Q. You grew up in Blackshear, Georgia, population: 3,500. How did your upbringing shape your faith?
A. I was really free-range—that’s the beauty of growing up in a teeny, teeny town. I loved church, Bible study and church camp in the summer. That’s where I first started performing. When I was three years old, I remember sitting in Sunday school and feeling I was wrapped in this blanket of light and warmth and love. I never really knew what that was until I felt it as an adult and was like, “That’s the presence of God!”
Q. Tell us about your dad.
A. My dad worked in our family’s timber and trucking business. He was a logger and drove 18-wheelers. He worked six days a week, got up at five in the morning to work, then came back home to take my sister and me to school. He was my basketball coach and drove me to voice lessons. He always made time for my brother, sister and me. Now you might be sitting outside the school for 30 minutes, and he might come swinging in on two wheels, but he always showed up. I could not have asked for a better father.
Q. In 2017, your newborn son needed heart surgery. Then, the same week, your dad was diagnosed with dementia at age 62?
A. Bennett had only one coronary artery, and it was in the wrong place. At five days old, he had major surgery. Five days later, I got a call from my mother about Dad. I had been trying to get my mom to get him checked out. He kept forgetting things and didn’t seem like himself. At first I didn’t even think it was Alzheimer’s or dementia because he was so young. But Dad was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of dementia called Pick’s disease (commonly referred to as frontotemporal dementia). It affects the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes. Luckily we have the Alzheimer’s Association doing research, people dedicating their lives to finding answers on treating it and slowing its progression.
Q. What did it feel like to get this news all at once?
A. The best way I can describe it: The life you once had, the life you once knew, it’s all gone. I had to figure out a way to exist inside this new reality. Part of my heartbreak was that I was 2,500 miles away, in California. Bennett was in the hospital for a month after his surgery. He came home on oxygen. He was super compromised. We couldn’t have people visit, and no one could hold him. I couldn’t get to my dad because I had to keep my son alive. To not be able to get to this man—who had spent his life protecting me, taking care of me and being my biggest advocate—was excruciating.
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