None of Us are Promised a Tomorrow

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When I was a child I always put off what needed to be done today with the promise that I would do it tomorrow. As an adult I often do the same thing. I can fold those clothes tomorrow (fluff cycle is awesome), balance that checkbook tomorrow, run to the post office tomorrow  . . . as I have traveled all around town today with a package to drop of at the post office. I will do that first thing in the morning. I promise!

Today I learned that a friend of mine lost her mother. I cannot remember specifically the type of dementia her mother suffered from, but I do know that many families in my support group have loved ones with the same disease. It is a terrible disease that robs the entire family of so much.

Dementia robs us of a future. It robs us of the ability to make new fun memories together. It does not, however, rob us of all the gifts we have received from our loved one. It is the memories that we carry in our soul that make us who we are today.

Let me tell you about some of the memories that shaped me and made me who I am today.

I have successfully taught two children to drive and God willing, I will teach two more children to drive in a few short months. I can honestly tell you that I do NOT enjoy this part of parenting. I love life and I want to live for a long time! My parents taught me to drive. I remember hours in parking lots. I remember practicing a stick shift on the gentle slope of Norman Drive. I can honestly say that my parents were very patient. Time after time they let me drive and with every mistake I made I had a gentle reminder of how to do things the correct way, the safe way. I could easily hand off my children to their father and let him do all the driver’s ed, but I need to make those memories with my children too. Now, I am not going to say that my parents did not slam on the imaginary breaks or have a death grip on the arm rest and believe me, I do that too! But this is a rite of passage and I want to make these memories with my children too; including the death grip and the imaginary breaks.

I have sent daughters out on first dates. When I went on my first date, my father made sure I had a dime with me. My children would look at me like I was crazy if I handed them a dime or in this day a quarter. The dime was to call home if I needed my dad to come get me. I even remember my mom sewing a tiny pocket in an evening dress so I could have that dime even if I did not carry a purse. So I do not have to send my children out with a dime or a quarter because, thanks to technology, they have a cell phone. However, they know I will come get them any time anywhere. No questions asked. You call and I will come. Period. If my dad was able to drive today, he would still come get me; no questions asked. Period.

These are just two examples of what my parents instilled in me. I told my friend today that she would always have her memories and they made her the wonderful mom that she is today. I know this easy for me to say, I still have both of my parents. My friend has lost both of her parents and I did not know either one of them. However, I am certain that she learned wonderful things from her parents. I bet she has good memories and bad memories and I bet all of them together make her the person that she is today.

No one is promised tomorrow – with or without dementia.

But I will always do my very best to see my father for who he is and who he was and not for the disease that he has today. He is not the disease. He is a parent that still has a lot to offer and a lot to teach me. Some days he teaches me patience and some days he teaches me to laugh.

He is STILL trying to teach me to slow down because no on is promised a tomorrow so we better enjoy today.

It Is A Good Good Day

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It is a good good day! It is a good day when the University of Alabama wins a football game (Roll Tide) and it is a good day when I call my parents and my dad sounds like my dad!

I have had two great conversations with my dad recently. The first conversation was after I attended an Alabama football game in Oxford, MS. If you watched the game you know how exhausting it was. We were worn out not only because of the heat and humidity but also because of the game itself. Thankfully we walked away with a win! Last year I would have called my parents while still in the stands so they could enjoy a student led rendition of Rammer Jammer. But this year I decided to wait and call after we left the stadium.

My dad answered the phone almost immediately as if he knew it was me calling to relive the win! “How about that game,” my dad declared. How about it is right!! He watched the game on tv and knew that we had many ups and downs. He recounted the quarters where Alabama was losing to Ole Miss and he rejoiced in the final outcome – – A WIN!! RTR (Roll Tide Roll for those of you that do not understand RTR)

The only sign that something was not as it should be was my dad asking me where I was over and over again. It was a good day.

My second good conversation came this morning. I made my standard daily phone call and he answered the phone. He was totally in the present. I was hesitant to tell him why I called because I had really called to go over some financial matters with my mom. In the past, the discussion of money irritated my dad so I try not to bring banking matters up in front of him. As I have said before, I have all of his bank statements and bills come to my house.

Today, I felt like I had to come clean with my dad and tell him that I had just met with some of his bankers and I assured him that he was financially secure. I then held my breath and waited for irritation to follow suite. It did not happen! My mom actually got on the other line and the three of us talked about some financial matters. Dad had very appropriate comments and suggestions. All was good!

It was a good good day!

Long Slow Good-byes

 

 

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I am reading a book that a dear friend loaned me. It is called I’ll Be Seeing You by Deane Johnson. The sub-title is “a wife’s journey with her husband’s Alzheimer’s.” Kim loaned me this book a month or so ago and I have carefully moved it around my house. I hate the topic so I was not sure it was something I wanted to nestle down with and read. But then after the third football game, I picked it up and started reading. Before I knew it, I was on page 90 and  I my eyes were filled with tears as I took in each page.

At first, I did not realize I had tears on my face as I read this true story. I felt like I was reading the story of my mom and dad. I felt like I was peering into someone’s private life. This book was hitting a little too close to home. However, I felt compelled to keep reading even though I am pretty sure that I know how it ends.

Deane makes so many wonderful yet tearful statements in this book. For example, she says that having Alzheimer’s is like saying a slow good-bye. Ok . . . If that sentence alone does not make you tear up then you have no soul! This statement about saying a long slow good-bye is so very true. I can still see so much of my old Dad in my current Dad but I miss some of the parts that we have already said good-bye to.

I think saying good-bye is not always a difficult task. I have said good-bye to college students as we drop them off at college. This type of good-bye is bitter-sweet. I am saying good-bye to child that will never really be under my roof again as a child, yet I know that it is time for them to spread their wings. I have said good-bye to dear friends that have moved away but I know that I will always be able to pick up the phone and reach them. I have some friends that have lived outside of Birmingham for decades but we know we can pick up right where we  left off and nothing really changes.

But a long slow good-bye is heartbreaking. I have said good-bye to the handyman that my dad once was. I have said good-bye to the financial wizard, the problem solver and the head of the family. Some of these good-byes happened years ago simply because of an aging parent and those good-byes are part of life. But the good-byes that go with dementia or Alzheimer’s are the worst.

Deane Johnson’s book is written as short journal entries so you can see the progression of her husband, Joe’s Alzheimer’s. She is constantly writing that “Joe has Alzheimer’s disease, but that is not who he is.” YES! My dad has dementia but that is not who he is. It is important to remember that the man my dad once was is still in there. We may be saying good-bye to some of the parts that make my dad my dad. But he is still in there.

Deane comments several times that Alzheimer’s is a lonely disease. Like my mom, she is the care giver and although Joe was probably once the head of the household, she finds herself alone making the decisions that they once made together.

Alzheimer’s is also a lonely disease because most people do not know how to act around their friends that are now not the person they once were. You cannot catch Alzheimer’s! There is no reason to keep your distance. Afterall, the caregiver needs their friends more than ever now! Not only does my dad have dementia but we moved my parents out of their house so that their surroundings would shrink and their would be less for my mom to worry about since she now has to worry about my dad. So what does this mean? It means that the friends that were once dropping by because they  were in the neighborhood, are no long in the neighborhood!

You have to make more of an effort to go by and visit a person in a retirement community. But it is worth the effort. Make time for your friends that have relocated. Make time for the person with dementia and make time for the caregiver. Don’t say another long slow good-bye. Instead of good-bye say I am here! Be that friend that picks up the phone and checks in every couple of days. Be that friend that reminisces about the times that my dad still remembers.

My dad has dementia but it is not who he is.

Tell the caregiver that you will see them soon, instead of saying a long slow good-bye.

*** For more information on how to talk to a person with Alzheimer’s reach out to your local Alzheimer’s chapter and ask for a copy of the YELLOW SHEET. This will give you all the Do’s and Don’ts for talking to a person with Alzheimer’s. You can refer back to my earlier blog post for some of this information or contact me through the comments and I will do my best to get you the information that you need. ***