Category Archives: Memories

Bittersweet birthday memories



For me, July will forever be associated with birthdays. My mother’s birthday was July 6 and my birthday is July 19.

While birthdays should be filled with happy memories, ever since the death of my parents, I’m left with bittersweet memories. There’s a profound quote in the Netflix documentary, End Game, which is about end-of-life care and hospice, that touches upon what I’m feeling this week.

“Suffering is the wedge, the gap between the world you want and the world you got.”

Even though I didn’t spend my birthday with my parents as an adult, they always sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone. It was a fun tradition, and each year Mom would tell me how they practiced all week to make it special. My parents both had some musical talent, with Dad especially fond of singing in the style of his favorite crooner, Bing Crosby.

The year before my father was placed in the memory care center, my parents performed the best rendition ever of Happy Birthday. My dad was in high spirits that day, and even though he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s by then, he hadn’t lost his ability to sing or to ham it up. He continued singing, performing a medley of classic show tunes before Mom was able to get the phone back from him. At the time I thought, “I wish I had recorded this!”

As my birthday approached the next year, I was visiting my parents and Mom and I made the trek to the memory care center to see Dad. He was mobile but heavily medicated. I didn’t expect any birthday singing, but Mom insisted. I was torn about recording it, but I knew in my heart that it would be my last birthday with my father alive. Little did I know then that my mother would be in a care center a year later recovering from cancer surgery.

Even though I knew it would be painful, I decided to record it. I’m glad I did, even though it is heartbreaking to watch. (I rarely share this video, but am making an exception here.)

As to the quote about suffering, what I wanted was the sublime Happy Birthday performance from the year before. What I got was my father, addled with medication and his brain ravaged by Alzheimer’s, trying his best to perform one final time, with my mother trying desperately to be upbeat.

Ultimately, both memories are gifts. They are both filled with love.







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An encore visit to the cat circus


The Amazing Acro-Cats

This past weekend, The Amazing Acro-Cats returned to Atlanta for multiple “purrformances.” Of course, I had to go. It is such an entertaining, quirky show. It’s the only time you get to see “cat herding” in literal action. I highly recommend catching a show if they come to your town.

When I saw that the Acro-Cats were going to be in town this time around, my heart clenched a bit. If  you’ve read my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, there’s a darkly humorous account about the first time I attended an Acro-Cats show. The essay is titled, “That Time I Chose the Cat Circus Over My Dying Mother.”

I couldn’t help but remember seeing them in 2015, and how desperately I just wanted one evening free of caregiving duties (at that time, I was a long-distance caregiver, but in contact with Mom daily.) I arranged everything so carefully, got out of work early and called Mom before the performance to let her know I would be unavailable for a couple of hours. I had just settled into my seat in the theatre when my phone rang. It was Mom.

And here’s where the guilt pangs come in. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t wait to see if she left a voicemail. Instead, I turned my phone off. “I just want to see the cats,” I screamed inside my head. I was definitely in need of a break, but ignoring my mother’s call and turning my phone off is not my proudest moment as a caregiver.

Of course, throughout the performance, I kept thinking about Mom. Wonder if she had fallen? (She wore a LifeAlert pendant so she did have remote assistance.) Wonder if she was having shortness of breath?  Wonder if she needed to call 911 but couldn’t? Wonder if she was dying right at that moment and wanted to tell me one last time that she loved me? How could I be so selfish?

Immediately after the performance I turned back on my phone and with dread, listened to the voicemail. Mom was asking me to call her doctor in the morning to inquire about her pain medication. She was as “OK” as a dying person can be, and I was relieved my night out hadn’t ended in disaster.

This time, I could enjoy the cat circus without any interruptions, which was bittersweet. Mom would have enjoyed the cat’s antics. Check out a snippet of Oz’s stirring rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

In a sad coincidence, Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats founder, is now battling stage III colon cancer, exactly what my mother had. She is raising money to offset the costs of not being able to tour while she is recovering from surgery. Martin has done so much to help needy cats, rescuing them and helping them get adopted. She’s also shown the world that cats can learn tricks through her clicker training method. I wish her the best in her recovery. The Acro-Cats will always hold a special place in my heart.


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When You Need Some Help: 5 Reasons to Join a Caregiver Support Group

Caregiver support groups are available in-person in some communities and online around the globe. Choose which format suits your personality and circumstances the best. The important thing is to make sure you have a support network to help you along the caregiving journey.

The Purple Jacket

In a world that seems to have lost the idea of the “village,” sometimes we feel pressured to be able to do it all. Asking for assistance or admitting that you are overwhelmed feels like failure, and we often think that we’re being judged by others as not good enough. And that’s just with normal, everyday life.

When you find yourself caring for a loved one, the pressure increases. You are expected to take on this additional burden with a smile, and your willingness to do so seems to be a measurement of your love; expressing your anger or frustration to friends and family earns you appalled looks of disbelief. The good news is that there is a village for you; a caregiver support group. Here are 5 reasons why you should think about joining one.

To Reduce Stress

Perhaps the primary reason to join a support group for caregivers…

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A brief visit to one of Dad’s favorite cities

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On Tuesday, I traveled to New York City for a whirlwind day to attend the IPPY Awards ceremony and accept the gold medal I won for The Reluctant Caregiver.

I didn’t have time to visit Dad’s former residences in the Big Apple, but walking along the many famous streets, viewing the mix of historic and modern architecture, and absorbing the global mix of sights, sounds and flavors, I can see why New York City held a special place in my father’s heart.

Of  course the city has changed dramatically in the many decades since my Dad made his way to America and first called NYC his home, but there is a unique energy flowing through the streets that can’t be replicated elsewhere. That energy is very loud and boisterous and can be overwhelming for an introvert like myself but it certainly is full of life.

I thought of Dad a lot during my brief visit to New York, and know both of my parents would be proud of my writing accomplishments. (Though like I said before, they might not be fond of all of the material about them!)

I’m glad I made the trip and hopefully I’ll be able to return for a longer stay.


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Mom, the funny lady

mom polly

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



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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