Saturday, December 1, 2012

Alzheimer's Plot: 'The Christmas Clock' by Kat Martin

I was going through my blogs one day to check out old book reviews. I came across one from 2009 called 'The Christmas Clock.' The book has a subplot of early onset Alzheimer's in one of the characters. I remember reading it back then, feeling drawn to the story, because of my own mother. This was well before she went downhill so fast. I enjoyed it, as some of you may. I am reposting my review here, for those who may be interested.

The Christmas Clock is the latest book by bestselling author Kat Martin. It's the story of a young boy named Teddy Winters, who at the age of eight lives with his grandmother, Lottie Sparks. Unbeknownst to him and many others in their small Michigan town, Lottie is suffering from a very rapidly progressing form of Alzheimer's disease. She is seeking to find him a permanent home before she becomes too disabled. At the same time, Teddy is trying to earn money to by his beloved grandmother a mantel clock that reminds her of her childhood.

Teddy goes to work doing odd jobs around the mechanic shop owned by Joe Dixon. Joe has been trying to rebuild his life after doing time for accidentally killing a man in a bar fight many years ago. His rage had been sparked by the love of his life, Sylvia Winters, suddenly taking off, claiming she had never loved him, which he felt in his heart of hearts wasn't true.

Sylvia has recently returned to town, carefully guarding the secret that had caused her to flee all of those years ago. She is also looking to start over, but is finding it difficult, as she keeps running into Joe, and realizes that her feelings haven't changed.

At the same time, Sylvia is becoming close friends with Doris Culver, her landlord. Doris and her husband Floyd have been married forever, but lost the spark years ago. They dance around wanting to revive the relationship, but neither will be the first to admit it or to make the first move.

All of these people are interconnected, and every choice that they make somehow affects all of the others. Though highly predictable, as most romance novels are, each of these choices eventually leads to a Christmas miracle of sorts for everyone involved. A few lessons in life and love can also be gleaned from these pages if you pause for a second to reflect.

It's an extremely easy read, designed to allow you to relax for a couple of hours during this hectic holiday season. It's not written to change the world, but to entertain. Those with families touched by Alzheimer's will feel a sort of kinship with the characters dealing with it, even though Lottie's descent into the depths of dementia feel a little too fast for reality.

Purchase in paperback.

Purchase for Kindle

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reflecting on Mom From A to Z

Like usual, I am behind on doing my posts. Reflections on the A to Z Challenge were supposed to be completed by last night. Even if I weren't behind as it is, it feels more appropriate to post this on Mother's Day.

I just hung up with my mother. She has no concept of it being Mother's Day, let alone the fact that she is a mother. I do not exist in her world anymore. They put her on the phone and she could hardly complete a sentence, let alone a thought. There were lots of "Um, uhhh, I forget the word" and lots of trailing off. I was able to translate some of it and fill in the blanks. I know what she would have said had it been even a year ago. She just can't do it anymore.

The nurse said that she is doing well, though, as far as her health is concerned - as much as she can, anyway. She has had no problems with breathing nor any other signs of the blood clot since she got out of the hospital. So, the long goodbye and slow neurological degeneration continues.

Last year, I started this blog in honor of the A to Z Challenge. Dad and I were going to work on it together, but life had other plans. I did do several posts in honor of my mother and our journey. This year, I managed to complete it in time for the end of the challenge. It felt good to try to think about the good times with my mom. I enjoyed honoring her memory. I did the same for my dad over on Montessori Writer's Thoughts. I have shed a few tears through the process, but it was cathartic. I will probably do something again next year.

Here are the links from this year's challenge. Following this list are last year's posts, as well.

A is for Acceptance
B is for Bookkeeping
C is for Christmas
D is for Daughter
E is for Easter
F is for Farmer
G is for Gardening
H is for Happiness

I is for Independence
J is for Juggling
K is for Kids
L is for Love
M is for Mommy
N is for Norma
O is for Organist
P is for Prayer
Q is for Quadrille
R is for Reading
S is for Symmetry
T is for Typing
U is for Underwear
V is for Violets
W is for Words
X is for Xendochial
Y is for Young
Z is for Zzzzzzz

Here are the posts I managed to do last year.

A is for Anger and Acceptance
B is for Brain, Babies and Boyfriends
B is for Bras
C is for Caregivers
C is for Crying
D is for Daddy
E is for Escape
F is for Football
G is for Grandma
H is for Happiness
Ignorance is Bliss
J is for Judgment
K is for Kicking and Screaming
L is for Lying
M is for Mother's Day
N is for Normal
O is for Opinions

Monday, May 7, 2012

My mother's voice

The other night I took some Benadryl before bed. My allergies have been acting up like crazy and I just wanted to SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. I was definitely deep in sleep when all of a sudden, I heard my mother's voice in my ear and could feel her breath tickling my ear.

I sat straight up in bed, despite the Benadryl fog. Of course there was no one there. She is in a home 400 miles away. But it really seemed like she had been.

I cannot remember anymore what she said to me. I wish I could. It was something profound and necessary for me to hear. Or, perhaps I just needed to hear it for that moment.

I miss her wisdom and talking to her.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Had a Dream....

Last night, I had a throbbing headache. (Thanks for passing those on, Mom!) I went to bed early and took one Benadryl. (I still have it this morning. *sigh*) So, I slept pretty hard for about 7 hours or so, before waking up from a really bizarre dream.

In my dream, I was taking some of my students to a large field so that we could look at the stars and use my Google Sky Map app for real. We have used it in real life, but it isn't as much fun when you can't see the stars to match. I am all excited, trying to point out to the kids how you can see the actual constellations and planets in the sky, but they quickly lost interest. (They are ages 3-6.)

So, somehow the dream shifts and we are in some kind of seminar about keeping yourself safe, as well as child development. I am there with a couple of my colleagues, some old friends from back in the high school and college days, and a couple of students. Somehow, I am back on campus in the town where my parents retired, also where I went to school. I am feeling guilty because I have traveled all this way for the seminar, but have not gone to see my mom. My BFF keeps reminding me that it probably isn't the right time to squeeze in a side trip, how upset my mother gets when I do visit, and how hard it could potentially be on me. So, I acquiesce to simply taking the BFF and one other person on a quick tour of campus before we all pile in the cars to head back to NY.

We get to the new building that houses the pool. (My university is in a massive rebuilding phase right now.) I want to take them in there, even though it looks crowded, because this pool is supposed to be amazing. When we go in, I notice that my mom's nursing home is there on some kind of a field trip, and she is sitting in an armchair in the corner!

I go running over to her and introduce myself. "Hi, Mom. I'm Andrea." She snaps at me, "I know who you are," but by her conversation, I know she has no idea. I go ahead and introduce her to my BFF, even though they met a couple of times a few years ago. BFF is wiping tears away, because she has heard about the degeneration, but can't believe it.

The conversation with Mom continues in circles as it usually does. A nurse comes over to take Mom away for her medication, and I realize she is wearing a neck brace. It had been covered up by a blanket. I ask what had happened, because I am usually the one notified when something happens to her. The nurse says she isn't sure, but that it seemed to be more of a panacea than anything actually medically necessary. I wonder briefly if she is reliving 16 years ago when she had back surgery and then remember that she is much farther behind than that anymore.

I feel sad, yet relieved, as she is wheeled away. The three of us turn to head back to the cars. And then I wake up, 10 minutes before the alarm is set to go off.

Monday, April 30, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: Z is for Zzzzzzzzzzz

One of my favorite memories is curling up with my mother to fall asleep. When I was little, Mom would rock me in the oversized upholstered rocking chair that she bought when she met my father. It made this horrible creaking noise, the rhythm of which would lull you to sleep. I would fight sleep because I knew as soon as I was out, she would make me go back to bed. It was so comforting to be in her arms.

On Friday nights, we would watch Dallas together. As long as I could fit, I often lay in front of her on the couch.  Unfortunately, I seemed to quickly get too big for doing that. She would also let me squeeze into bed with her if I had nightmares or didn't feel well. To this day, when I have a nightmare or don't feel well, I just want my mommy to curl up with me to make me feel better.

I miss my mom a lot. I know she is still physically here on Earth, but it just isn't the same. Thank you for taking this journey with me this month as I reminisced about her.

My Mommy Tribute: Y is for Young

My parents were older when they had us. Mom turned 37 right after having me and 40 right after having my sister. Most of my friends had parents who were at least 10 years younger. Mom was fully aware of being older. She used to dye her gray hair on a regular basis. I would stand and watch her color her hair. I can almost still smell the dye. I didn't understand that she was so much older, though.

Mom always said that she didn't feel older when she had us. She tried to not be offended when people asked if we were her grandkids. The two of us kept her feeling young and that was more important.

When Mom started to decline, people often asked me how old she was. She is 71, but started showing signs ten years ago. All I hear in response is, "Oh, that is so young." Yes, she is young to be suffering from Alzheimer's. It's sad that it struck her so young. At the same time, it was to her benefit as she got to miss the hell of watching Dad die last year. But at the same time, she is forever young.

My Mommy Tribute: X is for Xendochial

Thanks to my favorite resource for this challenge, The Phrontistery, I found yet another great word to describe my mom. "Xendochial" means "hospitable; kindly to strangers." That describes my mother to a T. (Or in this case an X?)

My parents were always very accommodating to friends and family in need. Their dinner table was always open for a meal, whether or not it was a holiday. They often put up my friends who needed a place to stay for a few weeks. They liked to take care of everyone.

As for the strangers, my mom was like the motherly figure of wisdom to a lot of the young couples that came into their furniture store. She would spend hours at the desk, talking to the young parents-to-be. She was like an unpaid counselor for some of them. I remember one particularly lonely woman would stay at the store up to two hours after we were closed. Her husband worked nights and she had no family in town. For a few years after she had her baby, we often took care of him.

Mom just had that friendly and comforting look on her face that allowed people to trust her as soon as they met her. Who knows how many lives she was able to touch?

My Mommy Tribute: W is for Words

Mom loved words. She loved to play word games. My great-grandmother on Dad's side of the family was also a fan of word games. Mom often went to visit her in the nursing home and the two of them would play Scrabble. Grandma Belle would abruptly decide that a game was over, close up the game and announce that it was time for Mom to go home. But they enjoyed their weekly games.

Every once in a while when I was a kid, my mother would bring out the special edition Scrabble game that she and my father owned. They didn't want us to ruin the set; we had a tendency to lose pieces to our games. We ended up with our own word games, such as Boggle and Upwords. After I moved to New York, I often played word games with Mom when we would visit each other. By then she didn't care about following the rules. I would decimate her by using slang and foreign words, because I knew so many in a bunch of different languages. She didn't care. It was more important that we were spending time together and laughed a lot.

To pass the time, Mom started doing a lot of word search puzzles. It was her way of keeping her mind active. It was difficult for her to read, but she could still focus on one word at a time. She had dozens of those books lying all around the house. No matter where she went, she could do a puzzle.

When she moved into the nursing home, we made sure she had a good stock of them available to her. She had a tendency to leave them lying around there in random places, as well. I believe she even got in trouble a couple of times for trying to take some away from the other residents, believing them to be hers.

I don't know how frequently she is using those at this time. So many of those things are difficult for her to do anymore. But if she does, I know she is enjoying them.

My Mommy Tribute: V is for Violets

My mother was a big fan of houseplants. She had this giant cogwheel table that sat in the front window of our living room. It was one of the pieces of furniture that she purchased when she met my father. On it, she had a variety of plants. What worked well for that table was that you could turn it to be able to reach all of the plants for watering. You could also turn it to give the plants a chance to grow evenly in the sunlight. I loved that table.

One of her favorite plants to grow was the African violet. She had them in every color imaginable. She couldn't go to The Anderson's store without checking them out and often left with another one. They were her pride and joy. I inherited a love for them from her and used to keep several of my own in my home.

When Mom moved into her room at the nursing home, I hoped she would still be able to take care of the violets she loved so much. I brought her all of the ones from her house after Dad died and purchased a couple of new ones. A huge sign that she was losing her faculties was that the plants quickly died because she couldn't remember how to take care of them. I think that in her mind, though, she still takes care of them on a regular basis and that makes her happy.

My Mommy Tribute: Q is for Quadrille

How did I miss Q?? I was just going back over my posts and realized that somehow I had skipped over this letter. I wrote so many posts yesterday that I guess it was easy to do.

While perusing the list of words that begin with Q on The Phrontistery, I came across "quadrille." Its definition is "square dance for four couples; card game for four people." That brought back all kinds of memories about my mom and her family.

Every time someone on her side of the family got married, we had square dances at the receptions. My cousins are significantly older than me, so I was young when they all got married. I didn't really understand how to perform the dances, but I loved to do-si-do. My cousin Ken was so tall that he would whip me around until my feet were flying off of the floor! My sister and I used to fight over who was going to dance with him and be flown. We would also bug Mom to get up and join in the fun. Sometimes she did and sometimes she didn't.

As for the card games, my mother was a fan of euchre. She would play with her cousins and many of her friends when they would come visit. The poor woman tried in vain to teach me how to play, but to no avail. I still don't get the game. I probably never will. But at least she tried.

My Mommy Tribute: U is for Underwear

My mother grew up on a farm. They often reused material for chores around the house. I still have beautiful cloth towels decorated with pink flowers that used to be feed sacks. All of these years later, they have held up to hundreds of washings and dry better than any kitchen towel you can buy in a store today. Mom also used cloth diapers to dust. What horrified me as a young child was that she used old underwear for cleaning rags.

Once a month or so, we would go on a massive cleaning spree around the house. The worst part was having to go behind the couch where the organ and piano were. My parents were the King and Queen of Knick Knacks. It would take all day to pick up all of those stupid little trinkets, wash them and the cabinet on which they sat, and then return them to their proper places. I loved the smell of the Murphy's Oil soap, but was completely grossed out that I had to use the old underwear as a rag.

Even worse was when I had to use my father's Jockeys.

I know that they had been washed numerous times and were actually clean. I know that they had holes in them and were therefore no longer fit for wearing. But seriously, UNDERWEAR?? It just seemed dirty to me.

To this day, whenever I clean with Murphy's Oil soap, I have to look down at my hand to make sure it isn't an old pair of tighty-whities that I am using.

My Mommy Tribute: T is for Typing

My mother grew up in an era where women were expected to learn all kinds of basic secretarial skills so that they could get a job. Mom learned how to take shorthand and how to properly type. She could run her fingers across that keyboard like no one else I knew. I was also always impressed at how quickly she could type in a set of sums on a calculator or adding machine. She almost never made a mistake.

When we were in elementary school, my parents splurged on their first computer. They needed it to keep track of their business. Plus, Mom was working at the local Montessori school as their bookkeeper, to offset the two tuitions. We were basically not allowed to touch it, but she did eventually buy us a program called "Typing Tutor." It was a game designed to teach kids how to properly type, quickly and accurately. She was determined that her girls were going to have this life skill. We also were not supposed to use the typewriters if we could help it. Ribbon was expensive.

I did well with that typing program. I remember being the nerdy kid who would stay in from recess to type things for the teachers who had never learned how to type. I typed my friends' papers because I was so much faster than their hunt and peck. I kicked butt at "Oregon Trail." Back then, you killed your animals for hunting based on how fast you could type the words "bang" and "pow." I remember having small groups of people standing around me to watch me go.

I am glad that my mother made us learn how to type. It is obviously a skill that I use on a daily basis, even if not in the way that she had imagined.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: S is for Symmetry

My mother had a very logical, mathematical mind. That meant that she liked to have things even. My father, on the other hand, had a very artistic mind. He preferred things to be odd in number. The two of them had a constant battle over the symmetry of plants and decorations on the shelves and tables in the house.

Mom would always put out two or four of something. Dad would take one away to make three. The two of them would go back and forth with it, making each other crazy. At the same time, they were just trying to fulfill their own needs. My poor mother was finally outnumbered when my sister took after my father.

I am like my mother and tend to prefer even numbers. I have to take an even number of M&Ms in my hand at one time. I can't handle eating an odd number of things, unless I close my eyes and don't pay attention. The difference between my mother and I is that I can see how odd numbers can be made symmetrical and am okay with that.

To honor my mother's symmetrical mind, my father did give in once when he created a special painting just for her. It is in various shades of blue, which is her favorite color. The patterns are even in number and in perfect symmetry. He once told me that it was very difficult for him to let go of his own patterns, but wanted to do this for her. It is currently hanging in her room at the nursing home. She doesn't remember from whom it came, but it makes her happy to have it there.

My Mommy Tribute: R is for Reading

My mother learned how to read at a very young age, just like I did. She was super smart and even skipped kindergarten. When it was time to start school, she just went straight into first grade. When she hit the 8th grade, she was the only one in her grade. She attended a one room schoolhouse out in the country. She often got to teach the younger children when she was finished with her studies.

Mom always loved to teach children. She fondly spoke of the Mexican migrant workers who helped on their farm every summer. She taught many of the children how to read English words.

Mom also used to like to read. She had a thing for Perry Mason novels and Sue Barton, RN. I even spotted a Harlequin or two stuffed under her bed, but she would never admit to it. I don't remember ever see her reading a novel, though. My memories of her reading are of magazines and the newspaper. I am sure she was too busy with three jobs to really take the time to focus on a novel.

As I got older, Mom always would lament about how she used to love to read, though never the "heavy stuff" that my father, my sister and I read. I would take her to Barnes and Noble with me, showing her some great books that I thought she would enjoy. I picked up vintage copies of the Earl Stanley Gardner books that she loved so much. Little did I realize at the time, she was probably already unable to actually understand and remember plot points in a book. She did better with the shorter topics that were found in periodicals. Eventually even that started to elude her. I remember countless evenings where she would open up the newspaper and exclaim in surprise at some story in the newspaper. She would have to read it out loud over and over and over again throughout the evening. She didn't believe you if you said you had already heard it a dozen times. To her it was brand new information again. So, we did the best that we could to swallow our annoyance and move back into reading our own novels.

My Mommy Tribute: P is for Prayer

My mother was a woman of very strong faith. While she didn't wear her Christianity on her sleeve like so many do, she always let you know that God would take care of whatever was ailing you. She was fond of spouting off cliches and old sayings. The last one that she repeated ad nauseum was "When it rains, it pours." But she would also say things like, "When God closes a door, he always opens a window."

There are three particular prayers that stand out in my mind when I think of my childhood. The first is The Lord's Prayer. Like a good Lutheran girl, I memorized it and all of our other recitations at a young age. When we switched to a Presbyterian church when I was in the 6th grade, I had a hard time remembering to say "debts/debtors" instead of "trespasses/those who trespass against us." (Honestly, I still do, even as an adult.)

The second one was shared before meals around the dining room table. "Come Lord Jesus, be Thou our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen." It was our standard prayer until we became adults. By that point, my sister was in seminary and could come up with other words on the spot.

The third one was used any time that I had a nightmare or was scared during a thunderstorm. Mom would either come into my bedroom and hold my hand, or have me tuck into bed with her in my parents' room. She would always make me say, "Jesus, Dear, be real near, for nothing then shall I need fear." It's very short, but to the point. And I always felt better when I said it. Every now and then, I find myself uttering it, even as an adult.

My Mommy Tribute: O is for Organist

I am the only person outside of my family that I know who is the daughter of an organist. I even grew up with an organ in my house. My mother learned how to play when she was a young girl. Her first job playing the organ began when she was 16 years old. She continued playing in various churches for 50 years. When she was let go from her last job, it was very difficult for her, because it was her life.

Mom had perfect pitch. She could hear if you hit a wrong note and would come running to correct you. She could also tell if an instrument was out of tune and it made her cringe. I have inherited that from her on some level. I can identify a note being off-key and it hurts my ears. I just cannot play as well as she did. I never bothered with much practicing.

Mom would practice songs for church and weddings by playing on the organ we had in our living room. Sometimes she would then move over to the piano for a different sound. Every once in a while, she would have a friend come over and they would play organ and piano duets. Every Christmas season, Mom would gather us around the organ and play Christmas carols.

We were allowed to play the piano as much as we liked. We were more restricted from the organ. When I was a kid, that annoyed me. Looking back, though, I guess I can understand why.

Mom always loved to tell stories about my sister and I and the organ. Apparently when I was really little, she had to bring me with her to a funeral. I kept changing the stops and messed up the songs. (Ooh! Button! I wanna push the button!) My sister was once sitting next to her on the organ bench during a church service. Suddenly there was this humming sound, and no one knew what it was. My sister had fallen face-first onto the keyboard.

My mother's style of playing the organ was so much her own that to this day, I have a hard time listening to another church organist during a service. Most of them make lots of mistakes and I cringe. Mom was enough of a perfectionist where that almost never happened. She was an excellent musician.

My Mommy Tribute: N is for Norma

My mother's name is Norma. Here is what various sites have to say about her name's origin and meaning.


The origin of Norma is English and means "from the North." It was most popular in 1950

From Think Baby Names:

The origin is Latin. It means "the standard or the norm."

From Baby Names World:

The Gaelic origin of this name means "Thor mind, Thor courage."


The name Norma is also a small constellation between Scorpio (or Lupus) and Ara. In the medical profession, it can be "A line or pattern defining the contour of a part, especially of various aspects of the cranium."

My Mommy Tribute: M is for Mommy

I guess I never really got past calling my mom "Mommy." Sure, I went through those teenage years where I wanted to be more grown up and referred to her as "Mom." And there were those moments of exasperation where she became "Ma." But after moving 400 miles away, she became Mommy again.

What is it about her that makes her "Mommy"? Well, she would always try to take care of my boo-boos, no matter how little nor how big. These could have been as insignificant as a stubbed toe or as big as surgery or a heartbreak. She spent hours with me when I was sick, even via phone at 4 in the morning when I was in my 30s. Like I mentioned in a previous post, she would even drive those 400 miles at the drop of a hat if it meant she could take care of me.

I often find myself crying for her when I am sick or hurt. How many times do you say, "I want my mommy!" and actually mean it? There is just something comforting about knowing she was there to take care of you, no matter what.

I really wanted my mommy last year when I was dealing with everything with my dad. I remember telling my aunt that she would have to step in on occasion and pretend to be my mommy. At the same time, I was so grateful that Mom didn't have to go through what the rest of us were going through. She could be blissfully unaware of the pain and suffering.

Call me crazy if you want, but I think somehow she is still able to come to me when I am having difficulty. I know that the afterlife exists, and truly believe that my father and grandmother have visited me on occasion over the past 18 months. I wonder if there is some kind of parallel universe that allow for Alzheimer's patients to do the same? There is no way that my dad or grandma were the ones who were present for a couple of those visits. The behavior I was experiencing was more like my mother's than theirs. I also sensed her more than I sensed them. That gave me some comfort, knowing she was still here, even if she really isn't.

My Mommy Tribute: L is for Love

Mom was one of those people who was just full of love. She loved her family. She and my father had this intense relationship that included arguing and fighting and then lots of happier times. That was just how they loved. She loved us kids and would do anything for us. I remember several years ago, I fell at work and reinjured an old break just above my ankle. My sister had just left for Boston, so there was no one here to take care of me. Mom and Dad were already planning on coming out a week from then to visit us girls. As soon as she heard I was injured, she stuffed a bag full of clothes and drove out to take care of me that week. When it was time for Dad to join us, she drove the 6 1/2 hours to pick him up, turned around, and brought him back for their family vacation. She never thought about it; she just did it. She was also constantly trying to hug us and told us often that she loved us.

Mom loved kids. She was the youngest of three and always had dreams of having a house full of her own children. Life doesn't work out the way that you plan, and they were lucky to get the two of us. As I have said before, I had always dreamed of giving her a house full of grandchildren. So, she spent her time loving on other people's babies and kids.

Mom also loved to help people. She would get teary any time someone showed her the slightest bit of kindness, too. I remember being in a public restroom. A deaf woman was having difficulty figuring out those new sensor sinks. Mom showed her how to use it and the woman signed, "Thank you." If you don't know, this looks very much like someone is blowing you a kiss. Mom automatically assumed the woman was blowing her kisses for her help and got all emotional and did it back.

When I called to talk to her on the phone around Christmas, I could tell she had no idea who I was. When I said, "I love you," she got all choked up on the other end of the line. It wasn't the "oh, I miss my daughter and she loves me" kind of choked up, though. It was the "Isn't this young woman sweet? I don't know her, but she is telling me that she loves me." So, she simply said, "Thank you." It was a little strange to not hear her returning the sentiment, but I don't really need to hear it anymore. I know she still loves us on some level.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not leaving A to Z!

I feel like I need to put a post on all of my blogs. Yes, I am WAY behind on the challenge. Life keeps getting in my way. I should have listened to that gut instinct of mine that said, "Write them early!" Lol

Anyway, I have a ton of writing time coming up again soon and will be cranking them out and I WILL finish this month! On all of them! Promise!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: K is for Kids

My mother's whole purpose in life was to be a mother to her kids. There were just the two of us, though she had hoped to have more. Life and biology don't always work out the way you want them to, though. But Mom had plenty of adopted kids in her life.

Whenever a friend of mine was in need, my parents offered up a place to stay. I can think of several instances where we had an extra body sleeping in my bedroom, on an extra couch, or even in the basement in later years. She even attached to some of the kids Dad was sponsoring, on occasion.

Mom loved babies more than anything. Because their furniture store ended up specializing primarily in baby furniture, Mom was able to nurture women going through pregnancy. Many customers ended up coming back to visit after the baby was born. Others, who already had young children, also came in seeking several items. If there was a particularly darling baby, Mom would always ask to hold the child. And then she would often ask if she could bring the baby through the door to our apartment to meet me. If parents were apprehensive, she would excuse herself to come get me to come out to meet the baby. She just loved them and most of them did well with her. She just had that big mama vibe that was so comforting.

This is a picture of my mom feeding her first favorite baby - me. :-)

When it was time for me to start babysitting, Mom always gave me a lot of advice. My first job came when I was 11 years old. My first client was 4 months old, but also had a 9 year-old brother. I was there every Saturday morning. Mom insisted that I call her at least once per shift, to check in and make sure everything was okay. My second, more frequent babysitting job, started with a little guy who was about six weeks old. I was 12, but because he was so small and the hours were so long at times, Mom had me watch him at our house. I kept that job until he was almost three years old. I learned more of her wisdom from that hands-on experience than any classes or books could ever teach me.

I continued asking for her guidance as I kept babysitting into adulthood. I even shared a lot of my stories from the classroom with her. She just loved hearing stories about what the kids were doing and learning. She always perked up when she had the opportunity to come visit my classroom. On one particular trip, she was coming to school with me to visit. My assistant ended up calling off last minute. My kids had Atrium, which meant half of them would be in a different room at once in the morning. My afternoon class was always about half the morning number. My administrator asked Mom if she wouldn't mind being my assistant that morning. She was so delighted to do so that she frequently brought up the experience for several years to follow.

Mom always looked forward to having grandchildren. I was very seriously involved with a man who had custody of his five year-old daughter. My mother spoiled her as if she were her own. Alas, that relationship didn't work out and I moved on. My parents finally got to the point where they told me that they didn't care if I had the man, just bring on the grandkids! (It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think!)

Again, biology and life don't always work out the way that we plan, and I was never able to give my mother the grandchildren she so desired. Instead, she is stuck with those of the cloth and plastic variety.

This picture was taken two days after Dad had died. We were all dressed up from another memorial service (Dad's cousin had died a couple of weeks before him) and decided to pay her a visit. When we got there, she kept playing with this doll. Sometimes, she would definitely let on that she was pretending it was real, just to freak people out. But then during other moments, I am not so sure that she knew the difference. If it makes her happy, though, who am I to judge?

My Mommy Tribute: J is for Juggling

My mother always did quite the juggling act. When I was two years old, my parents built and opened their very own furniture store. It was open seven days a week, except for Sundays in the summer. (Dad wanted the freedom to work outside on his garden at least one full day.) At the same time, she was the organist of our church. That entailed two services every Sunday, choir practice every Wednesday night, weddings and funerals, and any other special services. When I hit kindergarten, my parents decided to keep me in Montessori school. I was already reading and to go to public kindergarten, I would be learning my alphabet again. My sister was also old enough at that point to join the toddler program. So, Mom started to help with bookeeping and billing at the school, to offset the two tuitions.

My sister and I both attended the Montessori school through the sixth grade. Mom continued working there until I had graduated from high school. The day following my graduation, my parents moved to the next county south and closed the furniture store. When Mom left the school, she started working for various accountants in town, eventually landing a position as resident bookkeeper for one particular business.

Despite juggling three different jobs, my mother always had time for us. The store closed early on Tuesdays, so that was Girl's Night Out. On Friday nights, the store closed late, but we would all curl up on the couch to watch Dallas. Saturday evenings were designated for grocery shopping and family nights around the TV watching shows like The Golden Girls. Sunday mornings, we would go to church together and then hang out at Grandma's while Mom played the second service. Sunday afternoons were spent around the house, or playing in the yard or the pool. She managed to make it to all of our parent-teacher conferences and any performances or special events that we had.

As we got older, those times started to drift and change. Girlfriends and boyfriends became more important. But we still snuck in some family time. Holidays were strictly for family. Dinner was expected to be together, as much as customers allowed. And she still came to all of our functions.

Because of my mother's example, I am somewhat of a workaholic. I teach full-time, but also dabble in little things like writing, babysitting, tutoring, gardening, etc. I know that if I need to make some extra money, the opportunities are there for me to do so. It also helps to keep life from being monotonous. When I get tired of one thing, I can often focus on something else for a while. And I always make sure that I leave time for friends and family, like she did for us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: I is for Independence

My mother was a fiercely independent woman. Sure, she lived at home until she was in her early 30s, but she was saving up to buy her own house. She also was taking care of her widowed mother, as she was the single one of the kids.

She had her bowling league, which played every summer. She was so upset when her back finally got to the point where she could no longer throw the ball. 

She had her own veggie garden, as a tribute to her farming background, and as an excuse to dig in the dirt. Dad had his way of gardening and she had hers.

Mom often did what she wanted and when she wanted to do it. Some perceived this as being stubborn. Yes, it is stubbornness. But isn't determination also a good thing? It was that independent nature and determination that had her holding down three jobs so that her children could attend the Montessori school all the way through the 6th grade. When she started to have difficulty in her bookkeeping and accounting jobs as the Alzheimer's began to creep into her world, she had the idea of starting up her own business for money. Of course, that wasn't possible because she could no longer mentally handle the pressure. But how many women do you know who are willing to go to such lengths?

When Mom finally started to lose her independence, of course it was extremely hard on her. She had her first car accident ever at the age of about 65. She was rattled from getting her first speeding ticket ever, as she cruised the country roads to get to the church service on time. And she just didn't stop fast enough to avoid the car stopped in front of her at the light in town. Thank God no one was physically injured. It was just her pride.

The most heartwrenching display of her new lack of independence came that last Christmas we all had together in 2010. I had bought Mom a new nightgown. She kept insisting on either wearing a thin pink button-down housedress that was much too cold for that time of year. Or, she would simply sleep in her clothes. I found her a great flannel one that had snowmen on it. I almost wanted to keep it for myself. She pretended to be excited about wearing it, but then was resistant to putting it on. She smelled so bad from having slept in her clothes for about a week. I admit that my father and I both lost our tempers with her. See, she was in that awful stage of sometimes being aware of what was going on and being argumentative, and sometimes really unable to help it. It was frustrating on all of us.

Anyway, I felt bad about snapping at her in my exhaustion. I went back to see if I could talk some sense into her. She was halfway in the nightgown, with her clothes still on, and was stuck in it. She turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "I just don't know how to put this on."

Both of us started crying as I held my mother in my arms. It was total role reversal. She was the little kid seeking out comfort from her mommy.

When she was done, I helped her get changed into her new nightgown. She admitted that it was definitely much warmer than her other one and that she liked it a lot. She thanked me profusely and kissed me on my forehead. And then we went back into the living room.

I inherited my independent spirit from my mother. I can't imagine what it would be like to see that slowly slipping away from me. I hope I never have to experience that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: H is for Happiness

Everyone's life is filled with the good, the bad and the ugly. At some point, though, you have to let go of the bad stuff and move on. When you lose someone, you need to cherish those happy memories.

My childhood was a relatively happy one. I can't really complain about anything. Sure, at the time I would get mad at my parents for saying "No" about something. But in the long run, didn't I end up a better person? (At least I hope so? :-P)

So, here is just a random list of happiness with my mom that I will always cherish....

  • Rocking in the oversized stuffed rocking chair after a nightmare.
  • Crawling into bed with her when I was sick or scared.
  • Having Mom tuck me back in after a nightmare and saying her favorite prayer from when she was a child: "Jesus Dear, be real near, for nothing then, will I need fear."
  • Setting up all of my dolls for the Friday night marathon of "Dukes of Hazzard," "Dallas," and "Falcon Crest."
  • Getting ice cream at Mr. Freeze.
  • Eating at Big Boy before going bowling.
  • Eating at Friendly's after school clothes shopping.
  • Helping her plant the vegetable garden.
  • Watching her and Grandma make applesauce, jams and jellies.
  • Learning how to cook and bake.
  • Laughing at her crying when my first lemon meringue pie came out "perfect."
  • Learning how to drive.
  • Putting together jigsaw puzzles. Oh, how I thought I hated it as a kid, but actually enjoy it now.
  • Playing silly board games.
  • Mom staying up late with me, taking my screams of frustration as I procrastinated, yet again, on a school project.
  • Watching Mom color her hair, and the smell of the chemicals.
  • Going up to Betty's house to get haircuts and perms.
  • Easter Egg hunts
  • Sitting up in the church balcony while she played the organ for the service.
  • Christmas carols around the organ in our living room.
  • Coloring books
  • Shopping
  • Annual weekend trip to Indiana to visit her sister and my cousins
  • Hanging out with her mom, eating peanut butter cookies and drinking chocolate milk, while she picked fresh raspberries for pies, jellies and jams.
  • Dragging myself to the annual family reunion so that I could learn who some of these people were
  • The repeat stories of her limited babysitting experience.
  • Calling her on the phone from babysitting jobs, to let her know how things were going and to benefit from her advice.
  • Her bringing in all of the cute babies who visited our store, so that I could meet them
  • Watching The Sound of Music
  • Those rare family bike rides at the park
  • The football game at Michigan
  • Garbage bags for wrapping paper at Christmas
  • Unwavering support of all that I did in life
I could probably go on and on and I know I have left off many things. But these are the kinds of memories in which I can wrap myself whenever I miss her.

My Mommy Tribute: G is for Gardening

Because of my mother's farming background, she always did her gardening in a different way than my father. Mom was the queen of straight rows, perfectly lined and balanced. Dad was the artist who thrived on odd numbers and clumps. For that reason, they pretty much agreed to disagree and each one took care of their own garden.

Mom had a big garden in our backyard. Somewhere in a box I have pictures of the big tractor digging it up for us. She wanted to return to her roots and provide some healthy foods for her family. I remember helping her to plant the seeds every year and to help harvest the crops when they were ready. The two plants I remember the most were the green beans (which I love) and the rhubarb (which I can't stand). We also had random asparagus growing in the middle of the backyard. (I hated it then, but enjoy it now.)

When we had food ready to eat, we would enjoy the fresh veggies for dinner. Mom also spent a lot of time canning foods for the fall and winter. It always tasted better than that salty crap in a can. And fresh produce used to hard to come by. I only wish I would have paid more attention to how she did that part of it. I like to grow my own veggies in my own small vegetable patch at my house, but can only enjoy the goodness when it is freshly picked.

Even though my crop isn't nearly as abundant, I still feel close to my mom as I dig in the dirt, planting my bean and tomato plants. I am sure that in her own world in which she lives now, she is out there, as well.

My Mommy Tribute: F is for Farmer

My mother grew up on a farm in Michigan. She often told us stories about following behind the tractor, dropping tomato seeds into perfectly spaced holes. Her job as a child was to feed the chickens. They raised their own steer, so she had way too much red meat growing up. I can hardly think of a time that I saw her willingly eat steak or hamburger. She always talked about learning a bit of Spanish from the migrant workers who helped them out every year. She also developed a passion for teaching as she taught their children some English.

Growing up on a farm gave my mother different perspectives on life. She was very much into home-cooked meals. She taught me the joys of scrambled eggs with hamburger (a.k.a. heart attack in a skillet, but dammit, it was good!). She didn't believe in wasting food nor resources and had a great appreciation for the outdoors. It also taught her about hard work and dedication, something passed down to both of us.

My mother married a city boy and ended up leading a relatively city life. In a way, it was like they compromised, as our store and apartment were placed on a full acre of land. We did have opportunities to visit aunts, uncles and cousins who were continuing somewhat of a farming life. I have fond memories of being dragged around on an ancient pony named Captain and sitting on Uncle Paul's lap steering the tractor. Weddings were complete with square dancing. I think I was the only one of my friends growing up who had any idea how to do it.

We knew that Mom was slipping many years ago when my cousin finally had to tear down the old barn that her father had built by himself. It was a safety hazard and beyond repair. Every time my parents would go visit my father's mother in her assisted living facility, they would meander over the state line to drive past the old farms. It was a shock when the barn was gone, but Mom relived its demise time and time again, every time they drove past.

When I was working toward moving Mom to the facility where Dad originally wanted her placed, I was amazed by the special courtyard in the secure ward. Painted on the large fence is a farm scene, with a large red barn, just like the one my grandfather had built. At first, Mom seemed to appreciate the fence as a work of art. But very quickly she seemed to think of it as a real farm. I remember hearing her tell some visitors about taking care of her farm and pointing out the window. It warms my heart to know that perhaps she is living back in her heyday on that farm with her parents and siblings.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: E is for Easter

Here I am behind on the A to Z Challenge again. It's okay. At least I am doing it, right? I can't help but think, though, that I was meant to wait for E until today. After all, it is Easter, right? Some of my favorite memories are from our Easters when I was a child.

Mom was a church organist. That meant she had to get up at some God awful hour to go play the organ at a sunrise service. And she left Dad to get us ready for church. Sometimes she would actually have time to come home and get us. As usual, after our 9 o'clock service, Grandma would come to pick us up. Mom always had to play for the 11 o'clock service, which was geared strictly toward adults. Dad was usually at home sleeping in from sponsoring his AA buddies the night before.

Sometimes Dad would join us over at Grandma's for a special Easter brunch. Other times, we would all reconvene later in the day. But no matter what, when we pulled into our driveway, we were always greeted with a special note from the Easter Bunny on our door. We had to follow his instructions to the letter. They often included hanging up our coats in the closet (the only time we would do so) and then running straight back to our bedrooms. Waiting for us was often some small doll or stuffed animal and our empty Easter baskets. There would be another clue sitting on the pillow. We were directed in all kinds of strange patterns throughout the house, into the store, outside in the yard via these little clues printed in brown felt tip pen on index cards.

Some of the clues were straightforward. Some of them were riddles that we had to decipher. We probably spent at least an hour wandering around our little apartment, seeking the little bit of candy and all of those hard-boiled eggs that we colored. I never ate the eggs. I hated the Peeps. I enjoyed the jellybeans, which came from our school's annual fundraiser. My favorites were (and still are) the Cadbury Eggs. Those were few and far between, though. I had to knock my sister out of the way should I spot one. We didn't get much, but we were grateful for what we had. In fact, I didn't realize until I was an adult how little those Easter baskets actually were. I still have mine and use it in my classroom at this time of year.

I always remember thinking how ironic it was that the Easter Bunny had the same handwriting as my mother. Santa Claus had the same handwriting as Dad. When my sister and I had finally outgrown the Easter hunt, I often asked my parents how they pulled that off every year. Mom would always insist, "I don't know what you're talking about. The Easter Bunny did it." Dad would just shrug.

When I hit adulthood and the prospect of having children finally cropped up, I asked again. Mom finally said that when I had my own children, she would share her secrets.

Unfortunately, life doesn't always work out the way we have planned. I do not have any of my own children, for a multitude of reasons both in and out of my control. And Mom no longer has any recollection of our Easter Egg hunts. Somehow, I am okay with that. It keeps the magic alive for me, even as a grown adult.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: D is for Daughter

Before my mother became my mother, she was her mother's daughter. The youngest of three kids, she was a typical baby of the family. She got lots of attention, but was still expected to carry her share of the load. She always talked about feeding the chickens, planting the tomatoes, and helping to cook and clean around the house.

Mom was also quite the Daddy's girl. She was working at a local school on the day that Grandpa came in from going to town and collapsed on the floor. Grandma called for the ambulance and then called for her youngest daughter to come home, per her husband's request. Mom arrived at the house just as Grandpa was being wheeled into the ambulance. Her father glanced upon her face and then the ambulance doors were shut. He died on the way to the hospital.

Following her father's death, Mom stayed on at her mother's house, helping to take care of her and to keep her company. When she was 31, she had finally saved up enough money to purchase her own house. She was just far enough away to be on her own, but close enough to rush home at a moment's notice. It was while the two of them were out shopping for furniture that my mother met my father.

After a few years of marriage, my parents finally had me. The daughter became a mother, with a daughter of her own. A couple of years after that, my sister was born. That daughter was now the mother of two daughters of her own.

My parents opened up their own furniture store. Its location was about four miles south of my grandmother's farm, though in a different state. Again, my mother continued to care for her mother. I have many memories of spending time with Grandma in her kitchen, while my mother went berry picking. Grandma would come down to our house, and Mother and Daughter would sweat over making jams and jellies, applesauce, and canning fresh veggies from the garden.

And then Grandma got really sick. Her Alzheimer's had finally gotten to the point where it was not safe for her to live at home anymore. My mother had to make one of the most difficult decisions a daughter can make. She and her siblings had to put Grandma into a nursing home, so that her needs could be properly met in a safe environment.

My mother was a better daughter than I am. She went to visit her mother as frequently as she could. It was hard for her to accept that her mother was slowly losing her memory. As Grandma forgot the world around her, she also forgot about her daughter. I don't think my mother ever got over that. Mom was sick for months after her mother passed away. I think she felt somewhat responsible for her mother's deterioration.

My duty as a daughter kicked into high gear, advocating for my parents a year ago after Mom ran away. I still remember my father calling me at work to say that he was going to pick up Mom from the hospital. "The hell you are!" I shouted in the phone before calling the hospital. I demanded to speak with the nurses and social workers, begging them to help me get my mother into a home. It simply was no longer possible for my father to care for her. And my sister and I both live several hundred miles away from our parents.

I was the daughter who was physically there to help my mother get situated in her current home, as Dad lay in a coma from his brain bleed. (He sustained this from a fall on the ice that happened while he was gathering paperwork to get Mom situated in a home.) My sister shared in the responsibility from afar via phone. I am the daughter who gets that phone call when there is a medical emergency or a simple change in meds. My sister is the daughter who handles all of the legal issues. I am sure Mom and Dad are proud of their two daughters working together.

As for my own identity as a daughter, it is still there. My parents are not here anymore, but once upon a time I was someone's daughter. I still am, on a spiritual level. I have a couple of adoptive mothers who look upon me as their daughter. Perhaps some day I will also be blessed with my own daughter. And then I can share my legacy with her.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: C is for Christmas

Christmas was always quite the ordeal in our house. My mother was a church organist, so her entire Christmas Eve was always spent playing music at church. When we were younger, we would go along to the early service, so that we would be in bed in time for Santa Claus to come. As we got older, we started to appreciate the value of the candlelight service, instead.

My mother never liked the idea of Santa Claus. My parents had never planned on using that concept with my sister and I. Alas, the influence of kids at school - once we heard about the jolly old man, that was it. So, my father would stay up late, presumably waiting for my mother, meticulously wrapping all of the presents that were carefully arranged under a beautiful tree. She would come home from church late. The two would collapse into bed in the middle of the night. We would wake up really early, eager to open our treasures.

The gifts were always plentiful, but we were never nearly as spoiled as our peers. We always had enough to make it a special Christmas and learned to be grateful for what we had.

As we got older, the joy and surprise of numerous wrapped gifts was no longer necessary. Santa Claus was a symbol of giving and no longer a man in whom we believed. His name was sometimes signed on the gift tags. And then the gift tags became nonexistent. It was becoming too stressful to wrap the presents for us. Dad was now working third shift at the juvenile jail. Mom was the sole person in charge of buying us gifts. We would try to make a list of things that we wanted/needed, but she always got creative. She could never pass up those horrible tables of special items that only come out at the holidays. And we always got identical, or very similar, gifts. There was the CD holder that was a pop-out drawer that always got stuck. And then the AM/FM radio/keychain/flashlight combo. One of my favorites was the heated ice scraper for the windshield. Only to heat it, you had to plug it into the cigarette lighter of a running car. Chances were, by the time you had the stupid thing heated, your defroster had taken care of most of the job.

Even more amusing was how the wrapping ended up being done each year. One year, Mom had run out of time to wrap our gifts. But they were divided by child in large trash bags. My sister and I took turns closing our eyes and reaching into our bags to pull out a gift. After one went, the other would rummage around her bag, trying to find the similar item. We turned it into a big game that was tons of fun.

In the last few years, our parents had basically given up on buying us any gifts. Instead, we usually went shopping with them to pick out a few things. It wasn't the gifts that we wanted, though. It was the cherished time with our parents.

My other Christmas memories with Mom include sitting around our organ. Yes, we had an organ in my childhood home. Mom had lots of Christmas sheet music. She would sit on the bench with my sister and I on either side and we would sing Christmas carols for hours on end. That was the only time of the year that we really did that. I looked forward to it every year and still enjoy the songs when I hear them on the radio. I miss those days a lot.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: B is for Bookkeeping

My mother's main occupation outside of the home was a bookkeeper. She had worked as a secretary for her local school district when she first got out of school. In later years, after she met my father and they opened their furniture store, she did the books for the business. This also meant that she was the one who handled most of the household finances. When I started Montessori kindergarten, she started to take care of certain aspects of the school's bookkeeping, such as billing and payments for after school care. This was to offset the tuition for my sister and I, because it was worth the expense to them to keep us there.

I learned a lot about how to keep track of inventory, to create a bill of sale and how to invoice clients because my mother often had us sit with her while she worked. She felt it was an important skill for us to learn. Mom was somewhat old-fashioned in that she still believed women needed to learn secretarial skills as back-up job skills. But at the same time, they were excellent life skills that I have applied time and time again both in my day-to-day life and at various jobs.

I have many memories of spending late nights with my mother, reading data for her to enter, helping to separate the printed carbon copies of bills that she had printed, and helping to stuff and lick envelopes. It gave us time to talk and chat about whatever. And we were just spending time together.

After my parents closed the store, Mom got a job in an accountant's office. She later moved to another office and then was sent to work for an individual company. The first major signs of the impending Alzheimer's came about while she was working at that job. I remember being in town to visit. I was supposed to drive back to New York that afternoon and evening, but a storm was coming. I would be safer staying in town. So, I decided to drive over to her office to surprise her that I was staying one extra night. When I walked into the office, she and her boss were having a heated conversation. Apparently she had forgotten to do several of her duties, including some invoicing and bill paying. And it wasn't the first time. She was convinced that she had done them all, but she hadn't. I quietly backed out of the office and went home. I gave my dad a heads-up that she was having difficulties and probably wouldn't be at her job much longer. He had already figured as much.

Sure enough, she was relieved of her duties soon after that incident. She was still determined that there was nothing wrong with her. She sent out many job applications and resumes to various companies that were seeking a bookkeeper. She even contemplated starting her own bookkeeping service for people. But none of these options came to fruition, because it was so obvious that she was slipping. It was painful to watch, because my mother was such a bright woman who could add huge sums in her head. Now she could barely balance her own checkbook or properly count change at the store.

It still took several years before we were able to convince the doctors that there was something wrong with my mother. She could still fake it in a controlled setting for a period of just a few minutes. But we all knew better.

Classic signs of Alzheimer's include inabilities to handle numbers. They have difficulty reading a clock and drawing hands on a clock face. Checks start to bounce, because it is such an abstract concept of money. They lose the ability to perform simple sums. If you start to notice these signs in your loved one, or even yourself, consider meeting with a doctor to note the changes and to seek early help.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: A is for Acceptance

One of the greatest lessons I learned from my mother was acceptance. She and my father never pushed my sister and me to fit into some kind of preconceived mold that would fulfill their dreams. All they ever wanted was for us to be happy. They allowed us to express ourselves as individuals and to spread our wings, while still falling in line with some common sense rules.

I got myself into trouble a lot as a kid. I didn't do anything so horrendously naughty that I would be embarrassed to talk about it. But it was still naughty. Was my mother disappointed in me? Absolutely. Did I know she was disappointed? You betcha. But I still knew that she loved me for who I was, no matter what I did. If I got into trouble, she would find a way to help me out of it. She wouldn't necessarily fix my problems for me, but she would guide me into fixing them for myself and made sure I had learned a lesson.

I was such a pain in the ass during my preteen and early teen years. I remember her often saying, "If I ever would have spoken to my parents like that...!" But she muddled through those awful years and we ended up closer than ever when I was an adult.

Accepting a diagnosis of Alzheimer's was not easy to do. My father, my sister and I knew it well before she did. Actually, I think she was fully aware that it was coming. She had been dreading it for quite some time. But she didn't want to admit it. We had a hard time convincing the powers-that-be that it was happening to her. She could manipulate conversations and cover for herself enough that she could squeak by. When she was finally put into a home, she often tried to run away. She just couldn't accept the fate that she had forseen coming ever since her mother had succumbed to the illness.

The last time that Mom tried to run away was back in mid-September. I still think that part of it was some kind of subconscious awareness that it was her family's reunion weekend. Over the past few months, though, she has calmed down considerably. She no longer tries to run away. She is less likely to try to leave with visitors. I usually had to sneak out the back door while nurses distracted her, because she was always convinced that she was supposed to come with me. Now, she tries to go on outings or to participate in the main activities at the nursing home. She has lost the ability to play music or to understand Bingo. But she has accepted this place as her home.

The hardest part for me is to accept her for who she is now. This woman that I see in front of me is no longer my mother. She looks just like her, though, and that can infuriate me when she is having one of her moments. I think I am the one who is having a hard time accepting. And maybe things will change if and when I can ever get home again. I haven't been able to visit her in person since June, though I have spoken to her on the phone a couple of times. I know that those conversations are now going to be short and one-sided. She no longer knows who I am. I am just some young girl who is talking to her on the phone. And I am working on accepting that.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happy Anniversary and Welcome to the A to Z Challenge 2012

Today is a bittersweet day. Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. I started it last year, with the blessing of my father, as a way for us to deal with my mother's deeper descent into the world of Alzheimer's. It was not intended to make fun of Alzheimer's, as so many incorrectly assume from the title. My father and I often tried to find the humor in life, to help us get through the tough times. We were going to work on this together, sharing stories about my mother and our family. We hoped that by sharing our stories, we would be able to work through some of our conflicting feelings. We also hoped that perhaps we could help others who were in a similar situation.

But Dad never got to post to the blog. I was going home for Spring Break last year, in mid-April, to help Dad continue to get Mom situated in her new home. I was going to offer him some moral support. And I just wanted to be with my family. My sister was also going to fly into town. And I was going to set up Dad so that he could post to the blog anytime he felt like it. But the night before I was to drive home, my father went by ambulance to the hospital. I spoke with him by phone the next day and we made some plans for when my sister and I arrived that evening. By the next morning, he was unconscious, in a medically induced coma, and never came out of it.

Trying to work on this blog without my father to help me, as this was going to be a shared experience, has been tremendously difficult. I never know what to say. I feel like I bring it down more than being an uplifting experience, as it was meant to be. That is why there are only 33 posts thus far. But, I am determined this year to make another go at it.

On my Montessori Writer's Thoughts blog, I am planning on honoring my father's memory. It is my goal this month to do the same for my mother. Only I will do it here. It isn't all going to be about her Alzheimer's. I want to share the wonderful woman my mother was. I hope it helps me continue to process all that is happening to her. And if I can speak to the heart of just one other person in a similar situation, then my job is done.

I wish luck to those of my fellow writers who are also undertaking this task for the month of April. I also wish to thank you for stopping by.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

GBE2: Confronting the Roller Coaster of the Unknown

Apparently Mom is not ready to leave us at this point. Hospice came in to do their evaluation the other morning. I kept getting phone calls at work as they alternated between my sister and I go gather information and make their recommendations. At this point, they do not see any medical evidence that shows she has six months or less to live. She is still getting short of breath at times, which is consistent with a blood clot in the lungs. Again, they cannot test for it nor can they treat it with blood thinners. She also is still ambulatory, which means she is moving around on her own and taking relative care of herself.

Her great aunt and two cousins went to visit yesterday. (Mom's dad was the oldest of 11 children, so the generations vary greatly in age!) They had a nice visit, but apparently Mom didn't know them when they came in. Once she was introduced to them, though, she was able to retain some of that information. My sister had a similar experience when she visited a couple of months ago. Mom kept introducing her as an old neighbor from 40 years ago, but with repetition seemed to be able to remember her. Some other family friends are planning to visit her later today. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.

The hardest part of this whole thing is the not-knowing. At least with Dad, when Hospice was recommended, we knew he was at the end. They could give us a timetable and it was fairly accurate. With Mom, it is a big roller coaster of just not knowing. I have a great deal of difficulty not having some control. The Great Unknown is hard for me to navigate. I know you can never know exactly when someone is going to die. But this up and down from "She's doing okay for now," to "She's going to the hospital," to "We recommend calling Hospice" to "She's rallying and doing great," is a lot. We went through this with my father for years.

As I was sharing with friends and family the "good news" that Mom didn't need Hospice, they were all so excited. "That's great news!" My sort-of-other-half hit the nail on the head, though. He said that while it was good news, it also kind of sucked to not have a direction and clear answers. I wish I could remember his exact phrasing, because it was perfect. And I just cannot articulate precisely how I feel about it.

Would I feel differently had I not just gone through this with Dad in the last year? Probably. If he were here with us, we would be holding on to each other for support. It would be easier to see the glass as truly half full. Because when they were both here, their deaths seemed so far away. Losing Dad nine months ago just thrusts their mortality into the forefront.

I am not saying that I wish my mother were dead. I really hope I am getting that across. And when I say there is a chance that the blood clot could take her today or it could break up and she could still be here for a few years, I am not trying to be negative. I am trying to be realistic. I am not the kind of person who wants to put on blinders and ignore the entire realm of possibility.

Okay, that being said, I could literally walk out my front door and get hit by a bus later today, or I could live for several more years. We don't know how we are going to go, nor when. I get that. I just don't like this type of roller coaster ride.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

GBE2: Confrontation

It is difficult to confront your own feelings about your loved one with Alzheimer's. You love that person and want her in your life. You hate the disease and what it has done to her. You miss the person she once was and want her back. And you also want the misery to end quickly - both for you and for her. That is not an easy pill to swallow. To wish death on another person? How awful! But it isn't so much death as it is a rebirth into a world without pain and agony and misery.

But how do you confront the actual death of that person when it finally arrives? That is the dilemma I am dealing with right now.

This past Saturday, I was deeply napping because I was really sick. I am not a napper. So, imagine my annoyance when my phone started to ring. I figured I could ignore it, but I recognized the number as that of the nursing home where my mother lives. They were calling to tell me that my mother was having "an episode" and wanted to know if they should send her to the hospital. Apparently they had woken her up from her nap because it was time for dinner. She was short of breath and her already high blood pressure went up even more. She wasn't in any pain and oxygen seemed to help her calm down. Her numbers went back to normal and they assumed it was a panic attack. I figured if she was okay, it probably was a panic attack. After all, she has dementia and they woke her up. She was probably confused and got scared. I had the smallest twinge in my stomach, similar to when my father went into the hospital a year ago.

They said they would call in the doctor and would get back to me. About an hour later, they called back and said she had had another small episode. The doctor didn't think it was necessary to go to the hospital and gave her oxygen and Lasix. Again, it seemed to be helping and all seemed to be okay. That twinge in my stomach grew. I went to my friend's house for food and mindless TV. A few hours later I called to check on her and she was resting comfortably.

I slept hard that night, relieved that she was okay. But then that damn phone woke me out of a solid sleep again at 9 a.m. They were taking her to the hospital because she was having yet another episode upon awakening. I stayed calm and woke myself up. I sent a message to my sister via Facebook because she was working out of the country. When I called the hospital a little later to check on her, it sounded like they were concerned about Congestive Heart Failure. Now the twinge had turned into a pit.

There was a lot of confusion when I was trying to talk to nurses. They all seemed to want to brush me off. One even handed the phone to my mother and asked her permission to speak with me. I wanted to shout, "Do you understand that this is an Alzheimer's patient? I am her primary contact!" It turns out that the hospital was in the process of updating their computers and somehow Mom's file came up with Dad still as her primary contact.

My sister got back to the States on Monday and quickly sorted out contact information. She took over the details with the doctors and nurses. She had the time. I was knee-deep in CPSE evaluations and meetings for some of my students, as well as getting over being really sick. She kept sending me updates throughout the day. It was now looking like she did in fact suffer from a small heart attack, but should be just fine. Her numbers were fine. She wasn't in any pain. All was looking good. But that pit turned into a rock.

By Tuesday, doctors had determined that she also had kidney disease. Because of the kidney disease, they couldn't properly treat the clot and heart issues. They said that we could order a bunch of other tests and try a bunch of different procedures and other medications. Or, we could consider physician-prescribed comfort care or Hospice.

Boom. Confronting death. Only this time it wasn't as imminent as Dad's was. With Dad we knew it was going to be three days, because we had to stop his feeding tube and water. And sure enough, it took three days. But with Mom, there wasn't a real time frame. The blood clot could come loose and she could easily have another heart attack and BAM be gone from us. Or, she could linger in her condition for quite some time. It happens all the time with people.

So, here I am. Stuck in limbo. Confronting the death of my own mother, a mere 9 months after my father died. To make matters worse, the H-word was given to us on my father's birthday. It was also the six-year anniversary of my mother's older brother's death from Alzheimer's and heart disease, plus a few other ailments.

It was also a week after I started a blogging journey on one of my other blogs about dealing with the loss of both of my parents. A bookseller acquaintance of mine gave me a book last summer right after my father died. It's called They Live On and the author writes about dealing with the losses of her parents so close together. He thought I might get some comfort out of reading someone else's experience. And of course he was hoping I would do a review of it, to help support a local author. I couldn't bring myself to read it and to feel all of those emotions until then. Instead of doing a traditional review, it turned into a sort of "Julie and Julia" thing where I was paralleling my own experiences and feelings with that of the book. Ironically, the last post that I had managed to do before I got sick was called "Just Take Her." The author of the book was talking about wanting her mother to heal from her brain tumor and cancer, but realizing it couldn't happen here on Earth. I paralleled it to my own feelings about my mother and her Alzheimer's. Having this happen was almost like having those prayers answered.

Read the series of posts from They Live On here. At the time of this posting, my series is not yet complete. But this link will take you to all of them in reverse chronological order. And I am sure that I will have several more posts completed soon.

As of this moment, as I am typing this, I have no idea when my mother is going to pass away. The waiting is making me crazy. I have to confront a lot of my own issues. Do I want to see her or not? Will I just agitate her like usual and cause her more pain? Can I detach myself enough to just hold the hand of a sick woman? How is this one going to happen? Will I be there for that final moment? Are we going to know like we did with Dad?

I am sitting in a self-imposed silence because I can't stand the sound of any music or TV right now. I am already tired of talking to family members on the phone. But even the silence is making me crazy.

Part of me wants to just scream and rant and rave. I cried like a baby last night, several times. I have to wait until we have more information from Hospice and the nursing home before I start telling more friends and family about it. But I am avoiding confrontation with my sister by following her lead and working with her. The last thing we need right now is to argue. We need each other, because we are all we have left.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


My friend and I decided to watch the movie 50/50 the other night. We had every intention of going to see it in the theatres, but never made it. So, when I saw it in the RedBox, I decided to grab it.

It is the story of a young man who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He is given a 50% chance of survival and enters into chemotherapy. The movie has amusing bits from his best friend who is his biggest supporter. There are awkward moments between him and his young therapist, as well as with his girlfriend. And of course he has a mother who is absolutely crazy with worry. It chronicles the ups and downs of having cancer, the fears and worry. It also demonstrates the need for lots of support. I loved it and cried, of course.

What is missing from the previews is the fact that his father suffers from Alzheimer's. His mother is torn between caring for her husband and caring for her son. His father is present in the discussions about the cancer, but of course has difficulty following all of it. I thought his character was well-played. I appreciated the difficulty in making major medical decisions without the counsel of one of your parents. And I am still ever so grateful that my mother did not have to endure the hell of dealing with the death of my father last year. It would have been so very confusing for her.

I recommend the movie because I simply liked it for its story and for making me cry. (I like tearjerkers.) The part that Alzheimer's plays is quite small, yet still present. Unless you are familiar with it, you aren't necessarily going to notice it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friends with Benefits

The other night I rented the movie Friends with Benefits, starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. A few weeks ago I watched No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. A friend told me that I would probably relate better to FWB. When I saw it in the RedBox, I decided to see why.

I originally thought perhaps she meant that the story would more closely relate to my situation with one of my best friends. She neglected to tell me that Justin Timberlake's father in the movie has Alzheimer's.

In a nutshell, Mila Kunis is a headhunter who persuades Justin Timberlake to move from LA to NYC to take over as the art director for GQ Magazine. He has some reservations but agrees to take it. The two hang out together an awful lot. Their individual love lives are pretty crappy at the moment, so they decide to just have sex with each other with none of the emotional baggage involved.

I won't get into a lot of plot detail beyond this. But there is a point where JT goes back to LA to see his family. His sister tells him that their father is getting worse. Immediately I could recognize the Alzheimer's behaviors. Dad forgot that the boat had been sold, because he couldn't drive it anymore. My mother kept forgetting that they had sold her car because she no longer had a license and couldn't be trusted behind the wheel of a car. The dad doesn't like to wear pants anymore. My mother would layer tons of clothes, instead of taking them off. She knew how to put them on, but couldn't remember how to take them off again. JT bemoans the fact that his father was a very intellectual man and now sounds confused and is often wrong. My mother was one the most intelligent people I ever knew. She even skipped a grade in school. And then there are all of the conversations that are in and out of present reality. Sometimes JT's dad can have a logical and rational conversation and makes perfect sense. The rest of the time his thoughts are jumbled and incoherent.

I also related to JT's struggle to live so far away from his father. His situation required him to move all the way across the country, whereas mine is only 400 miles away. But that guilt about being far away is still the same. And I think JT did a great job demonstrating through the scripted speech as well as the unspoken facial expressions how the child of an Alzheimer's patient feels.

Friends with Benefits is a great romantic comedy. Yeah, I cried through a lot of the second half. But that was from relating to this unexpected subplot. If you like Mila Kunis or Justin Timberlake, you will enjoy a lot of skin. If seeing a lot of skin isn't your thing, then skip this one.

Did you see this movie? How did you feel about it?

Rent it from Amazon by clicking here. Or check out more about it by clicking on the picture below.