Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GBE2: One Year Ago

I haven't posted to this blog since June 10th. After Dad died, it just got to be too difficult to write. When I had started this blog, it was two weeks before he went into the hospital. We had plans to work on it together. He was always calling me with stories of Mom and we supported each other. Alas, that project just wasn't meant to be, I guess. It has been hard to conceive of continuing it, but I will still attempt it here and there. This isn't just about me - this is for all of you.

So, that all being said, Happy Holidays! We are two days past Christmas and a few days away from the New Year. The holiday season always makes one reflect on life and love. This holiday season I have been reflecting on one year ago and how much everything has changed.

One year ago, I drove home on Christmas Eve. The usual 6 1/2 hour drive seemed even worse than usual because I was fighting a migraine. By the time I got to my parents' house, my eyeballs felt like they were being ripped out of my head. My stomach was turning and the world was spinning. I just wanted to go to bed, but my father insisted I was going to go to church with them this year. He knew it would be the last time we would be able to go together on Christmas Eve, only we thought it would be because Mom would be in a home by summer. Not because he was going to die.

I tried to take something for my head and stomach, but it wasn't working. We got into an argument with Mom because she smelled so bad and wasn't dressed right. She hadn't showered in at least a week and had been sleeping in her clothes. But we couldn't convince her to take a shower before we left. She kept insisting that she was fine. And she kept adding layers of clothes over the ones she was already wearing. At least they were all red for Christmas!

She kept hugging me because she was happy to see me. I can't even begin to describe what the B.O. was doing to my head and stomach. But at the same time, I wanted to collapse against my mommy's shoulder because I felt so sick.

The bickering finally had to cease and we made it to church. Like always, Dad had to walk all the way up to the front of the church. That is where the light was the brightest and the music was the loudest. The poinsettias in front of us were expanding and contracting, along with the thudding pain in my head. I remember laying my head on Mom's shoulder at times.

I remember little else of the service, other than spotting a former student sitting off to the side with his family. I chatted with him for a bit after the service. We had connected on Facebook, but probably not seen each other in at least 13 years or so. I also remember the pastor doing his sermon and using me as an example for whatever it was. He kept "talking to me." I struggled to pay attention. I was afraid I would throw up on his shoes if I looked away. I remember introducing myself afterwards and apologizing for being so out of it.

Christmas Day was relatively uneventful. I am pretty sure Mom kept wearing the same clothes and had slept in them again. I had wanted to make a turkey, but was coming off of the migraine. Dad and I agreed that my turkey taco soup would be an acceptable alternative. I cooked it and we gathered around the TV watching football.

The following night we decided to actually make a turkey. I asked Mom to help me, because I knew this would be the last time she could do so. She remembered enough to help me bag the turkey for roasting, but couldn't remember her recipe for the stuffing. I wish I would have paid more attention when I was younger. But my sister is the one who always made it with her and I am not a fan of stuffing.

The turkey ended up being perfect. And it is the only one I have ever made.

I made all of the traditional side dishes and fixed my mom a plate. It was the best meal she had eaten in a while. She raved about how wonderful it was. And I was proud of myself.

There were several other events that transpired during that trip. But I will save them for another entry. Thanks for starting the journey with me down Memory Lane.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lost and Found

I think about my mother and how much she has lost. She has lost her husband, only she doesn't quite know or understand that he is gone. (We elected to not tell her Dad passed away, but we think she found out, anyway.) She has lost her memories of the past few years. She doesn't even remember things from one moment to the next. She has lost friends and family who either have no idea or simply do not understand.

But she has found new friends. She has found Dad all around her, as he is alive and well in her memories and thoughts and she talks to him every day. And with the passing of my father, she almost found new family connections, as everyone made a point to go visit her while they were in town.

Mom has lost a lot of memories. But many of the ones she has lost are the unpleasant ones. Sure a nasty one will pop up from time to time. But most of the time, all she can remember are the happier times.

Mom has found a new way to be happy because she has been able to remember her happy days. She has been blissfully unaware of the sadness and the hell that is consuming the rest of us. She has found her happy place and is allowed to stay there.

Mom had gotten lost, as she became one of those statistics who wandered off in the middle of the night. While it was a scary experience and we all know the horror stories from similar situations, she was lucky to be found. And when she was found, it led her to a new way of life where she has found peace and proper care.

I have lost my mother. That is not easy to take. Yes, she is physically still here, but that woman in the nursing home is not the mother who raised me. I have found a new kind of relationship with her and new levels of patience and understanding.

BFF - A New Blogging Group

Ahhhhh....I love to write and I love inspiration. I just came across a new blogging group tonight called BFF - Blogging for Fun. Stay tuned for more possible posts based on their topics each week, as well. :-D

Sunday, May 29, 2011

O is for Opinions

Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is entitled to their opinions. And I have had plenty of them shared with me as I have dealt with Mom's illness.

My first "shocking" statement to people was when I said I hoped she ran away from home. I did not wish my mother harm, but I knew it was a good way to finally get her some help. The process of getting a diagnosis and some help was quite difficult, but I knew this step would be a big one. Sure enough, she ran away in the middle of the night. My father had them take her to the hospital, where she was determined to have not been harmed. And we were able to get her some help. (I choose to ignore that it was the subsequent process of getting paperwork done during which my father fell and hit his head, which led to his subdural hematoma and persistent unconsciousness. The brain bleed is not necessarily related.)

There were numerous opinions about where to place her. We had our hands tied for her first placement, as she was combative and only qualified for a few facilities. We knew where we wanted her to go. People had positive and negatives for both. But we feel that we have her in a good place now.

I get opinions as to my frequency of visiting and how we are handling things. Usually they are positive, but not always.

I admit that sometimes I have had opinions about how people have treated their parents in the declining years. I don't often share them with the person, unless it seems that someone is in some kind of danger or a really bad way. Or perhaps I wait until that person asks for my opinion. And then it must be carefully delivered. I try to treat others the way that I want to be treated.

N is for Normal

What is normal in the Alzheimer's world? Normal is apparently whatever world the person is in at any given moment. And apparently it isn't necessarily what is normal to the rest of us.

For my mother, it is normal to wander around two hallways and a communal area. It is normal to wear diapers, excuse me, briefs. It is normal for people to not be able to talk. It is normal to hear to have lengthy conversations with my father, even though he is essentially unconscious in a hospital twenty miles away. It is normal to seek the organ and to prepare for a church service.

It is not normal to me, though. And I often have these selfish moments where I can't handle the abnormal side of life with Mom. I struggle to remember that being normal is relative. It now needs to be normal to me to ride this strange roller coaster with Mom. My normal excursions with her, shopping, driving, eating, gardening, etc., just cannot happen anymore. They have translated from normal activity to normal memories. She is happy in her world. I am happy for her, but I am still struggling with it. Perhaps it would have been easier had my father not fallen ill around the same time, but I am not so sure about that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Expectations in Alzheimer's

It can be hard for me to plan a visit to see my mother, because I never know what to expect. I prefer that she is having a good day and is happy to see me. Unfortunately, I am often greeted with Cranky Mommy. For some reason, I seem to bring that side out in her.

I have learned to keep my phone stocked with pictures from my garden, as I can usually distract her with those. I have learned to expect other women to come join us, as they are also lonely for attention from other people. I have learned to be prepared to make up a quick reason for escape at a crucial moment, to leave Mom in a good mood but to also prevent her from trying to walk out with me.

I have had to learn to let go of expectations with my mother and to just take each moment as it comes. Alzheimer's is tricky and unpredictable. I have to take this roller coaster ride in stride, because I know what is coming later on down the road. It just feels weird for so much to have changed in such a short time. Six months ago, both of my parents were relatively fine and at home. I knew what to expect when I came home. And now each trip is an adventure into the unknown with them both.

GBE 2 Challenge

Yes, there is another blogging challenge. This one is called the GBE2 challenge. The Group Blogging Experience originally started on MySpace and has now been resurrected on Facebook. I wasn't going to include this blog in the weekly challenge, but the first topic is one that will fit this blog.

I can't guarantee that I will post on the weekly topics, but it isn't necessary. And yes, I still plan to finish that challenge from April and to attempt to finish the one from May. It just may take me until July. :-D

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

M is for Mother's Day

Yes, Mother's Day feels like ages ago now. But this post has been writing itself in my head since then.

I returned home for Mother's Day weekend for two reasons. One, my father was moved out of the ICU to an LTAC facility and I wanted to check it out. Also, my mother may not remember that I came to see her on Mother's Day, but *I* would know. And that was important to me.

Sunday morning, I had a lot of running around to do and I had overslept until almost 11:30. My sister had such a brilliantly simple idea for Mother's Day that I decided to mimic it. She simply sent Mom a card that said she loved her. Duh. So I quickly perused the cards at Kroger, focusing on the Snoopy ones. I have been a Snoopy freak since I was a kid, so it was appropriate. I also added a new word search puzzle book and a box of Good n Plentys.

I am all excited to spend a little happy time with my mom before heading home. I walk in and she looks at me and just starts complaining. This place is awful and unorganized. People are being too helpful. She sat through the budget meeting and no one knew what they were talking about, so she turned to my dad and said......

On and on she droned, as cranky as cranky could be. It was a little disappointing. Finally she started to get distracted by her card and I started showing her pictures from my garden on my phone. That always seems to be the key. Pictures of the flowers. I got a lump in my throat when she asked if I had shown them to my father, yet.

I also kept showing her pictures of family and talking about them. One of her fellow "lost" friends came into the room to chat with us for a bit. And finally my hour was over. I made up some excuse to leave. She asked, as always, if I was going to be back later that evening. I hate to lie, but I said yes. And she smiled, hugged me, and let me leave.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z to A in May: Blogging Challenge with a Twist

What? Another challenge? But you never finished this one!

No, I didn't. My father had to have brain surgery and has been in the ICU for over 2 weeks now. My extra writing time has been sucked up by trips to the hospital, conversations with the doctors, and updating family and friends. I've also been dealing with things with my mother who has Alzheimer's.

April has been a long, difficult month. But I vow to finish the blog posts for the original challenge and THEN I will try to work on this one. I think I can do it.

Join us!

Monday, April 25, 2011

L is for Lying

Do you ever feel guilty for lying? My whole life I was told to never lie to my mother and here I am doing it every time I see her. I can be honest with her about my life but now have to withhold so much information or tweak the truth.

Yesterday, I wore my father's rings. It's my way of feeling closer to him as he goes through this long healing process. I also like to think that I am sending him healing by carrying him with me. One of the rings is a very distinct one that had belonged to my grandfather. Mom immediately recognized it and was trying to figure out why I was wearing it. I just told her that Dad was letting me borrow it for a couple of days and tried to distract her.

Every time I have to leave, she wants to get her shoes on and come with me. I always have to tell her I will be coming back later, because she won't know the difference between an hour and a couple of days later. Honestly, within a couple of minutes of me leaving, I know she doesn't remember that I was there.

She also often talks about Dad sleeping in the other bed in the room, or being off doing something else. I know that I can always tell her that he is sleeping and I wouldn't be lying at all.

Part of being a Montessori educator is never lying to the kids. You always tell the truth on a level that they can understand. I'm trying to convince myself that is what I am doing for Mom, but it still makes me feel funny.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

K is for Kicking and Screaming

I went to visit my mother today, in honor of Easter. I brought her a lovely purple duckling that was dressed up like a bunny. I spent the hour showing her pictures on my phone, which included shots from hiking, from my garden, and from my classroom. She remembers enough to know that I like to garden and that I am a Montessori teacher. She bugged everyone sitting near us with my pictures. She scared me at first because she had to stare at me for a good thirty seconds before it registered who I was. But she was really having a good day.

I am glad that she has calmed down so much. It was hard for me to watch a nurse come over and give her her meds. Then Mom got all emotional at how nice it was that someone has taken the time to get the medication that she needs. I am also grateful that she is somewhere that she can get the meds that she needs. She just wasn't taking care of herself and could have gotten very sick. And one of her meds is supposed to help slow down the progress of the Alzheimer's.

To look at her sitting so nicely it is hard to believe that this is the same woman who was yelling at me all during Christmas break. There is something in me that triggers Mom's angry side. Perhaps it is my authoritative stance that I have developed as a teacher. I remember to not take it personally, but I still alternate between annoyance/hurt at being yelled at and laughing hysterically at the "Exorcist voice."

I also kept trying to picture her when she first arrived at the facility. She was not happy to be there and kept trying to leave. Apparently one day her ankle bracelet malfunctioned and she made it out the door. It took three people to wrestle her back in, kicking and screaming. It also hurts my heart a bit to think of how terrified she must have been. Now she has gotten over it and loves her vacation home. I just hope that when she transfers she can avoid that kicking and screaming phase and embrace her new life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

J is for Judgment

Whenever Mom and I would go somewhere, I felt like she was constantly being judged. Truthfully, I know when it came to her job performance, she was being judged, only people didn't quite understand. I felt like I was constantly having to apologize for her behavior. I remember my parents coming out to visit in NY and we were invited to the home of one of my good friends. As Mom droned on and on and kept repeating herself, I felt like I had to apologize and explain. My friend's husband said he could recognize it. That same trip, my sister had a bunch of people over at her house and her roommate got stuck with my mom. Of course the roommate was a neurological nurse and understood.

I guess it is the same kind of feeling that mothers of special needs children experience when they are out in public with their children. You know that the outbursts are inappropriate, but at the same time, she can't help it. You don't want people to look poorly on her nor you.

I think the most difficult, yet somewhat amusing, incidents was when we went to Walmart to get new cell phone plans where they had one phone on my plan. Mom was not having any of it and felt like we were plotting against her. By the time we got out to the car, she was having a full-blown temper tantrum. She even started throwing stuff out of the van. The look on a passing child's face was priceless.

We didn't have a choice but to laugh, even though at the time it was horribly embarrassing.

I don't tell this story to try to exploit my mother and her illness. I tell it to let others know that some of us out there understand that tantrum that your mother or father is having. We know that (s)he can't help it. Not all of us are judging you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

Weeks like this I am jealous of my mother. She is living in her own world at the nursing home, blissfully unaware as to how sick my father is. While my sister and I are constantly checking in with nurses and doctors and visiting our father in the ICU, Mom contentedly thinks that he is off doing something and will be back soon to sleep in the bed next to hers. She doesn't have to worry about every little beep or flinch. She doesn't get to stay up late at night worrying about what is going to happen. She doesn't have to make any difficult decisions.

I feel like it isn't fair that my sister and I are left dealing with these difficulties. But at the same time, I am so happy for my mother that she doesn't have to deal with any of this stress. Daddy has had health difficulties for many years now, and it was always taxing on her. Before she went to the home, she was convinced that medical scares from at least four years ago were currently occurring and it upset her. At this point, her spotty memory is only allowing her to remember the good times. She is very lucky. :-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

H is for Happiness

I have had the opportunity to visit my mother twice since I came home for spring break. I have been a little distracted by my father, who has been extremely ill, and required brain surgery today. (It went well, thanks.)

I have noticed a massive change in my mother since I was home for Christmas. Now that she is in a home, she is clean. She is being bathed. Someone does her hair and nails. Her clothes match and she is only wearing one layer. (Did I tell you about Christmas, how she kept adding layers of clothes until she had on six tops and two pairs of pants under a skirt?) She is getting the proper medications at the proper times.

And she is happy.

I haven't seen her so happy in a long time. She usually walks around with a smile on her face. She talks about how much she loves this place in which she is staying. She talks about how nice everyone is. And she only seems to have kind memories about everyone she knows. It's such a nice change.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

G is for Grandma

As I have mentioned before, my grandmother, Mom's mom, also had Alzheimer's. I vaguely remember going to visit her in the nursing home and she would just talk in circles, nonstop, for hours on end. Today my sister and I went to visit Mom for the first time ever at her nursing home. She reminded me an awful lot of my grandma.

Mom did know who we were and was able to correctly introduce us to everyone. But she was simultaneously living in the past, convinced that her mother had just been to see her. And she talked nonstop for the two hours we were there. It was very cyclical in nature and somewhat delusional, but we just entertained her ramblings until it was time to go.

One thing she kept mentioning were the kids coming to see her. I'm not positive who they are supposed to be. My best guess is they are my cousins, who are all older than we are. But her constant mentioning of the kids reminded me of one of Mom's stories about her mother when Grandma was starting to head downhill.

Grandma called Mom in a panic one day, upset because the kids wouldn't eat. Mom panicked for a brief moment, because she knew she hadn't taken us up to Grandma's house that day. She ran to make sure that we were indeed in the house and told Grandma as much. But Grandma kept insisting that the kids were having a problem, just sitting there, and wouldn't eat! Mom decided to drive up to find out what was going on.

When she arrived at Grandma's house, a box of Cheerios was sitting on the table. There were kids on the Cheerios box. Grandma pointed at them and said they wouldn't eat. Mom put away the box. Problem solved.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

F is for Football

This past September, a friend of mine had tickets to the Michigan-Bowling Green game up in Ann Arbor. I've been a Michigan fan since I was a kid, and I went to BG. What a perfect combination! I called my parents and asked my mother specifically if she would be interested in going to the game with me. She agreed, so I told my friend I would take his tickets and take my mom.

Ironically enough, the Friday before the game, my paternal grandmother passed away. I was going to have to go home that weekend, anyway. I debated about whether or not I should even try to go, but everyone reassured me that Grandma would want me to go to my game. In fact, the last time I had seen her, two weeks prior to her passing, she had sent me home so that I could watch the Michigan-Notre Dame game.

So, it was with a heavy heart that I woke up that Saturday morning, ecstatic to drive up to Ann Arbor to finally set foot in the Big House. I looked forward to watching my boys in person, and I was looking forward to having one last big hurrah with my mother. I could sense even then that she was starting to rapidly slip.

Our first battle came over what she was wearing. She kept trying to put on red clothes. For those unfamiliar with college football, red is a no-no at Michigan, as scarlet and gray are the colors that belong to our evil nemesis (Ohio State). We finally got her in some blue. Then, she refused to put on long sleeves. While it seemed relatively warm, there was still a chill in the air. She was convinced she would be okay.

We made the hour-long drive up to Ann Arbor. Mom realized that she was cold, so she asked if she could borrow a jacket. Unfortunately, the only thing I had available was my Pearl Jam jacket I had gotten at the last concert. I still laugh every time I think of my mom walking around sporting my Pearl Jam gear.

Michigan stomped all over BG. Neither one of us really cared who won, but were happy that Michigan prevailed. Mom did a relatively good job keeping up with the game, though she kept asking where we were and who was on the field. She asked a couple of questions here and there about what was happening on the field, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

During halftime, I asked someone sitting next to us if she could take a picture of me and my mother. I had a feeling that it would be the last one of the two of us, and I wanted to mark this momentous occasion.

We hung around campus for a bit after the game. I did some shopping while we let the crowd disperse. Then we drove back to Bowling Green, stopping off to do a little more shopping, first. We were home within about two hours of the game ending. I started uploading the pictures from my phone to my computer, showing Mom each one. She kept asking me when I had gone to a game. She didn't believe me when I showed her the pictures of herself at the game. It was then that I truly realized how fast my mom's memory was fading. Sure enough, less than six months later, she was in a home.

I will never forget taking Mom up to that game. And I will never regret dragging her along with me. Those are the kinds of memories that keep me warm and fuzzy when I start to feel sad about losing her.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Escape

I talked to my dad on the phone last night. Apparently, he had heard from the place where my mother now lives. They mentioned they have removed the ankle bracelet. Mom is calmer now.

See, she was placed in a home in the middle of February, because she decided to take a walk in the middle of the night from her own house. We were fortunate that Dad figured it out quickly and he called the authorities to go look for her. We had a quick and rough battle to get her placed from the hospital. But at that point, it was obvious that my father could no longer care for her on his own. Especially if she was going to start wandering at 1:30 in the morning.

When she was placed in her new accommodations, she kept begging my father to take her home. Actually, she still asks here and there, but with less tenacity. Apparently, they took her to be a flight risk, as well.

One day, the ankle bracelet malfunctioned. She managed to get out the back door. It took THREE grown adults to wrestle her back inside. Hey, we are strong women! My mommy grew up on a farm, so she is built tough!

I still remember one night when I was visiting over Christmas break. She wanted to take out the trash in the middle of the night. I kept saying no, and literally stood in her way. That woman actually started looking me up and down, sizing me up, trying to decide if she could take me! At that point, I thought for sure I would win, but after hearing how it took three adults to get her back inside the facility, I'm not so sure! I still chuckle when I try to picture the catfight that could have ensued.....

Wandering is a common part of the Alzheimer's world. Again, we were lucky that she was quickly found. Others are not so lucky. Many people were upset with me when I was saying that I actually hoped she would run off, so that we could finally get her placed. But, I think I also had faith that it would work out okay in the end. And it has.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Daddy

This post, which I know is going to make me cry, is dedicated to my Daddy. He has been the most important person in my life for just about my entire life. While I was always close to my mother, I always felt just a little bit closer to him.

He is not your typical father. He has a strong appreciation for music. He is an artist, focused on oils and acrylics. He loves fine arts and good literature. He loves all things British, as well as the Golden Girls. He also has a wicked sense of humor, that my sister and I have inherited. My friends who are on Facebook are regularly complimenting his witty remarks on my statuses and posts.

He doesn't care about sports, though he does get into the Michigan games that I make him watch whenever I am home. He tinkers around the house, but isn't exactly the handyman type. He also was an amazing gardener who taught me a lot of what I know. Apparently, I have also taught him quite a bit. And, he has finally become a phenomenal cook.

My parents met 39 years ago, and have been married for 38 years. (I must interject that there is a Golden Girls reference here, as Stan and Dorothy were married for 38 years before their divorce. My parents aren't divorced, but are now separated as Mom is in a home....:-)) For those who really want to, you can read about their meeting and wedding, which is definitely the most unique one I've found thus far.

Each of my parents has always been strong in their own regard. When everything started to happen with my mother, my father and I both leaned on his mother. She was the rock, the matriarch of the family. She quickly became a mother figure for me, more than a grandmother, because I didn't really have one anymore. Unfortunately, she finally passed away in September of 2010. She was a ripe old 95 years young. But I remember the day that my mother's sister-in-law stopped by to give her condolences. She told me that I was the new matriarch of my family. That was tough to take.

For us to then essentially lose my mother less than six months after my grandmother seems almost cruel. But what I have found is that my father has developed a new sense of strength that I don't think he realized he had in him. He has had to be the one to go through all of the meetings, and filing of paperwork, and all other requirements. My sister and I could make few phone calls on his behalf. Pretty much we could only coach and assist from afar.

Daddy is also learning how to be a bachelor all over again. It is weird and sad to be on your own again after almost 40 years. It is also liberating for him to not have to worry anymore. I am proud of him for finding his strength.

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Crying

Talking about Alzheimer's is never complete without mentioning crying. Everyone is going to do it. The person who is afflicted is going to cry when she finds out. Her friends and family are going to cry as they watch her slipping away. The crying isn't going to just happen one time and then be over. It is going to happen time and time again. And that is okay.

I do it regularly. So does my family. So does my mother, though she will never admit it.

But through those tears, we try to laugh. And sometimes laugh our way to crying. Remember to let your emotions flow instead of keeping them bottled up. And know you will get through this, somehow some way.

{{hugs}} to everyone else dealing with this disease in their lives. We're all in it together.

C is for Caregivers

Unfortunately, I was never really able to be the caregiver for my mother. I live several miles away, and could only get home a few times a year. While home, though, my father would sleep the entire time, exhausted from having to serve as her caregiver. I would be exhausted after even three days home, let alone it being a full-time job.

It is important to make sure you have a strong support system as a caregiver. There are Alzheimer's support groups out there. My father did try to go to a couple of meetings. Alas, they often were not meeting when they posted they would be. When he called to inquire, he was told "We forgot." No joke. (But how flippin' cliche and hilarious at the same time!?!)

I actually came across a great article for caregivers the other day. It's from the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire, but the information is useful for anyone who is dealing with Alzheimer's in the family. Read "Resources and tips for the millions of Alzheimer's caregivers, a group at-risk of emotional, health, work, and relationship issues."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Bras

My family has been a long-time fan of The Golden Girls. I have fond memories of the four of us curling up in the living room every Saturday evening to watch. As the show ended and eventually turned into reruns, we all kept watching. One might say that my father is obsessed.

There is one particular episode in which Sophia makes a comment that she knows she is still okay, because she isn't putting her underwear on outside of her clothes.

One day, I got a message from my father telling me that the Sophia Petrillo moment had happened. Mom was trying to put her bra on outside of the clothes. I burst out laughing.

Yes, I also had a brief moment of a tear or two. But the image in my mind was absolutely priceless. Remember, you have to laugh at Alzheimer's, or you'll go nuts!

B is for Brain, Babies, and Boyfriends

My mother was aware that her memory was slipping. It got particularly bad after she was forced into an early retirement. Then again, that early retirement came about because she was starting to forget things. She kept talking about the importance of keeping her brain active. She regularly played computer solitaire games, particularly Free Cell. She played Sudoku for a while, but her true puzzle passions laid in jigsaws and word searches. The way that she would chant the letters for a word she was seeking reminded me of my students who use word searches as a method of learning how to spell.

Mom also wanted to start reading again. Unfortunately, it had been so long since she had been into reading, that she found it difficult. I also think it was hard for her to remember chapters from one day to the next. It was easier to read the newspaper. But then, we would hear about the same article time and time again.

It was almost comical the way that she would get so excited about an article she found. "Oh my goodness! Did you hear about this?!" And she would proceed to read the article to us. Fast forward anywhere from 10-30 minutes, and the excitement would begin again. To prevent ourselves from getting too annoyed, we would feign excitement or even try to guess what it was about.

It is sad to watch her brain deteriorate. Eventually, she will become like her mother, I am sure, and simply lie in bed in the fetal position.

And speaking of babies, my mother always wanted to be a grandmother. She has pretty much been after me since I was a kid to provide her with those grandbabies. Every time a customer would come into their store with a baby, she would beg to hold it and bring it over to show me. It hurts that even if I do eventually have a baby some day, she will be unable to enjoy playing with them. My consolation here is that she has pictures of family friends' babies, and she is convinced that she is related to them somehow. So in her world, she has those beautiful grandbabies.

Now, of course, to have a baby, I require an actual boyfriend who should eventually become my husband. In my first relationship after Mom had gotten really bad, I spent a lot of time crying, because she would never meet him. My mother and I have been sharing wedding ideas for years. I always thought she would be there, watching me walk down the aisle, letting me borrow something of hers. We would have to restrain her from taking over the playing of the organ, as she is the only organist she can usually tolerate.

I guess I am just glad that she doesn't have to go through any disappointment as relationships fall apart. And any boyfriends should be lucky that she can't unleash her colorful comments on them when they are being stupid. They just have to deal with mine, instead.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Anger and Acceptance

I know this is supposed to be about laughing at Alzheimer's, but you will quickly learn that I like to bask in intense feelings all over the spectrum. Even though we can laugh at many of the things that our beloved Alzheimer's patients go through, those chuckles often come out in the middle of other intense feelings.

When dealing with an Alzheimer's diagnosis, there is always anger. It is a normal part of the grieving process. I remember having strong anger, even at the age of 9, when my grandmother died from Alzheimer's. That was very traumatic for me, because I was very close to her. And after she died, it seemed like all I kept hearing was that there were all of these advances in caring for and treating Alzheimer's disease. I just kept thinking, "Where was all of this news before? Why couldn't my grandmother have had access to these medications?"

Flash forward twenty years. My mother started showing signs of Alzheimer's. Only, she was able to camouflage those symptoms in front of many of the medical professionals. We were always told that we were wrong. There was nothing wrong. I got angry at doctors who were ignoring my pleas to help my mother.

My own mother started showing some anger. She knew what was happening to her, only she didn't want to accept it. She watched her mother and brother battle the disease, and had always feared she would eventually succumb to it. She often yelled at us when we tried to tell her something that she had forgotten. We tried to apologize for having to tell her more than once, but it didn't work. I tried really hard to separate myself from the situation, but it still hurt. And I was angry that she was angry.

Insert semi-funny story: My mother had stopped driving over a year ago. It was getting ridiculous to pay for two cars and two insurance policies, when only one car was being driven. So, she and my father traded in both older cars for one newer van. I came home for vacation, and all I kept hearing was that the car had been stolen. It didn't matter how much we tried to explain it to her. She just couldn't remember trading it in.

Move on to acceptance.

As much as it has pained me to watch my mother's decline, I have had no choice but to take it for what it is. Granted, I live a few hundred miles away and it is easier to accept from afar. When people at work ask me about it, I just keep repeating my mantra, "It is what it is." And I have to choose how I handle it.

I'm not going to lie: I have cried through writing this post. I will probably cry through writing many posts. That is what I do and how I deal. And then, I move on and accept. I can't change what is happening to my mother. But, I can control how I respond to it.

I mourn her loss every day. I almost wish she were dead, because that would be easier to accept right now than what is facing her. And again, I choose to laugh in spite of it.

Laugh at Alzheimer's Facebook Page & Twitter!

I decided I should also have a Facebook page dedicated to Alzheimer's, and providing a place for further conversation. So, I have started one, also called How to Laugh at Alzheimer's. Please visit and click "Like" to join in the conversation. I have noticed that if you link to the page from your profile, people have to actually visit it to become a "fan." (Which reminds me, several of my family and friends need to do that!)

If you are on Twitter, you can also join us on Twitter @laughatalz.

Thanks for your support!

Alzheimer's A to Z

I wasn't going to enter this blog in the April A to Z blogging challenge, but last night my brain kept going through the alphabet. It may be a good way for me to get this blog going, anyway.

What am I talking about?

For the month of April, Tossing It Out is holding an A to Z challenge for bloggers. Every day in April, except for Sundays, you blog about something that begins with the letter of the day. You have unlimited postings available for the day, but at least one should feature that letter. It could be fun.

I am doing it on several other blogs: Montessori Writer (about Montessori education), Andi's Gardening Experiments, and Montessori Writer's Thoughts. I have two other blogs, Andi's Book Reviews and Andi's Kids Books, but I didn't come up with anything for those, yet. Maybe unofficially I will pop something in here and there on them.

I'm not sure that I will be able to keep up with every single one of the blogs every single day, but I will at least make an attempt. Would you care to join me?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to Laugh at Alzheimers

Alzheimer's disease is a horrible disease. I don't want to make it seem like I am going to literally make fun of people who have it. Instead, I want to create a place where people can get together and talk about how they feel and support each other.

My mother has Alzheimer's. Her mother had Alzheimer's. My uncle had Alzheimer's. I could very well have Alzheimer's. The way that my family and I have dealt with it is to poke a little fun here and there. It helps us deal with the hurt and the anguish that we feel.

Alzheimer's is the long goodbye. It can last for numerous years after the diagnosis is made, or the first symptoms are observed. Those of us who are "survivors" have a choice: either wallow in self-pity, or have fun with those who are still with us and embrace our loved ones who are afflicted. Remember to not take it so personally and that you are not alone.

I look forward to our conversations.