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Archive for the ‘normal’ Category

THE HIGHEST OF HONORS

Most of the people with whom Ken and I have shared our adult lives made the choice, following marriage, to have children — lots of them.   The trend, which was very popular after World War II and the Korean Conflict was to have large families.  As part of that trend, we are the parents of five offspring:  two girls and three boys — stragglers of the “Baby Boomer Generation.”   Our years of rearing children were the best years of our lives, nothing out of the ordinary: normal, I would say.  We did PTA, Dads’ Club, Little League, Scouts — boy and girl — church with all of its youth programs and activities, enjoyed their friends: good and tolerated the bad; we endured sick days, happy days, school days, vacation days, holidays and rebel days.  We angst through the 60s and worried about drugs, hippies and all the ramifications that went with young people coming of age during such a tramatic period of history and being faced with choices where their lives could have been damaged, ruined or even claimed by death, but they survived and so did we.

The growing years went by in a blur as if we had pushed the fast-forward button of a VCR.  Some of our brood went to college, others did not, but in any event, they all did the same — and the normal thing — as young adults they picked up their lives and went their chosen way.  Normal — and happy:  that’s what we wanted, yet as each one left the nest they left an empty spot in our hearts.  For most of the years which followed, they have lived close by with their growing families, and we consider that a blessing.  While we are no longer the strong beacon of influence we hope to have been, we treasure  the grown-up relationship we have with all of them.

Parenting, however, is still such a constant, and while Ken and I had rediscovered “us” and had moved on into our retirement years, we wanted that safety net to remain for these grown children: the knowledge that we were and are still “there” for them — in every way.   It isn’t because they really “needed” us, it’s their knowing that counts.  I’ve often compared us, “mom and dad,” (other moms and dads as well) to the stove and refrigerator — even the washer and dryer — the house, the car — home; “there,” we’re just “there.”   We are part of that security, that solidarity which they have known “always,” and will, hopefully, remember in a good and loving and “normal” way.

So what do we, as parents, expect in return?   Actually nothing, but cards and perhaps a few flowers, or some other small token of love on birthdays, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day; love and respect and occasional phone calls — and visits.  But accolades?  I don’t think so, believing myself and Ken to be ordinary people. Yet, to my surprise my daughter, Debbie, nominated me for “Caregiver of The Year” through a website out of Chicago: http://www.caregiving.com with Diane Brown as the host of the site, and her own internet/radio program.  I am one of the five recipients to receive the award and I am honored and humbled.  When I read Debbie’s letter of nomination, and her description of what she has observed over the years, I cried.   Such a high compliment to receive:  for her to see me not only as her mother, but as a wife, a person — an individual in my own right — someone who has had a life and has, posssibly, made some kind of contribution to mankind and the world in which we all live, and for her to want me honored is an honor in itself.  The following is her letter of nomination:

“I am writing about my father’s caregiver, my mother.  Given all the other service-oriented activities she has been part of:  PTA, Scouts, Little League, and church, this would not be out of the ordinary, but my father is the fourth family member with Alzheimer’s that she has given or directly supervised their in-home care.

“Her first experience with the disease came with my father’s parents.  I cannot remember when they were stricken, or what their ages were.  I remember their 50th wedding anniversary; my grandmother was 68, and my grandfather 12 years older.  They both seemed fine at the event, but shortly after the celebration, my mother began to make more and more visits to their home.  They lived about 40 miles away and my mother made several trips a month to take them to the doctor, for haircuts, or to make sure they had food in their cupboard and refrigerator.  My father’s sister lived a few blocks away from them, but because she was a single mother and worked full-time, she had little time left to spare. 

“My mother was truly the sandwich generation, as I had three younger brother’s still living at home.  I know that she was devoted to home and child care, but she was also realizing some success as a freelance writer.  However,  by unspoken agreement between my father, his sister and herself  it was a given, because she didn’t “work,” the responsibility of caring for my father’s aging parents would belong to her.  Even though the current social climate touted women’s rights, liberation and the importance of career, my mother’s dreams of being a writer were squeezed between appointments, errands and all the other aspects of her busy life and giving nature.  She had no time to think about whether she was liberated. 

“With the death of my paternal grandparents, the needs of her own parents soon crept in and once again began to take over her life.  When her own mother developed the same symptoms that her in-laws had shown, she moved them from their country home, which was two hours away, to another home just a mile from her own.  Her older sisters lived two states away, and the burden of care for their mother fell on mom’s shoulders.  Once again her time was spent in the busyness, stress and exhaustion of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.  As her mother’s condition worsened, they tried a care facility.  Its effects were devastating not only to her mother, but also to her father who could not handle the toll the confusion and foreign surroundings brought on his wife which only added to his own despair.  Luckily my mother found a dear friend who took over much of the burden of caring for the older couple the last few years of their lives.  Despite the help, mom was very much involved in their care.  She was continually at their home doing what she could and again, the sole driver for appointments and outings, which continued until the elderly couple passed.

“Following a few years respite, the ugly signs of Alzheimer’s appeared in our family once again, this time afflicting my father.  After her experience with her mother and in-laws, one might think she would be an expert, but not so.  Everyone is different and seeing your parents change into people you no longer knew, cannot be the same as having your beloved spouse of almost 60 years, not only not recognize you, but demand that you leave your own home.

“My mother has risen to this challenge with fortitude, determination and a sense of humor.  She has become somewhat of an expert on the holistic treatment of this disease, and in a sense, she has won.  Whether it is the day-to-day battle or the full war, only time will tell.  After six years my father continues to live at home.  Each day he takes a handful of pills and vitamins that may have allowed him to retain enough of his personality to care for his physical needs, and for the most part functions as a young boy in their home, with small moments of time as my father.  The war will be over when he is taken to his Heavenly home.  Hopefully that will happen sometime in his sleep and then my mother will be victorious, as she has finished this last act of marital service and love.  I cannot imagine the emotional pain this has wrought on her, and the torture she has felt as she has lost her soul mate, bit by bit.  Her perseverance and optimism are amazing.  Her example reminds me that we are never given more than we can handle.  And through this all, she has developed her talents and her career.  The disease and her life have given her a story which she shares in a blog.  Eventually there will be a book — an example of courage and service for other caregivers and her legacy of service and love to her family.”

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Ken and I have always been available to “borrow” one of our grandchildren when their parents have a date night, so when our son, Keith, and his wife, Sabina, asked if Jessica could stay for the evening I agreed without hesitation.  She is 10, their only child and our last grandchild.  It would be a lonely place for her in our large family with a decade or more between her and the next youngest of her generational cousins except for the fact that many of them have children of their own, some older than Jess and some the same age, much to everyone’s pleasure.  For her, a cousin is a cousin no matter what the generation.

Jessica always comes with her own supply of things to do: puzzles, books, art equipment, cards or board games.  A few years ago the three of us played “Fish” together.  Grandpa Ken was able to match the cards and we were all very competitive.  This visit she brought “Sorry,” and it was just the two of us who played.  Simple as it is, Grandpa has no interest in playing games, nor do they make any sense to him.

He was, however, pleased to see Jessica even though he doesn’t remember who she is, neither does he remember her father.  When company is here, though, Ken often feels duty bound to carry on a conversation with the visitor.  Noticing him standing in front of the 10-year old, and looking a little formidable as he spoke, I moved behind him watching Jessica’s sweet face.  Ken’s voice was on the serious side as the sentences fell from his lips, complete in form, but untied to the following thought, if there was a thought behind what he was striving to communicate.  Jess looked up at him with an equally serious face, her brow furrowed; head cocked to one side, her lips pursed a little, more in puzzlement than getting ready to respond.  Not wanting to cause her discomfort, I asked Ken if he was still watching TV.  Distracted from saying more, he returned to where he had been.

“Has your dad talked to you about Grandpa’s illness?” I asked.  Ever the little adult, she answered, “Yes, he talks about it sometimes, but it makes him depressed.”  “I know, It’s very sad and it makes us all depressed,” I answered not wanting her to be burdened by adult problems, but her grandfather was “different,” and she needed some explanation, and is doing well in her understanding.  I smiled at her loving compassion about her father being depressed.

So, there it is:  “DEPRESSION” big, bold and bad in quotes and caps: the dark shadow constantly lurking in the corners of our minds — poking and stabbing at the continuing sadness griping our hearts.  Obviously, the question here is, “How to keep the ‘Big D’ in its place; to keep it from taking over the lives of our family — and mine?”

At a group meeting on depression, a family therapist suggested taking lots of hot showers.  And that works, but it’s impossible to spend a life time under the shower.  My best fight against depression is by living as “normal” as possible.  If a friend calls and wants to come for a short visit, I respond with, “Please do,” no matter how blue I might be feeling.  When he/they/she leaves, I feel better.  The same applies if we are invited to dinner, we go even if it takes trickery to get Ken out of the house.  If my AD husband is in a Ken mood, I’ve been known to stop the vacuüm cleaner mid-floor, get our coats, get in the car and take in a movie, go to the Mall, take a walk, visit a friend, or an ailing person in a rest home or hospital and I feel better and less depressed.  The big bonus is that Ken “is” better as well.  In other words, invite people into the house or get out of the house as often as possible.  Strive to be “normal,” whatever that means.

However, we all acknowledge there are no guarantees for daily visits and getting out is not always possible.  That’s when I find something for me.  I write, I sew, I am artistic, I have a dozen projects unfinished, and weather permitting there are weeds to pull, plants to prune and gardens needing care.  At times I can coax Ken into sweeping walks or picking up cuttings.  In two words:  keep busy.  Is it easy?  Never!  The most difficult part of doing anything is beginning, which often takes more of an effort than the task itself; especially when depression’s tempting invitation to come and sit by him on the couch and brood is so simple.  Battles are never easy, and fighting AD is a battle, especially with its most cunning collaborator: depression.

Jessica set up our board game and I finished a few chores, then the two of us played “Sorry” while Ken watched TV.  We were all content.  Depression remained in its dark corner — until some other time.  And Jess — she beat me three times out of five — and she wasn’t even sorry.

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