Category Archives: Memories

Mom, the funny lady

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Mom with “Polly” the talking bird toy.

Today is the three-year anniversary of my mother’s death. While the immediate suffocating phase of grief has mainly dissipated, it’s still a day that I reflect upon my mother’s passing from this world, and the memories that remain.

If Mom had her way, she’d want me to remember her as a funny lady.

Mom loved to laugh and make other people laugh. As one can tell by reading my book, I also try to have a sense of humor, though Mom and I couldn’t be more opposite in our forms of humor. Mom loved to tell corny jokes and I’m far more sarcastic with a dry wit.

I was going through some paperwork that I had set aside at the time of her death, and discovered a manila envelope labeled, “Jokes.” Inside were a lot of jokes I remember from my childhood, such as the infamous “Rose Bowl” ticket.

rose bowl tix

I also found one of Mom’s final jokes, the “web” joke. Here’s how Mom wrote down that one:

I’m not a “hi-tech” person. I do have a cell phone, which is handy to use. But I have never been on the “web.” I take that back. I was on  the “web” one time. I stepped on a spider web. Very sticky and I was unhappy about that. After losing 4 legs, the spider was very unhappy. I never returned to the web and neither did the spider.

Mom wrote a note underneath the joke: “I wrote this 3 years ago and is printable (?) right venue!!”

I think this blog is just the right venue.

 

 

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Mom’s love of horses

mom horse

Mom loved many things, but she had a special fondness for horses. She had been around them as a child, growing up on a farm. Surprisingly, she never learned to ride.

Mom also loved horse racing. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s how my parents met, with Mom asking Dad at the diner for the sports section so she could see the horse racing results.

I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the world of horse racing, and those concerns should be addressed. But for me, there is a sentimental factor involved. My parents brought me to horse racing outings throughout my childhood, and I remember those days with fondness.

While going through a pile of paperwork I’d set aside after Mom died, I came across a box marked, “Tax Returns.” ZZZZ, I thought. Still, I flipped through the neatly organized tax return envelopes, some going back to the early 1990s. And I was rewarded when I got to the end, when I came across a pile of personal belongings.

One of the pieces buried in the tax box was a Hollywood Park racing program. As I flipped through it, I realized it was a memento from one of Mom’s favorite memories.

Hollwyood Park program cvr

Many of my parents’ early dates revolved around going to the races. They both shared a love of horse racing, so it was a natural destination. There was one outing my mother remembered fondly, maybe my father, not so much. Mom recounted a day where the two of them had basically broke even with their bets until the last two races of the day. Dad struck first, winning $13.20 in the eighth race. But Mom had the last laugh, winning $53 in the ninth race. She never forgot the name of the winning horse, and neither have I: Hail to Garr. And now there it was in print for me to see for the first time.

HP Program interior

Mom made notes in the program to highlight their winnings. She said Dad was quiet on the way back, and seemed to be fuming that Mom trumped him in winnings, haha.

I’m so glad that I finally went through that “boring” box of tax returns. I found it on Saturday, just after the Kentucky Derby race. That’s now a bittersweet event for me, because it was one of the last happy moments Mom and I had together. She was too weak to get out of bed, but we watched the race via livestream on my computer.

The year she died, there was a Triple Crown winner, but she didn’t live long enough to see history being made.

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Finding the rainbow as a caregiver

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Pixabay

It can be hard for some caregivers to find moments of joy in their daily lives. Optimism can be in short supply when one is coping with loved ones in declining health. Mental, emotional and physical exhaustion leave little time for self-reflection or appreciation of the world around us. For those like myself who naturally lean on the pessimistic side, it’s easy to allow the clouds of despair to smother us like a blanket.

What I discovered is that even after one’s caregiving days are behind them, those clouds can linger. Having experienced such moments of despair, we live in fear of those days returning in one form or another. But by doing that, we may fail to recognize the beauty and the wonder that has always existed, even in our darkest days.

I was reminded of this while listening to “Golden Hour,” the new album by the critically-acclaimed country music artist Kacey Musgraves. The closing song of the album is titled, “Rainbow,” and its heartfelt message is for anyone who has gone through troubled times. I think many caregivers could relate. The chorus goes:

Well the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head

I know springtime has yet to reach some parts of the country, but here in Atlanta, everything is blooming and the birds are singing. My mother died during the spring so the season is now tinged with sadness. But I’m going to work on loosening my grip on the umbrella, so I don’t miss out on what the present has to offer.

If you’ve been a caregiver, have you dealt with the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality? How did you learn to live in the present more?

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The eyeglass whisperer

One of the toughest moments during the frenetic cleanup of my parents’ condo just after my mother’s death was what to do with her eyeglass collection.

My mother’s many eyeglasses were laid out neatly atop the dresser, where she always kept them. Each pair of glasses had its purpose.

mom eyeglasses

A routine trip to the grocery store required three pairs: sunglasses, a pair for walking and a pair for reading coupons and expiration dates. Whenever I was with her, I was expected to know which pair she needed at any given time. I became her eyeglass whisperer, though to be honest, I never did figure out what all of the pairs were for.

She did try bifocals at one point, but hated them. “I feel like a chicken trying to pick up corn,” Mom complained.

So as I moved around the condo in a whirlwind, using the activity to temporarily blunt the grief, my mom’s eyeglass collection brought me to a halt. She had not worn any of the glasses for weeks, since she had become bedridden. While I was purging the condo of many items, I wasn’t ready to part with her glasses. Instead, I put them each in a case and then into a box, which I mailed back home to Atlanta.

I had some hazy notion of turning them into a sort of tribute piece. The glasses sat in the box in a closet for almost three years, when I finally decided it was time to do something with them. I found an appropriate shadowbox and created a simple display of the glasses my mother used most.

The display is now on my bedroom wall, and I’m pleased with the results.

Have you come up with any unusual memorials for loved ones? I would love to hear about them.

 

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Welcome back, Joy Johnston, author of “The Reluctant Caregiver”

It was an honor to be featured on the AlzAuthors blog this past week. I encourage you to check out the other authors writing about Alzheimer’s and other dementias that are a part of this group. Sharing our experiences is so important!

AlzAuthors

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]By Joy Johnston

Not everyone is born a natural caregiver.

Unlike some caregivers who can draw upon their experience as a parent or time spent taking care of siblings when they were younger, I had no such reservoir of caregiving knowledge when my parents fell ill. An only child who lived 1,300 miles away from my parents, my father began showing signs of dementia while I was in my mid-thirties. Assuming the role of long-distance caregiver, I helped my mother by paying bills, sending supplies, and researching care options.

It was not until six months after my father’s death, when my mother suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with colon cancer, that I became a primary caregiver. I was woefully unprepared and frankly, reluctant to step into the role. My mother required emergency surgery and faced a lengthy recovery. I ended up quitting my job and temporarily moving to New…

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Respite in the woods

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Sunset in Ellijay, Georgia.

I just returned from a 5-day trip to the north Georgia mountains. It was a nice getaway, with a mix of rainy days to crystal clear nights with the sky full of stars. In the past, I haven’t been able to enjoy these trips as much because I  was worried about my parents as their health declined.

Back then, cell phone service was very iffy in the woods, and being able to reach them required some effort. Calls would drop often and my mother always thought I was hanging up on her, haha. (While there were many times I wanted to, I only hung up on her a couple of times in my life.)

I am always in awe of the majesty of the mountains, from the beauty of the sunsets, to the way the rains strikes the roof of the cabin to the blanket of stars overhead on a clear night. But life cycles are also on display in the mountains. The hawks swooping and soaring effortlessly overhead were seeking their next kill. I took a short hike and came across so many fallen trees. Taken out by severe weather or just old age, they will decay until they return to earth or are removed by developers looking to build a new cabin.

Sometimes it helps to watch nature do its thing, and know that many of the same rules apply to us. I think especially for those grieving the loss of a loved one, there is comfort in observing the cycle of life and how there is always something new to take the place of what is lost. A dogwood tree was just beginning to bloom near the cabin, a sign of the rapidly approaching spring; a tree stump became home to abundant fungi.

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It’s these moments that I get to fully enjoy now that makes me realize how difficult it is for caregivers to truly unplug. Caregivers are always on edge, awaiting the next calamity. Even if you know your loved one is receiving good care while you are away, you never know when a medical crisis might arise. After awhile, it becomes your new normal.

I hope that my fellow caregivers will get a chance to enjoy a real respite soon.

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A gun on the farm

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Pixabay

With gun rights and gun control being the hot topics of discussion after yet another mass shooting, it reminded me of a story from my mother’s childhood that fortunately did not end in tragedy.

My mother was raised on a farm, and it was not unusual for farm families to own a gun. Typically a rifle or shotgun was kept, sometimes to put down sick animals, or to kill rabid animals or scare off a bobcat. Hunting also was a popular pastime and source of food for the family. While human prowlers weren’t as much of a threat back then, in a remote farmland area, you best be prepared to defend your family. Having a gun was a practical decision in my mother’s family.

One night when my mother was a young girl, she must have gotten up in the middle of the night, or perhaps was sleepwalking, and ended up in a rocking chair in the living room. Family members heard a noise and the gun was retrieved as a precaution. When my mother was discovered, everyone heaved a sigh of relief and had a good chuckle the next morning.

My mother told me that my grandmother was not as amused, as having weapons in the house made her nervous. She worried about what could’ve happened to “little Janie” if my mother had been mistaken for an intruder. But as the matriarch of a large farming family, she understood the purpose for such a weapon and reluctantly accepted its presence in the home.

I’m just as grateful as my grandmother that the story had a happy ending.

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