Category Archives: Memories

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

Painful memories can offer profound insight

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We all have memories that we wish we could forget. Our childhoods tend to have a major impact on the rest of our lives, as do major life milestones.

I sometimes wonder what those with dementia remember from their lives. Good memories, bad memories, or a mix of what had the most impact on them? Or maybe it’s just random. We may never know.

One memory from my adolescence that haunted many of my adult years transformed into a powerful life lesson for me. The story behind that memory, Lesson from a Bully, was recently published on Women For One as part of their project highlighting Truthtellers. I’m honored to share my story with a community focused on empowering women.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Women For One Truthteller Tour in person at the What Women Want conference in Atlanta last year. It was a powerful experience to hear women tell their stories, and how the darkest, most painful life experiences can inspire us to be better people.

As many of you know, I’m a big advocate for caregivers sharing their stories, as I think there is nothing more powerful than sharing your unique experiences with others. It’s a way to personalize the current political debate going on right now around elder care issues. I hope that you are able to share your story with those who need to hear it.

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A reunion with kindness

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I had a chance encounter this past week with a woman who was a true angel to my family several years ago. Sandra went out of her way to care for my mother and myself as my father was dying. She even put her life (and car) at risk, driving through a snowstorm.

Sandra played a role in what was one of the worst moments of my life, but also a moment that helped inspire this blog, The Memories Project.

Over the years, I’ve thought about Sandra and her multiple acts of kindness. Such people seem to appear when you need them the most.

And so it happened that our paths crossed again. You can read about the encounter via my post on Medium or via the Twitter thread below. (Click through to read entire thread on Twitter.)

As I’ve said before, I’m a skeptic, but I’m also not a fool. There can only be so many coincidences. I keep my eyes and heart open for these moments, and try to learn from them. I hope you will do the same in your lives, and also remember that small acts of kindness can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life.

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