Tag Archives: anniversary

Reflecting upon 10 years since my father’s death

It has been 10 years since my father’s death. So much has happened in the past decade, but I’ll never forget where I was when my mother called with the worst news of my life, in the middle of the newsroom at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I had been waiting for that awful call for quite some time, and some part of me wished for it, because it pained me so much to see my father suffering in the late stages of dementia. But of course there was no immediate sense of relief upon my father’s passing, just sadness and regret.

I do still carry feelings of regret and guilt to this very day, and probably always will. I discuss this at length in The Reluctant Caregiver, and urge others not to judge themselves too harshly. In that spirit, I am taking a look back on what my father inspired me to do over the last decade.

  • I began this blog, The Memories Project. What began as a way to document memories of my father and process my grief has become the foundation of my dementia and caregiver advocacy platform. I have also met so many fellow caregivers through the blog and am grateful for their wisdom and their support.
  • I wrote a book, which was a life goal of mine. My collection of personal essays on family caregiving, The Reluctant Caregiver, won a gold medal at the IPPY Awards. An essay from that collection won the Rick Bragg Prize for Nonfiction from the Atlanta Writers Club. A story I wrote about my father, “French Toast,” was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias collection. I know my dad, a lifelong lover of books, would be proud.
  • I finally made it to Ireland and visited my father’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was at the top of my bucket list and has been one of the best experiences of my life.
  • The privilege of sharing my father’s story through a variety of outlets, including NPR, AlzAuthors, Caring Across Generations and the Aging in America conference.

The decade since my father’s death has been the most difficult of my life, but also the most rewarding. I hope that you can take time this holiday season to recognize and reflect upon the highs amidst the lows of your own caregiving journey. Give yourself the grace that you deserve.

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A somber anniversary


Photo and urn by Blocks from the Heart

Five years ago today my mother died. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Following on the heels of saying goodbye to my dear cat last week, it’s a double dose of grief.

When I think about my mother, the visceral pain has dampened with the passage of time, but such a profound loss changes the landscape of one’s heart forever. As those who have followed this blog or have read The Reluctant Caregiver know, my mother and I had our relationship challenges, because we were opposites personality-wise. But a mother is an irreplaceable figure in one’s life.

There are so many people experiencing loss right now. Having experienced a variety of losses over the last decade, I can say that grief does transform over time. Grief is an individual process, and while the established stages of grief may offer some insight, be prepared to slide in and out of stages over time. One thing I have found helpful is to give meaning to the loss, to honor the significance that person or animal had in your life. This could mean designing an urn, writing a poem, planting a tree, etc. One meaningful way I’ve honored both of my parents is to engage in caregiver advocacy work, to support those who cared for my parents during their times of need.

For those who are grieving right now, I hope you are able to find a path that will lead you to some form of inner peace.


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Marking 2 years since Mom died

Mom school

It’s hard to believe it has been two years since my mother died. The world seems like such a different place, even though two years is but a speck over the course of history.

While merely coincidence, Mom’s death seemed to send the universe into a chaotic spiral. I feel like I’m living in perpetual survival mode, just like I did when I was a caregiver.  Mom’s eternal optimism would have been sorely tested over the last year or so.

The grief is less oppressive and not as constant at this point, but it continues to lurk in the dark alleys of my mind, popping out like a villain in a movie from time to time. The “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” mantra hasn’t been silenced quite yet, but I’ve been able to turn down the volume on the second-guessing for the most part.

Just like in this photo of Mom, I will spend the day writing. She always loved this photo, which appeared in the yearbook. Mom took her education seriously, which wasn’t always a given for farm families when crops could trump classes. I inherited a similar love of learning from both of my parents, which is a precious gift that I use every day.

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Grief by the numbers



Maxime Perron Caissy/Freeimages

A fellow blogger who recently lost her father posed an interesting question on her blog, which went along the lines of what happens after that first year of loss?

As a society, we tend to mark major life events by months, then years. So what does happen on that first month after the first year marking the death of a loved one? While it’s common for people to mark the six month anniversary of something, the 13th month is not so common.

Soon, I will know, as the one year anniversary of my mother’s death quickly approaches May 21.

I don’t think my grief will suddenly lessen when June 21 rolls around, but perhaps a loosening in the monthly ritual is a part of the healing process. There was at least one month in this first year where I actually didn’t mark the day itself; I thought about it before and after but not on the actual day. At first I felt bad, but then I realized that it was probably a positive sign.

My father’s death was a completely different process. First, there was a greater sense of relief in that death finally freed my father from Alzheimer’s cruel gasp. At 79, Dad had lived a pretty long life and as an almost lifelong smoker, if dementia hadn’t taken him, emphysema (which he had) or lung cancer probably would have. With my mom, even though she was only 2 years younger, I felt like with proper, prompt treatment, she may have had some good years left.

Another difference in the grief process was that my grieving for my dad was cut short due to my mom’s illness. She became ill just six months after my father died. I had to switch gears, letting Dad rest in peace while I poured all of my energy into keeping Mom alive and nursing her back to health. By the time she recovered, Dad had been gone for a year or so and time had began to heal the loss.

In a way though, taking care of Mom helped me feel less guilty about not being there for dad as a caregiver. So while I’m not saying that Mom’s cancer diagnosis was a good thing, there was at least one positive outcome.

After surviving Mother’s Day (which I marked by participating in a charity walk and visiting cats at a shelter) I have now survived every holiday for the first time “motherless.” For those of you have been through the grieving process, I’m sure you can understand my feeling of relief.



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Two years since Dad died

It’s hard to believe that today marks the second anniversary of my father’s death. My grief is still pretty raw, yet the person I was back then seems like such a distant memory. So much has happened, both good and bad in the two years since his death that it almost seems like another lifetime.


The weather is dreary, much like the day he died, though at least there’s not a cold rain. In fact, it’s unseasonably mild, making it ideal walking weather. So I took a long walk on my neighborhood’s walking trail, something Dad would have enjoyed. Then I stopped for coffee, another of Dad’s favorite things. I made a donation to the tribute fund for Dad through the Alzheimer’s Association. I’m dedicating the day to writing about Dad and promoting Alzheimer’s awareness. I’m listening to the Bing Crosby channel on Pandora while I write. They are playing so many of Dad’s favorite songs.

One of my favorite photos.

One of my favorite photos.

I’ve also started a Tumblr to vent about the rocky road of caregiving. Feel free to check it out, it’s called The Caregiver Vent. Warning, because it is a vent, it is uncensored so occasionally profanity is used. If you’re on Tumblr, let me know.

What I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that it is the effort we make in taking care of our loved ones that matters more than the results. Even the most skilled caregiver in the world cannot clear the confusion of a dementia patient. Those with dementia may not recognize their family caregivers. What it comes down to is you being able to live comfortably with the actions you take as a caregiver. You will make mistakes, we all do. Just try to avoid making poor decisions that will haunt you. And above all, be forgiving. Of others, and of yourself. I’m still working on that last one …


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An anniversary not to be

This week my parents would have celebrated their 41st anniversary. Last year, Dad was in the hospital, barely hanging on to life, a hulking ventilator lurking in the corner of the room, breathing for him. The fact that it was their 40th anniversary was the only reason why I had wanted him to hang on for dear life. I knew it was important for Mom to mark that day with Dad still alive. The hospital staff had called us a few days before, asking for permission to “pull the plug.”

Dad was under conscious sedation, so I certainly don’t think he had any idea we were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. The hospital staff brought Mom a slice of cake from the cafeteria to mark the special day. Mom read aloud the message in the anniversary card she had bought for Dad. It had a picture of a wine bottle on it. The card’s message read:

“Being in love with you has a wonderful way of making a world that makes sense.”

Mom added: “Pat, today is our 40th anniversary. You have been a wonderful husband and companion to me and I treasure you.”

Mom had the card cremated with Dad, as her final message to her mate of 40 years.

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9 months since Dad died

It’s hard to believe that it has been nine months since my dad died. So much has happened this summer, and so many of the events have reminded me of Dad.

I never would have thought that I would be taking care of Mom now, who is facing serious illness herself. I had hoped for a respite from illness, for both myself and especially for my mother. Alas, that was not really meant to be.

One of my favorite photos.

Even though I have been so busy tending to Mom these past few months, I have been keeping up with all of the Alzheimer’s events taking place this month in honor of World Alzheimer’s Month. Now that I’m spending so much time with Mom in my parents’ home, memories of Dad are everywhere. Mom still misses my dad dearly and talks about him every day.

So even though Alzheimer’s disease separated Dad from us over the last year of his life, he is still in our hearts and memories every day.

I’m keeping all of those who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in their family in my thoughts.


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