important thing is not where you go, or what you do, it’s
that you do it. Once you put yourself out there on the line
you realize how alive you really are. And just how great
life is. It is my feeling, that we don’t always live
“happily ever after.” with happy endings. I think life
gives us good moments, not so good moments, moments that are
ok, and the one moment that we all seek in this life... the
perfect moment. The moment when we know that our innermost
emotions and feelings are met. When we stand face to face
with our hearts, and know it can’t get any better than
this!...That is the perfect moment. That is the happy
afternoon in San Diego I was visiting with my elderly
parents at their home. The block on which they live
is a commercial Mecca for mortgage brokers, insurance
companies, the local social security office, apartment
buildings and heavy traffic. It is a prosperous
neighborhood. So are crimes and drugs, as witnessed by the
bullet holes in my parents living room bay window, the
reminders of a drive by shooting.
Dad , my God, are these bullet holes in the window?’
“Yes, they are” “What happened, who did this, did you
call the police, were you and Mom in the room when this
happened?” “Yes, of course I called the police, and what
can they do about anyway? We had bars put on the windows.”
“Aren’t you scared, How can you live like this? And
besides look at Mom she just sits there all day staring out
that windows, what if she had been in the way of the
shooter? “Well, I don’t understand why you didn’t tell
me?” “ What could you have done, just get upset like you
are now?” No, I can help you find someplace safe to
live” “This is our home, and besides where would we
go?” “Dad, I always need you to tell me what’s going
on. I need to know that you and Mom are okay.”
grew up in this house, I’ve walked many times down the
blocks of our street, but I never felt ashamed of it until
now. And my parents had kept quiet about it all this time,
why? Did they
still want to believe they were safe in their neighborhood,
or where they really afraid that they had no place to go?
The world had changed around them. But they hadn’t.
sat and waited to ask Dad a question I’d ask myself for a
long, long time. I was looking for the right moment when I
could sneak him away into another room without Mom noticing.
I didn’t want her to hear the fear in my voice.
Dad and I stood face to face in kitchen where Mom could not
hear us... the fear of the unknown and feelings of
helplessness hung heavy. “Oh, Dad. There is something
terribly wrong with Mom, I think she may have
Alzheimer’s” His response was quick and to the point
“yes I had to her the doctor last week.”
Dad confirmed my greatest fear.
Mom never noticed that we had left the room, she sat
in her favorite chair where she spent many hours of the day
staring off into space with her hands in a palm to palm
gently sliding them back and forth, back and forth.
years Mother would ask me what school my daughters attended.
She would forget where she put her purse or pick up one
belonging to someone else. She not only lost her keys, she
would forget what they were for.
Many little things occurred to indicate that she was
having trouble with her memory.
my parents three children two of them lived out of town.
She was becoming forgetful and would telephone my
brother many, many times a day. (Sometimes as many as twenty
times a day) When she would call wanting him to come over to
visit after he had just spent the day with her, he would
gently remind her of having been together already.
when forgetful she didn’t call her other son or myself
long distance. My Dad had always made the long distance
there had not been any birthday cards or messages for years
now... I took it personally and wondered many times
why she rejected me so.
many people fail to recognize that these symptoms indicate
something is wrong. They may mistakenly assume that such
behavior is a normal part of the aging process; it isn’t.
Sometimes we fail to act even when we know
something’s wrong. It’s
important to see a physician when you recognize these
symptoms. Only a physician can properly diagnose the person’s
if the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s disease (AD), help is
available to learn how to care for a person with dementia
and where to find assistance for yourself, the caregiver.
your loved one becomes less and less able to attend to basic
activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing;
and more nursing care is needed. This is the time you need
to consider placing the impaired person in a care facility.
This is a hard choice. ,You will do best for yourself and
the patient if you have thought through some options for
alternative care arrangements. Your health team can help you
get started. Talk about it with people you can trust and
know what you are going through: Your family, friends, a
social worker, a clergy person. Community agencies also
offer you a wide range of resources and types of help.
Nursing homes offer the option of temporary or permanent
placement depending on your loved ones needs. Explore your
options early, be prepared for your need when it comes.
heard it said that reality is when it happens to you, how
true. How many days do we let pass into the next before
something happens that wakes us up to realize we aren’t
going to be around forever?
Don ‘t wait for some misfortune to wake you up and
make you appreciate life.
The negative things will happen anyway...
prefer to believe that the last time we saw each other, she
rushed out of the house, opened her arms and gave me big
hugs. But this isn’t fiction. So I have to say that the
last time I said hello to that face, she looks past me to
the wall and I’m not her daughter anymore. And we talk of
Linda in the third person, as if I’m not there. This is
the awakening. My
mother has Alzheimer’s.
there is an estimated 4 million Americans afflicted with
Alzheimer Disease (AD). It is expected that 15 million
people will have AD by the middle of the next century if an
effective form of prevention is not found.
Disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks
the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and
this time there is no treatment available to stop or reverse
the mental deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, new research findings give reason for hope.
Several drugs are being studied in clinical trials to find
out whether they can slow the progression of the disease or
improve memory for a period of time.
occasions my mind would wander back to a lovely quote by Willa
Cather: Where there is great love there are always miracles.
I wanted so to believe that there was a miracle awaiting us.
And I knew that this disease could only be fought with great
love, understanding, patience, and courage. I knew that it
would be a long-term struggle for the entire family. We did
not expect or want to take on this new role of caregiver. We
now realized there would be a steady decline of Mothers
abilities to think, remember and act in appropriate ways.
But there was no way to predict what pattern the disease
would follow. We were all scared and angry.
great love there were days that I set aside for remembrance,
glancing back with affection and understanding of our lives.
Realizing the values that my Mother had bestowed on to me as
a child. I called forth our hopes our dreams and all the
things that made life so very memorable.
Along with the memories came detours, good
intentions, missed opportunities, and courage..
were no built in ovens or island kitchens or skylights in
the house (it was a housing project) only a single wide
apartment sized stove, a double sink, and tattered cabinets.
Yet I remember the house as a place of clear light
and sweet air, suffused, somehow, with a perpetual smell of
warm cookies in the oven. (Always peanut butter cookies
handed down from my grandmothers recipe box)
apartment caught the morning sun (our kitchen was warm and
radiant before noon) and it was a shared ritual among the
women of the neighborhood to bake and that laundry was done
early on a wash board in the sink and hung out to dry in the
sun. Crisscrossing the back lawns, of the tenement houses
for city blocks, there were perhaps fifty clotheslines
strung out on wooden poles planted in the ground. The wash
from the line often interfered with the free flap of wash on
the line above or below, and I remember the sight of my
mother trying to shake her wash free from tangles of sheets
and trousers. While
she was pulling at the line she also might be calling “
Lind-a-a or Jess-ee-ee You there, Lind-a-a?” Her voice
would go up an octave then down an octave and, “you kids
gradually realized that much of what I had grown up
believing was California in the early years was not a
Beverly Hills life style.
The myths of Beverly Hills, had little to do with my
part of the town.
knew canyons, hills, dirt roads, the city lights glistening
off Mission Bay’s deep waters, but no tree lined streets,
no Nannys, no in house clothes driers. I never knew
families who lived in homes with their names arched over
entrance gates. I knew ponds, not sculptured swimming pools.
Streets in my neighborhood were called ”The Housing
was there in the Pacific Beach, tenements in an upscale
beach area of San Diego, nestled up against the foothills,
looking to the south are the million dollar views that are
now known as the ”La Jolla Scenic Drive.” It was a place
for the misplaced, women made widows by world war two,
factory workers, alcoholics, the unemployed workers laid off
from the aircraft industry, single parent families, which we
came to learn were not always socially acceptable, we were
all low income families with our monthly rentals based on a
sliding scale for the less fortunate.
recall friends were scattered throughout the buildings in
the project, calling out to one another all during the day
to make various arrangements...(my mother) running
commentary on the life outside the window was my first taste
of intelligence: she would convert gossip into
knowledge...always finding the good in people, in life,
always looking for a way out of these dwellings we called
see now that it was there in the tenements that she taught
us our most valuable lessons. Lessons that would follow us
through our lifetime. We came away with hope, faith, and the
courage that there was never anything that we could not
achieve if we set our minds to it. If you wanted a beautiful
garden you planted one, you nourished it with love, gave it
water, and plucked out the unwanted weeds. Always keeping it
growing well and thriving with constant care.
time after the big bulldozers came and knocked down the
projects, scraping the remains off to the side to be carried
away to the city dumps. I would drive to La Jolla Scenic
Drive, park my car along a side street and gaze out to the
city views below. I could feel it coming, the big smile on
my face and knowing that this place was once mine. I had
seen the best view through a child’s eyes, perhaps the
most innocent of times.
1994 the family decided that Mom, Dad, and my Brother would
relocate from California to Oregon where my brother and I
could give them both the love and care that they so
deserved. Mom would be residing in a nearby nursing home
while Dad would become my new neighbor. Dad had been
diagnosed with prostate cancer that spring and both he and
the doctor had opted for no treatment of his disease. He
would be relieved of his many years in the primary role of
caregiver of my Mother. Our focus was on improved care and
support for both Mom and Dad, to ease the burden of their
a Place for Mom
remember my Mother joking, and she would say; “When I get
old and can’t remember who I am, just lock me up in a home
for the forgettable and throw away the key. I never want to
be a burden to you kids.”
I understand now that this disease was one of her
greatest fears. Alzheimer’s disease has a gradual onset.
Symptoms include difficulty with memory and loss of
intellectual abilities severe enough to interfere with
routine work or social activities. The Alzheimer’s patient
may also experience confusion, language problems (such as
trouble finding words), poor or decreased judgment,
disorientation, in place and time and changes in behavior or
do you find a good care for a parent who can no longer stay
at home? How do you know what to look for, where to go?
It is mind boggling, I found that the traditional
nursing homes had nothing to offer the resident with
except to be nursed. Think about it. It is based upon
nurse-patient physical care patterns, requiring the patient
to be obedient, to conform, to conform to treatment
also demands competence.
and most important the Alzheimer patient needs a
specifically, they need physical activity, kindly structure,
no memory demands, no conformity demands, a supportive
environment for the individual with dementia. Look around.
Look for somewhere quiet and kindly. Look for
somewhere you wouldn’t mind living yourself with home-like
surroundings, bright colors, an activity-based day, safe
wanderings, spiritual growth, pets, music, and great deal of
Gary Small, a psychiatry professor and director of the
University of California, Los Angeles, Center on Aging
praised this approach to aging. That “nonpharmacologic
treatments can be effective and have profound impacts on
people’s quality of life.’
yes, I did say mind boggling...
Care facilities, there names are all so confusing, it
leaves me wondering am I really in the right place?
Nursing Home, Nursing Center, Care Center, Elder
Care, Interim Care, Health Center, Rehabilitation Center,
Residential Inn, Foster Home, Assisted Living, full care,
short term, long term. How do we know how long it will be?
And they all have such peaceful names: Emerald Valley, Coast
Fork, Cottage Grove, Good Neighbor, Sweetbriar, Magnolia
Gardens, Country Manor, Green Valley, and my personal
favorite; Gateway Living Residential Care, what are they
thinking anyway. Gateway to where? the Pearly Gates? And suddenly I hear Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”
playing over, and over in my mind.
all have nursing home odors, there’s a ten-year waiting
list, it’s in a bad neighborhood, they put four in a room,
It’s a mile long hike to the dining room, they want money
up front, they take only terminal cases, and the eternal
fear that Mother won’t fit in, as she has grown totally
uninhibited, she now takes off her clothing, and sits on the
edge of her bed exposing herself for all the world to see.
All this, and she still refuse’s
to wear depends. Go figure... And while we are on
this subject, when searching for the ”perfect nursing
facility” for your parent, never let them know about your
parents incontinence. They charge more, and this becomes a
whole new “level
of care”; it’s called MONEY. Later when they tell you of
the incontinence, just look at them and scream out “Tell
me now, what have you done to my Mom?”
Great Weekend Shift
pack Mothers bags, for her new home and this is the saddest
time for me, realizing how much we ask of her. The one thing
Mother was always proud of, was that she had the good sense
to stay off airplanes, “they are dangerous, and a good way
to get yourself killed,” she would say. It was her feeling
that only birds were meant to fly. After all, she had come
83 years thus far, accident-free. Her only mode of travel
was by automobile and train.
It was in the spring of 1994 that she boarded her
first jumbo jet, believing that it was the Amtrak Silver
was my daughter Kimberly, who would transport her
Grandmother from San Diego, via United Airlines with one lay
over at San Francisco International Airport, before their
arrival at Eugene International Airport, in Oregon. Kimberly
being an “Emergency Medical Technician” (EMT) was
prepared for the ride of her life, and armed with sedatives
for Granny, prescribed by her doctor “just in case of an
doctor had promised Kimberly that her grandmother would be
given “a little something to relax her ”for the flight.
We felt that is she was aware impending danger, she would
surely try to escape the jumbo jet.
Mom arrived at the airport in a comatose state right
up to the boarding ramp of the plane, where she looks up and
ask “Kimberly, where are we going? Kimberly
responded, “for a train ride Grandma, just for a ride.”
airlines promise you wheelchair access. What they don’t
tell you, is that a regular wheelchair does not fit down the
isle of the aircraft. Isle chairs are great inventions,
but...you board the plane with the patient is in a regular
wheelchair, you then transfer them to an isle chair, from
the isle chair to the assigned seat, only to arrive at your
lay over to remove the patient from the assigned seat back
into the isle chair , then again into their own wheelchair.
You then debark the plane, and start all over again.
was struggling with the transfers from chair to chair due to
her Grandmother’s recent hip replacement surgery. The hip
surgery had left Mom totally immobile, and unable to support
any of her own body weight at all. Kimberly was lifting her
Grandmother’s full weight from seat to seat. (Hint: you
must be very strong, and have lots of muscles)
I wonder, have the airlines ever taken a good look at
a handicap van?
it tuned out, Mother did well, she was alert, and a good
traveler..While they were taxing down the run way at San
Francisco International Airport, she looks amazed as she
questions the “Big Plane at the train station,” which
Kimberly, quickly passes over and gives a sigh of relief.
was content looking out the window at the passing clouds and
commented on the speed of the train only once. She turned to
Kimberly and said “This Ole boy is moving right on out.”
Kimberly smiles to herself, and she replies,
“Yes, Grandma, he is.” They arrived in Oregon in
good spirits, When I greet Mother at the airport she grins
and reassures me, “it was a pleasant train ride.”
knees are locked against her wheelchair. Her jaw is set the
way she does when something doesn’t please her, and we
enter the doors of her new home. “Linda” she finally
says to me, “you take me home now or just drop me off at
the bus stop, I am going home!” I reply “Don’t be
Dopey Mother.” I could feel her eyes peer through me as
she shouted “This is not dopey, this is facts.” I
wondered at this moment if she was really aware of the facts
“Oh Mother, you’ll like it here.” “No I won’t”
she says, “Mother how do you know if you don’t give it a
chance.” She exclaims...
“I Know What I
use saying any more when Mother was like this, so we picked
up her bags and move forward to the admitting office. I
don’t remember much about the next few days after that. I
spent them in a foggy haze. I do remember thought, I lay on
my bed, feeling extreme guilt and wondering what Mother
could possibly be thinking, and I kept dreaming that I was
falling, and endlessly spinning through the air, and I would
always awaken just before I hit bottom.
to a New Home
didn’t take long for us to discover that Mom was an escape
spent many hours of the day sitting in her wheelchair at the
nurses station. “Excuse me, nurse excuse me, can you call
me a cab” she says. Finally getting the nurses attention
she replies “I’m sorry Mrs. Stuart there are no cabs on
call this evening” “Well then, do you have a bus
schedule so I see what time the bus stops by here.” She
had made up her mind that she was going home, home to San
Diego. With these failed demands she quickly learned that
she could tug on the plastic band of her ankle alarm, (which
would sound a loud ringing alert if she attempted to exit
any exterior door) stretching it out and slipping her ankle
free she would then throw the alarms away or cleverly hide
it. Once I found an ankle alarm in her water pitcher by her
ventured further from the nurses station to the front door
of the care facility. She would sit there smiling at the
visitors who were coming and going. One warm summer night
she flashed her pretty smile to just the right person saying
“Oh, what a lovely evening it is. ”This person
all but held the door open for her as she rolled her way to
freedom and the nearest bus stop. A half hour later she was
found by an off duty nurse headed south on Highway 99 in
Cottage Grove, Oregon. Soon after the administrator
installed key pad with a special code for all visitors who
departed the facility. To this day there hangs a sign at the
front door, “Beware of Wandering Residents.”
the loss of sense of time as we know it and the ability to
entertain oneself, Mom could make visiting family members
feel guilty with remarks such as “ Where have you been?”
“Do you have to leave?” “When will you be back?”
I used to say something like I’ll be back on Friday and
she understood that. (Perhaps six years ago) Now I say I
will be back later.
afternoon I was manicuring mothers nails, I could see the
concern in her steel blue eyes, as she lay on her bed
staring up at me. She
looked so intent and startled as she asks “ Linda, what on
earth has happened to you?
Your don’t look like yourself.” I reply
“Mother, do you know how old I am?”
She responds “Well,
let me see, your thirty." I tell her “no mother, I am
now in my forties, your eldest son, Dale, will be sixty in
look in her eyes shows the shock that she is feeling,
knowing that she must be losing her mind and she is quick to
anger, as she explodes
“I get so tired of your bullshit, I don’t want to
talk about this anymore." And she is quiet, as her eyes
continues to search my face, as if to seek out the young
women she once knew.
Laura Thoms, says it best; “ Memory is the flashbulb
picture of an emotion gathering dust in the shelves of our
mind, triggered by the same feeling felt once again.”
times Mother exhibits the characteristic
agitation/aggression symptoms some AD patients get. Her
medications has helped alleviate this most of the time, but
there are occasions when she is both verbally and physically
aggressive. She is totally uninhibited, when provoked she
uses colorful language. Several times she has resorted to
fisticuffs with the caregivers accidentally injuring them.
find the best time to visit Mother is mid morning between
lunch and her nap. At her present stage visiting in the
evening is too stimulating for her to settle down without
the agitation frequently exhibited by Alzheimer patients.
stage is commonly known as “Sun downing.”
is 89 degrees. She
wears gray sweat pants,
and a matching sweatshirt along with furry lined
bedroom slippers, and complains “ it’s too hot in
here”. We go
through our usual ritual ---searching for her dentures, and
she is always positive that someone has made off with them.
Sometimes Late at night I visualize her laying awake in her
bed, listening for shuffling sounds in the hallways of
people coming to steal her teeth. She always told
me,”Wisdom comes with age,” and she insists that she
knows what people are capable of, she explains that “just
last week someone stole my Teddy-Bear right off my
for myself, I found that there were days when I feel
overwhelmed at the role I had taken on. For I had become
caregiver, advocate, financial planner, and still my role is
a constantly changing one. As each new symptom appeared for
both Mom and Dad I am continually trying to preserve a sense
of emotional calm for them while educating myself about
their disease and about their needs.
the fourth year of care giving my parents I realized my own
emotions were catching up to me.
were feelings of fatigue and emotional stress, and I was
having more bad days than good ones. I felt prolonged
periods of loss and grief. I felt anger, sorrow, guilt, and
frustration, a feeling of being alone.
of the hardest emotional issues of care giving is the
distance that grows between you and your loved one. There
comes a time when the impaired person is no longer the
person you once knew. We can find emotional support and good
suggestions for managing difficult problems from members of
support groups. And never have to keep things bottle up
inside. People have different ways of expressing feelings.
Some talk with counselors, psychologists, social workers or
members of the clergy. Still other confide in family and
friends. We all benefit by taking time to think and sort out
feelings, find ways to let your feelings come out.
Alzheimer’s Association is the largest national voluntary
organization dedicated to proving support and assistance to
Alzheimer’s patients and their families. The Alzheimer’s
Association has more than 3,000 support groups and 220
chapters nationwide. For more information on AD, or to
volunteer in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease, call
the Alzheimer’s Association at their toll-free number for
the locations of the chapter nearest you. You may also
locate the chapter nearest you using your personal computer
online service. (Welcome to the Internet, my lifeline.)
solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our
the details around us.
you have never lived alone, most of us don’t have a room
entirely our own. The important thing is that you create a
space to call yours alone, with only your belongings, your
stuff, a place to reflect.
call this small room my space, it has it’s own decorous
flavor, whitewashed desk, fan (a must), telephone, a futon
bed, for those late nights when you just can’t make into
the bedroom, a bookcase filled with computer magazines,
books on how to discover the “World Wide Web” Program
manuals, stacks of my favorite CD ROMS, and piles of
clutter. ( my stuff) Photographic equipment, unopened mail,
favorite photo albums, empty coffee cups, and all the
creative projects that I have ever thought about beginning.
to justify this clutter, “One of the advantages of
being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting
discoveries.” I like that!
the walls of “My
Space”, hangs three framed pictures from Time Magazine
covers, Richard Nixon, dated 1956, Magic Johnson 1996, and
President Bill Clinton, November 3, 1992. I am never certain
if this is a political statement or just a reminder to
beware of what you ask for. I also have hanging on the wall
high above my desk a glorious white kite, wrapped in a
rainbow of bright colors, with a hot air balloon in the
center of the kite. It’s there to remind me of the many
facets of life
is my space, a place to escape to, late at night, knowing
that everyone is soundly sleeping, and with the tasks of the
day behind me I am free to explore, and discover the Web.
(Surfing the web) I seek out web sites on the internet that
offers a wealth of information regarding Alzheimer’s
Disease. .Not only is it educational, it also gives me
instant answers to so many questions that I have whirling
around in my head regarding the roll caregiver.
I discovered America Online, and The internet. I visit chat
rooms, support groups, I read articles of everything
imaginable... Many of the people in chat rooms have
made up goofy names to protect their anonymity. Sometimes
they even speak their own language: LOL (LaughoutLoud) ROFL
(rolling on the floor laughing) BRB, (Be right back) WTG,
(way to go.) They bring many smiles to my face. I find
myself wanting to make contact with those who have no
expectations of me and hope that there is someone out there
who will listen, someone with compassion who had walked in
meet many new personalities with stories that parallel my
own in regards to aging parents and illnesses that we
don’t understand, coupled with emotions that soon make us
stead-fast friends. It is here among the unknown faces of my
monitor that we share laughter, Humor, express grief,
sorrow, and loss. But our common link is to be responsible
children of the elderly... For we are the caregivers.
one evening while in a chat room online titled
“Alzheimer’s Support” it was apparent that we all
needed some comic relief.
Our fingers were flying across our keyboards as we
typed in jokes and funny antidotes of our family member. It
was working and we were all laughing, and sending smiles :-)
The goofy names were on a roll...
what is the benefit of Alzheimer’s? You get to make new
friends everyday!” One
woman’ who is married to a husband with Alzheimer’s,
found at least one positive side to her spouse’s illness.
“He forgets he’s married,” she said.
“He proposes to me every morning.” When it came
time to discuss his mother’s burial wishes, a friend of
mine asked whether she wanted to be cremated or buried. His
mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease replied, “Surprise
has been said that “humor is the best medicine.”
Humor is a great stress reducer, it helps us deal
with life’s hardships, it makes us feel less defensive.
This night as I said good night to my online friends my
spirits had been lifted. It was great that we were learning
to laugh at ourselves..
in our family have always been joyous.
Times of great gatherings:
Mom ,dad, sisters, brothers, kids, grandkids, nieces,
nephews, friends invited from far away places, neighbors,
family pets...heck, we didn’t care. All were welcome.
Just sharing the joy of the season and togetherness
would light up any Time Square sized Christmas tree. And
what about Mom’s cooking.
Is there anything better than Mom’s Christmas
began preparing the goodies weeks in advance.
Everyone had their favorites among the many
delicacies that would delight any gourmet’s pallet. There
were homemade candies, mom’s famous blackberry jam cake,
both pumpkin & pecan pies and cookies galore. Let’s
not forget the cranberry tarts; little ones with snow flake
crust, warm from the oven with a dab of whip cream. Of
course there was the obligatory fruitcake too (no one ever
ate that). She
was our Bon-Appetite Momma.
She would always tuck away Christmas tins packed full
of homemade fudge to send home with her grandsons as parting
gifts. (She was a joy)
think there are times all Moms look at there daughters and
smile to themselves thinking , “payback is good!” I was about to
find out. The
holiday time approached the first year mother was in a care
was decided that this would be her first outing away from
her new home. Mom
would be joining the family at my house in the country for
Christmas dinner. Great expectations ran rampant.
was massive shopping to do, cooking, silver to polish,
trips to the mall for the prefect gifts, sleeping
arrangements for out of town guests and transportation from
the airport. I
also felt the need to have the house in perfect order.
It was going to pass the white glove test.
Somewhere in there I needed the time to finish
decorating six more dozen sugar cookies.
There must be fresh flowers.
Yet another thing to add to my ever growing list.
Finally, the stockings were hung and the tree was trimmed.
On Christmas eve I stayed up into the wee hours
making fudge and a cheese cake. (rats, I forgot the
only I could turn back the clock... I don’t dwell on the
clock thing, or the past all of the time...just once daily
when I get out of bed and head off to the bathroom.
I stop, to look at the person in the mirror who is
peering back at me. She looks like she just broke the sound
barrier going backwards.
It’s always the same.
I stare back and ask myself
“who is that?” This morning I knew the answer to that question.
I had turned into my mother.
selected just the right new outfit for mother to wear and
called the care facility leaving specific instructions for
mother to be dressed, groomed, and ready to go on Christmas
day for her outing. Dad
had a fresh new haircut
for the occasion. He was so excited that Mother was coming
would be his best Christmas ever.
It was their day and I just knew everything would be
I entered her room at noontime on Christmas day, anything
that could go wrong did go wrong.
She would not get out of bed that morning, and still
wore her pajamas.
She needed a shower and had refused all of her daily
was certain that medications were just a conspiracy and that
all the doctors where quite simply
Christmas Mother” She
responds “Oh it’s Christmas already and I haven’t even
done any shopping!” “Not
to worry mother, everything is taken care of.
We are going to my house and everyone is so excited
about seeing you.” “Well, I don’t know about that.
I can’t ride too far.”
“I know Mother.” I reassured her.
“It’s just a short trip.
We’ll be there soon.”
We made the transition from the wheelchair into the
car only for her tell me “I am not wearing this seat belt.
I don’t like it and that’s all there is to that.
If I have to wear this thing I’ll just stay
was supposed to be a 6 mile, twenty minute round trip to the
nursing home and back, turned into an hour long running
battle of the minds and I was losing.
All this while I had sixteen dinner quests awaiting
me at home. “Linda, where are we going?”
“To my house mother.
It’s Christmas and everyone is waiting for us.”
“Well, you stop this car now and get me out of
these straps.” “We’ll
be there in just a few minutes.” I pleaded. “Where is
your dad at?” she demands.
“He’s waiting at home for us mother.” “Did he
work today?” “No mother, dad is retired now.”
“He is?” “Where do we live?”
She turns and looks straight at me.
“Dad lives with me ” “Do I live there too?”
“No Mom. Remember,
you hurt your hips and had to have surgery.
You stay in a special place where they can take good
care of you so that you don’t ever hurt yourself again.”
“Linda, where are we going”
here now Mom.” “Who
Christmas everyone” I proclaim as Mom and I are greeted by
the family. “Merry
Christmas Grandma,” Lysa says, as she hugs her
is so excited as we feverishly exchange hugs and kisses.
I greet loved ones that have arrived since I left to
pick up mom. Everyone is starved. The
aroma of our anticipated feast fills the air as my brother
Jesse gently tugs at mother’s wheelchair to lift it up the
stairs and into the house.
Mom looks over her shoulder at him and asks ”Jesse,
where are we going?”
Dad is standing in the background, tears of joy
trickling down his cheeks as he awaits his moment alone with
his special Christmas Princess.
to the meal! This
is overwhelming. Where
do you put all this food?
It’s all just a matter “of good timing” I told
can do this!” What
was I thinking-- was I Martha Stuart?
Spicy herb roasted nuts, Mandarin salad with Asian
dressing, roast turkey, Chardonnay gravy, cornbread,
sausage, dried fruit dressing, peas with pearl onions,
candied yams, mother’s garlic mashed potatoes, brandied
cranberry sauce, yeast rolls, and for dessert-- black forest
chocolate cheese cake.
bring Mom in the kitchen and keep me company while I finish
up dinner.” Dad
began gingerly maneuvering the wheelchair through the
kitchen. Carefully negotiating past
the mounds of pots & pans and trays of food.
He finds just the right spot to park mom.
She sits there staring out the kitchen window, while
putting her fingers into and tasting any food within her
of “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and
Donna Reed, kept popping into my head. There was George
Bailey, broke, and in despair over a saving and loan deal
gone wrong. He’s wishing he’d never been born and about
to jump off a bridge when his guardian angel saves him.
For me, that bridge was looking pretty inviting as I
wondered how to serve all this food while it was still warm?
Where was my guardian angel...She was sitting in my
breakfast nook in a wheelchair wondering where she was and
who lived here.
was all but in tears and felt I needed to try the positive
said to myself again “It’s just a matter of timing, I
can do this.” Lysa and James (my son-in-law) entered the kitchen with a
look of amazement on their faces upon seeing this piled high
mess that I have made and wondering to themselves how they
can help me to expedite this meal as quickly as possible.
They gently ask
“Mom, can we help you get dinner on the table?
Is there something we can help you with?”
“Oh no kids, thanks.
It’s nice of you to ask but I don’t even know
what I’m doing myself.
Lysa, if you get the drinks, I think we’re almost
there.” “Okay Mom. Take
it easy. Everything
is fine. Really?
Everything that I had read said “it takes one
person with one oven to prepare this meal”
Were they talking about me?
Where is the person who wrote these helpful hints:
prepare salad, bake rolls, 1 hour ahead bake casseroles,
peel and cook potatoes. 20 minutes ahead mash potatoes. 15
minutes ahead remove turkey from oven, put on platter and
keep warm, while making the gravy and keeping it warm. 10
minutes ahead heat extra dressing, cook peas and onions. 5
minutes ahead warm rolls, warm cranberry sauce, garnish
me get this straight in my head.
I should now have turkey, casserole, dinner rolls,
and dressing in the oven. First of all, I wasn’t here the
first hour before meal time.
I was in tears.
I wondered how big was this one persons’ oven
anyway, and where did they find a kitchen big enough to
house it? I had
5 minutes to mash the potatoes before I remove the turkey
and make gravy. The
no, I never turned on the burner to cook the potatoes.
What-- no mashed potatoes on Christmas--unthinkable.
I felt like kicking the kitchen stove.
At this same moment I have a houseguest confiding to
me “All year long, I’ve been dreaming about you homemade
when I was scooping the dressing from the bird, I heard Mom
ask Dad, “Vern, who lives here” Why Honey, this is where
I live” She looks totally shocked and confused as she says
“Oh no you don’t. I
think it’s time we start home.
We have a long drive ahead of us. You tell me who
lives here now!” “It’s Okay honey,” he says. “I told you Opal, I live here with Linda and Dean”
At that very moment Mom blurts out “you're more
full of shit than a Christmas goose!.”
I was absolutely stunned.
I felt so hurt for Dad.
At first I just stood there astonished.
Not only had I never heard this expression before, I
never ever imagined my Mom saying such a thing.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
Was all of this
hush of silence fell over the entire house.
I turned to see 13 dinner guests crowded in the
doorway of my kitchen, wide eyed and in total disbelief of
what they had just heard.
In that instant, my tears turned to uncontrollable
tears of laughter, they were running down my face, and my
sides ached. I
knew I had never laughed this hard in my whole life.
I was thinking that they all needed to lock me up in
an asylum or put me in the bed next to my Mom at the Home.
I was falling down with laughter like a mad woman.
It became contagious.
Soon everyone joined in.
We were all laughing hysterically and slapping our
hands together. The
image of this moment would be forever etched in our minds in
slow motion for years of replay.
We were completely jubilant that we could find the
humor in the events of this day.
That was the only mention of Christmas that our
honored guest, my Mother “The Christmas Princess,” ever
made that year.
few days later as I sat at my mothers bedside for hours (she
was having a bad day) looking through magazines, brushing
her hair, browsing
through family photo albumins, doing anything that I could
to help her overcome her lethargy. “Mother it is so dark
in here, lets open up your window blinds and let some light
into the room” without it ever occurring me that she had
lived in Sunny Southern California most of her life and she
was totally unaware of the northwest’s forever changing
winter weather. She
didn’t even know that she lived in the northwest, for her
there was no place like home,. San Diego.
I lifted up the blinds I was surprised to see the unexpected
blanket of newly fallen snow. It glistened on the roof tops
and the trees outside her window bowed down with the weight
of it. I tuned to look at mother.
She was wide eyed, her mouth was open as she stared
out the window, she looked totally amazed as she squeaked
out “Lind-a-a, Where-In-Thee-Hell-Am-I?” I can only imagine how she felt.
was born in a small town in the heart of the Ozarks,
Tuscumbia, Missouri, the “show me state”, and that
particular term became her motto when I reached adolescence.
She wants to keep me on the right path through life and she
always tell me “don’t just tell me, show me, I’ll
watch your feet not your mouth.” I sometimes wonder to
myself, would she think I’m still on the right path and
moving in the right direction in order to meet all of our
Happy Birthday Moment
ninth, it is Mothers Eighty sixth birthday. She is confused
but tries to act like she knows everything that is going on
around her. Mostly she wonders who her Great Grand Son Dylan
is. She keeps looking from the child to his Mother, her
Grand Daughter as if to say ”Lysa your not old enough to have a baby.”
She eats her birthday cake with her hands...as the sticky
goo runs through her fingers, no one offers a fork.. This is
how she likes it. She opens a few gifts and looks up to ask
“where do I go now?”
She wants to please and belong, but the confusion
prevails.... She is once again lost.
are times when I can look into her hazy blue eyes and I feel
as if I am watching Time Lapse photography as I stare into
her eyes I can see her mind switching tracks. Suddenly, her
eyes clear, she smiles and asks...”oh Linda, where did you
come from.” Aww,
a perfect moment...for me. At this moment I am once again
I see watch my
mothers progression of AD I also realize that the how
quickly these changes occur in an Alzheimer patient will
vary from person to person. Eventually, the disease leaves
its victims totally unable to care for themselves. The
course of the disease usually progresses an average of eight
years from the time the symptoms first appear, although
Alzheimer’s disease has been known to last as long as 25
has taken two bad falls that resulted in hip replace surgery
(both hips), she is in congestive heart failure, has
suffered a heart attack, mini stokes, diabetes, pneumonia,
she deals weekly with painful treatment for the cancerous
growth on her neck. I heard friends say “she’s eighty six years old and her
will to live never lessens.” I wonder to myself if it is
her will to live or does she just not realize what she’s
it’s easier for her beginning each day with a clean slate
having no knowledge or recollection of her continual pain
and suffering, and just being aware that she doesn’t feel
well for now. Her life is like a motion picture, but she
only has to deal with it a frame at a time not knowing
what’s came before or where it’s leading.
is History, Tomorrow is a Mystery, Today is a Gift.
That’s why they call it the Present....Author
all honesty, I don’t know if this page in time is about
trying to save a marriage or the joys of an impending divorce.
Maybe it’s just getting on with one’s life.
Oh god, sometimes I think I can’t do this any longer.
There is so much anger and bad feelings, our marriage is
falling apart. The stress of the past four years in the roll
as caregiver is taking it’s toll on both my husband and
myself. Not only
have I been tending to needs of my parent’s, but those of my
husband’s mother as well. My Mother-in-law, Florence had
become quiet ill two years ago and was confined to a nursing
home in a nearby community.
was in the early hours of the morning in February 1997, at
5:00 am that we received a phone call that Florence had passed
away suddenly to complications of pneumonia. I felt anger
towards Dean (my husband) feeling that he had negative
response to his mother’s death. I viewed the response as
being negative because I see no response in him at all. There
was no grieving, no tears , at all. I wonder if he saw
mourning as a weakness. That same morning promptly at 7:15 am
Dean left for work, as I prepared to make final arrangements
for his mother and her personal belongings. He declined
time alone for a last visit with his Mother before the
mortuary delivered her remains from the nursing home for
was left wondering if his reaction was shock or disbelief,
rejection of reality, and if it was just total disregard. And
if so how could I
ever expect him to understand or to even comfort me while
I’m feeling so much grief at the thought of losing my own
parents. It was a scary feeling, so alone with my own
thoughts, and I so wanted to comfort him but he is insistent
that he needs no comforting, he says “I’m fine.”
Happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family
is unhappy in it’s own way.
- Leo Tolstoy
our lives a little rain must fall. but once or twice it seems
a devastating flood, and I was barely keeping afloat
events kept creeping into my dreams, there were imagines,
flashbacks, the feeling of emotional numbness and detachment
from everyone around me, and there are sleep difficulties. I
would sit in front of my computer going from chat room to chat
room, playing computer games and popping melatonin ( a sleep
aide) in hopes that it would give me a peaceful nights rest.
is fight or flight, I
pick on this man... I find fault with everything. I am always
looking at where I want to go in this life...And is he coming
along too? Sometimes
I fantasize about another life, still in a country setting
somewhere... maybe sitting above a lovely river or a cabin on
the edge of a beautiful lake,
there are chickens in the yard, and nowhere to be found are
anyone’s parents. In my images I am always running away.
(It’s called burn-out!) I need to get rid of this fantasy
life I have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting
situation continues to worsen and we grow further apart. I
pick and he tries to control me though guilt. It’s hard to
experience fulfillment in a relationship which is not equal
and reciprocal and we are both guilty of these factors.
looks to me for personal affirmation and self-esteem, he
constantly reminds me that he can’t continue on in his life
without me, that I am responsible for his happiness, he views
me as depressed, and knows that if I could seek out more
positive feelings that we would both be ok.
has overwhelming fear that I will leave him. The more
psychological games that are played and manipulation of guilt
that he imposes on me, the more I distance myself and withdraw
from him. I can’t be responsible for anyone else’s life. I
just won’t! Sometimes I think if I should ever remarry the
man would have to be the same age as I, ( I am several years
older than Dean) and his mother must be deceased!
That is my prerequisite for a happy union and
longevity, somehow I see these requirements as stress reducer.
I remember going through Mother's belongings.
There were things that she had so carefully
tucked away in her dresser drawers...always with a pretty
sachet (usually Lily of Valley).
I found beautiful lingerie; all neatly wrapped in a
lovely assortment of pastel colored tissue paper.
There, nestled in her bureau, were years' worth of
Christmas, Birthday, and Mothers day gifts...All kept for a
I sat with my Mother on that last day at Coast Fork Nursing Center
care facility for Alzheimer's patients) I wondered if
how much I Loved her and that she wasn't alone.
to think about...I read this is morning and it made me weep
for my own mother.
LIFE TO IT'S FULLEST~N~FINEST
brother in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister's bureau
and lifted out a tissue wrapped package.
"This," he said, "is not a slip.This is
discarded the tissue and handed me the slip.
It was exquisite; silk, handmade and trimmed with a
cobweb of lace. The
price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still
bought this the first time we went to New York, at
least 8 or 9 years ago.
She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion.
Well, I guess this is the occasion."
took the slip from me and put it on
the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the
mortician. His hands
lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed
the drawer shut and turned to me.
"Don't ever save anything for a special occasion.
Every day you're alive is a special occasion."
remembered those words through the funeral and the days that
followed when I
helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that
unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning
from the Midwestern town where my sister's family lives. I
thought about all the things that she hadn't seen or
heard or done. I thought
about the things that she had done without realizing that they
still thinking about his words, and they've changed my life.
I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting on the deck and
admiring the view
without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I'm spending
more time with my
family and friends and less time in committee meetings.
possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not
endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and
cherish them. I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and
crystal for every special event such as losing a pound,
getting the sink unstopped, the
first camellia blossom.look prosperous, I can shell out
$28.49 for one small bag of groceries
without wincing. I'm not saving my good perfume for
special parties; clerks
in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that
function as well
as my party‑going friends'.
and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my
vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want
to see and hear and do it now.
not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she
wouldn't be here for the tomorrow we all take for granted. I
think she would have called family members and a few close
might have called
a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past
squabbles. I like to think she would have gone out for
a Chinese dinner, her
guessing I'll never know. It's those little things left undone
that would make me angry if I knew that my hours were limited.
Angry because I put off seeing good friends
whom I was going to
get in touch with someday. Angry because I hadn't
written certain letters that I intended to write one of
and sorry that I didn't tell my husband and daughter often enough
how much I truly love them. I'm trying very hard not to put
off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and
luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell
myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath
truly is...a gift from God.
By Ann Wells
Los Angeles Times
9,1911 - September 15, 1998
November 1, 1915 - April 20, 2001