Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when you lose your love.

Frank Slason’s wife, Diane, died last month  at 85.

Diane Slason as a young woman. Photo courtesy of Frank Slason

But in many ways, he said, she began to leave him long before, as Alzheimer’s robbed her of her memories of their more than six decades of marriage.

Slason, of Somerville, wanted his wife to be remembered – and asked this newspaper to publish something about her.

“It was coming for three years,” Frank, 90, said of her death. “It was heartbreaking watching her waste away. Eventually, she didn’t even know me.”

Diane Slason was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, in 1936. The two met at a college dance in 1956, when she was a student at Nasson College in Springvale, Maine.


They shared a deep love, he said, based on mutual trust and respect – though he always had competition for her affection.

Before they married, Diane warned Frank that horses would be a big part of their lives. “I told people she had plenty of boyfriends. They all had four feet,” he said, laughing.

“She had a beautiful smile. She was sweet, shy,” he said. “I was a very, very lucky man to be married to her.” But “horses were her life.”

She started riding horses at the age of 5, encouraged by her parents – especially her equestrian mother.

“When I first met her, it was it,” Frank said. “She was the most beautiful girl in school. The cameras followed her around.”

They married the next year, settled in Cape Cod and had two children, a girl and a boy. Their son, John, died at 33 from a brain aneurysm after a fall. Their daughter, Holly, lives in Florida.


Frank worked as an electrical engineer. Diane taught horse riding.

At first she owned three horses, then she bought six more and opened a riding school, offering instruction in both English and Western horseback riding.

An accomplished rider, she competed in horse shows and riding competitions all over New England and at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“We were forever going to horse shows,” Frank said.

Through the years, she won numerous championships, trophies and blue ribbons, he said: “She took care of the horses all herself. She was a dynamo.”

As the couple aged, Diane suggested they should retire and move to Maine. They did so in 1999.


“Thank God we did,” Frank said. “It was the best move we ever made.” The slower life, he said, gave them “precious years. You’ve got to make every day count.”

They moved to Jefferson, not far from Augusta, with three horses.

Diane continued to ride and care for her horses, Frank said, until her early 80s, when she had two debilitating strokes and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Diane Slason riding in 2010. Photo courtesy of Frank Slason

He cared for her at home as long as he could, about two years, but she had to move to a nursing home in 2019.

“I was in tears,” he said. “I remember saying, ‘I cannot believe this.'”

During the years when Diane was in care, Frank was dedicated to his wife, said Laurie Cromwell, director of social services at Heritage Rehabilitation and Living Center in Winthrop.


He drove three times a week from Somerville to Winthrop to see her, Cromwell said. He sent her letters and comics. He brought her chocolates and horse magazines. He would wheel her wheelchair outdoors to see horses near the home.

Diane Slason riding in 1954. Photo courtesy of Frank Slason

“You could always tell by her eyes how she looked at him that they had a true love,” Cromwell said.

Near the end, his wife didn’t seem to remember anything, Frank said. “She wasn’t eating. She was down to 88 pounds. I knew she was going.”

But she may have been more aware than he knew.

She no longer spoke, but “she always smiled at him. …”We would say, ‘Oh look, your husband is here.’ She would smile,” Cromwell said.

In June, the Maine Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living and residential care facilities, gave her a lifetime achievement award for being an accomplished equestrian. She wasn’t well enough to attend the ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center.


Their last anniversary was their 65th in September, a modest celebration held at the nursing home.

Before Diane died, Frank said, he wrote an essay telling her not to worry about him when she crossed “the rainbow bridge. … I’ll be right behind you.”

After, Cromwell gave Frank a container with the letters he had sent his wife. Diane had saved all of them. “He was touched,” she said.

Watching someone you love go through the stages if Alzheimer’s is not easy, Cromwell said, “however we walk the journey with them.”

Driving in his truck after he picked up Diane’s ashes, Frank talked to her, letting her know they were driving from Winthrop, through Augusta, to Somerville, where they’d long lived together.

“I brought her home,” he said.

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