, he said, is the limited amount of time available to get the message of the story across — a challenge, considering how many big messages he wants to share through it.
“People with Alzheimer’s — they want to be helpful,” he said. “They still want to be valued. The other thing I demonstrate in this film is, how you can get through the difficulty of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.”
It’s important to remember your own health and needs when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, he said. Amid the constant care and doctor’s appointments, taking the time to “take care of yourself and get rest” is crucial, he explained, as your own needs can get lost.
For him, the experience was “difficult and frustrating,” but every so often there would be a bright spot.
“There were these moments of joy. People would say, ‘How can it be joyful?’ but it’s those moments when your loved one all of a sudden has a moment of clarity and they remember how they were when they were whole and complete,” he said.
Her time battling the disease provided the titular inspiration for the book as well as the movie.
After she was evaluated by a doctor, Schriftman was told his mother could be living with the disease anywhere from two to 20 years.
“I said, ‘Wow she could be my $2 million mom,’ ” he revealed — a succinct quip on how the costs of care could quickly add up between medications and living expenses from facilities like nursing homes.
He changed that figure to $1 million for the title, adding that the caretaking aspect provides only one of the meanings.
“She was worth a million dollars to me,” he said.
Schriftman tapped Ardmore resident Joe Lawless, founder of GoingLong Productions, as executive producer and Rose Glaesar as director of the independent film.
Just like his mother, Schriftman became involved with politics. He ran for state representative multiple times, beginning when he was just 21, freshly graduated from American University and garnered 46 percent of the vote in a loss, and again most recently in 2004, when he nearly won.
It was his lifelong dream to run for governor, an opportunity he gets toward the end of his mother’s life — at least in the film.
In the film, Schriftman’s character is given the chance to pursue the governor’s office — at the same time that his mother’s health is worsening. It forces him to confront an uncomfortable decision: running for governor just as he and his mother had dreamed and moving her to a nursing home, or continuing to care for her himself.
In real life, he almost ran for state representative again in 2006, but didn’t continue due to financial issues and his mother’s worsening health.
As for what his character decides to do, “you’ll have to go see the movie and see what he does,” he said.