Category Archives: Memories

My mom’s service to her country

Mom Wave profile

I’ve been thinking about Mom quite a bit this week, as Saturday would have been her 82nd birthday. Since her birthday falls so shortly after the Fourth of July, I always think about her brief, but beloved Navy career during this time of year.

Mom was raised on a farm, and knew the hard work and dedication it took to not only feed a family, but raise livestock and crops to help feed a community. Upon finishing high school, she declined to go to college and instead entered the workforce, working jobs that were typical for women in the day, such as nursing aide and receptionist.

In her late twenties, she decided she wanted something more, so she joined the Navy. Her service was during a brief period of relative peace in the world, and she was assigned to naval stations in the U.S. versus being sent abroad. She always spoke fondly of her time in the Navy, even with its challenges.

She could’ve had made a career out of military service, but opted out after honorably serving for three years. She returned to civilian life, working office jobs and eventually settled in as a proofreader, her excellent attention to detail no doubt enforced by her military service.

A few years later, she met my dad, got married, gave birth to me and the rest is history.

 

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Remembering a friend and fighter for Alzheimer’s caregivers

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I was shocked and saddened to learn that Pamela Jo Van Ahn, executive director of Amy’s Place, died on June 15th.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ve heard me talk about how much I loved Amy’s Place, serving those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their caregivers. It was such a welcoming, non-judgmental environment, and offered numerous cultural and education events each month.

I loved Pam’s passion and compassion. She was so giving of herself and fiercely devoted to helping caregivers. She was humble and reluctant to accept praise for her work. When she was nominated for a caregiver award earlier this year, she said in an email: “It is not easy for me to be recognized for something I did with a lot of support, help, and caring from others–like you…”

Pam was so supportive of my areas of caregiver advocacy. She introduced me as “the author” when I published my first book, The Reluctant Caregiver, and allowed me to test my care bag prototype that is an integral part of Respite Care Share with members of the Amy’s Place caregiver support group.  img_20170215_172858899

As I was reeling from the news of Pam’s death, I read a piece by a former colleague of mine who just lost his 20-year-old son to cancer. He ended his poignant essay by quoting another journalist, Mike Royko, who wrote after his wife’s death: “If there’s someone you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now. Always, always say it now.”

We all need the sobering reminder to never take the people in our lives for granted. Never hesitate to call, email, or text your love or appreciation of them.

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A towering reminder

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This week marked the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve hit that mark where it’s hard for me to believe that it was only four years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago.

But the towering water oak tree in my front yard serves as a sturdy reminder. It has been four years ago since the last time I had it trimmed. The reason why I remember the date of such a mundane task is because it was the day that I realized Mom was dying and that I needed to be with her. I remember the chaos of that day, with Mom getting admitted to the ER again for uncontrollable pain. I was trying to field phone calls with the roaring machinery going full-throttle outside. There was an issue with a car parked on the street and I was being asked to assist. I remember wanting to scream, “I don’t care about the damn car. My mother is dying!”

I recently had the tree pruned again, and the foreman proposed May 21, the day of my mother’s death. Somehow I thought it was appropriate. The tree may very well outlive me. It grows, it sheds its leaves in the fall, occasionally branches drop, and then it is tended to and left naked with knots. It’s akin to how time alters the grief process. One is left raw with some hardened spots, but life continues to grow.

You may never be the same after the death of a parent, but life does go on.

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The healing power of humor

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The world lost one of its great comedic talents with the passing of Tim Conway this week. My mom loved watching him on The Carol Burnett Show, and I watched episodes with her as a pre-teen and teenager.

One interesting note was that it was reported last year that Conway had dementia. His daughter had mentioned the diagnosis in court filings. But when his obituary was filed, it made note of the fact that he did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but instead had excess fluid on the brain.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the outpouring of condolences from a variety of generations. I was unaware of his later voiceover work for animated productions until I checked out his IMDB profile.

We could all use a little more innocent humor nowadays, with the world seemingly so full of hate and division. While one of Conway’s best-known skits (and funniest) is “The Dentist,” I stumbled upon “Dog’s Life” and thought it was hilarious. Conway became his characters, even when they were non-human. His attention to detail elevated his comedic ability to a whole new level. Enjoy, and share with anyone who needs a mood lifter this week.

 

 

 

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Marking National Nurses Week

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The week of May 6-May 12 is National Nurses Week. Caregivers of loved ones with chronic conditions resulting in frequent hospital stays get to know the profession and its members quite well.

Being a nurse means often seeing people at their worst: in pain, with mental confusion, combative or frightened. Nurses who treat those with dementia know an extra level of care and patience is required.

Nurses sometimes get labeled as superheroes but they are human, with their own families and struggles. But when they come into work, they attempt to put their own troubles aside to make someone else feel better. It’s a true act of giving.

I am grateful for the nurses who cared for my father and mother during their hospitalizations. One particular incident that stands out in my mind were the nurses at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. When they found out that it was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, they brought my mother a slice of cake while we were in the ICU room with my father who was in a medically-induced coma. Those busy nurses didn’t have to take the time to make that sweet gesture, but they did. I’m forever grateful.

If you know a nurse who has touched your family’s life in a positive way, reach out this week to let them know.

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‘What They Had’ will resonate with dementia caregivers

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I saw an excellent movie recently that I wanted to share with others who are or have been dementia caregivers. The movie is called, “What They Had,” and it has a great cast, starring Blythe Danner, Hilary Swank, Robert Forster and Michael Shannon. The film has a fairly simple plot: matriarch Ruth’s dementia is getting progressively worse, and the family is drawn together to figure out the next steps.

Those of us who have been dementia caregivers know what’s coming next, to a certain extent. The family’s internal dynamics are stretched to their breaking points as they each approach the “solution” to caring for the woman they love who is losing her mind and memories of them.

What is remarkable about the film is how realistically it depicts the challenges of a family grappling with Alzheimer’s. First-time director Elizabeth Chomko, whose grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, captures the raw and complex emotions perfectly. The movie is uncomfortable to watch in a good way, in that the plot, dialogue and acting is so realistic that you feel like you are eavesdropping into a family’s nightmare.

Watch the trailer:

I related quite a bit to the character of Nick, who is the son and brother. He’s the hands-on sibling, because he lives near the parents in Chicago, while Swank’s character Bridget is the sister who moved away to California. Nick has understandably built up some resentment and even though he comes across as pessimistic and critical, he cares deeply and understands the mother’s condition in a more realistic way than the rest of the family. I related so much to Nick’s frustration with the rest of the family who were overly optimistic or avoiding the tough decisions, as I dealt with that with my mother when making medical decisions for my father.

Bridget’s response to being thrown into a family crisis prompts her to question everything about her life, including her marriage. Danner plays the character of Ruth with heartbreaking tenderness, though there are moments of humor as well. And Forster, Ruth’s husband and primary caregiver, demonstrates a loving resilience underneath his gruff, practical exterior.

Both Danner and Swank have experienced real-life caregiving, which I think brought an extra layer of realism to their portrayals.

The film is available on video-on-demand services. (I watched it on Vudu.) It does contain a fair amount of profanity, but it seemed to be a natural fit for the characters’ personalities. If you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to know what you thought about it.

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I See You, Alzheimer’s Daughter — Life, Love, and Alzheimer’s

This blog post by  Lauren Dykovitz is so beautiful and poignant. It really resonated with me. I think other “Alzheimer’s daughters” will appreciate it as well.

I see you, Alzheimer’s Daughter, trying to smile through the pain. I know how much it hurts. You feel as if both of your parents have just disappeared, vanished into some other world. Alzheimer’s World. They are gone forever. Only they’re not really gone. They’re still alive and, maybe, they live just a few miles […]

via I See You, Alzheimer’s Daughter — Life, Love, and Alzheimer’s

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April 10, 2019 · 10:34 pm