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?