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Archive for June, 2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my mother smile.  I’m talking about a big, happy, show your teeth kind of smile.   Her smile now consists of a little turning up of the mouth, no teeth showing.  It’s not a sad smile.  I don’t think it’s because she is depressed or unhappy, she has just lost that big, I’m enjoying life kind of smile and I really miss it.  I don’t know if it is a result of the dementia, but that part of her personality has disappeared.  You don’t realize how much you love something until it’s gone and that smile has gone.  But that all changed yesterday.  It was my granddaughter’s 4th birthday and she was having her birthday party at our house.  Sitting in the back yard was a huge, pink princess castle Funjump with attached water slide.  When my mom and dad arrived for the party, mom took one look at this huge monstrosity in my backyard and the biggest, full-teeth showing smile appeared on her face.  Even though it was only there for a brief moment, it filled my heart with joy.  Funny how it is the small things you miss the most once they are gone.

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I was cooking my weekly soup for Uncle C last night when the phone rang.  My husband answered and immediately brought the phone to me.  “It’s your mom,”  he said.  We all stopped in our tracks – me, my husband and my oldest daughter.  Panic filled the room.  Mom had not made a phone call, nor had she answered the phone at their home in months.   We all thought the worst – something must have happened to dad.  He had had a heart attack last summer and in April had another heart issue.  “Hello, mom?”  She replied, “Your dad and I want to go out for steak for our anniversary.  We would like y’all to come with us.”  I was stunned.  Tears whelmed up in my eyes as I conferred with my husband.  He readily agreed.  “Yes, mom, we’d love to go with you.”   When we arrived at their house mom had on make-up and a nice dress.  “Mom, you look beautiful!” I exclaimed.  With a little smile mom replied, “It’s my anniversary.”  Dad helped her in the car and although I offered him the front seat, he insisted on sitting in the back with mom.  Once at the steakhouse mom sat quietly as we chatted, only commenting on how good the bread and butter were.  She looked as happy as I had seen her in months.  Dinner out was something normal, something that resembled her life before all the craziness began and she was happy and content.  They looked so sweet together as they lovingly glanced over at each other.  I closed my eyes and pictured this couple 59 years ago as young newlyweds exchanging the same loving glances on their wedding day.  They have been through so much together yet there is still so much love between them.  And as we sat there dad spoke of working to get mom stronger so that next year for their anniversary they could take their yearly anniversary trip – dad, always the optimist. 

… in good times and in bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part – those words could have been written by my mother and father.  God bless them both.

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Today is my parents’ anniversary.  Dad, 23 years old and fresh out of the military married his 19-year-old sweetheart 58 years ago.  It is a bittersweet day, sweet because both are alive and still devoted to each other, bitter because of the drastic changes in their lives since their last anniversary.  Dad  just six months ago and still hopeful that life would get back to normal, was busy planning an anniversary trip.  It was their tradition.  Yesterday, when I mentioned to them that today was their anniversary, both seemed a bit surprised.  I think neither one remember.  Nonetheless, I wish them many more years together and I pray that those years will be filled with happiness, joy and good health.  I love you mom and day.  You’re the best!

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My dad is special.  He would  never admit it, he would never agree.  That’s who he is.  He has always been happy to be in the background.  He was never presumptuous, he was never pushy, he was never the center of attention.  That was my mom’s role – he just sat back and lovingly watched her shine. Dad was the disciplinarian of the family, not because he wanted the job, but because mom shoved it on him.  “Just wait until your father gets home!” and I was shaking in my boots.  Looking back I’m not sure why.  Dad would never have hit me, hell he never even spanked me.  He didn’t really yell at me, I think I just didn’t want to disappoint him.  I still don’t.  He was never good at saying I love you or offering hugs and kisses, but he had his own way of showing his love.  My dad supported me in everything.  He coached my softball team, he was at every game at which I cheered, he went to speech tournaments, he proudly walked me down the aisle when I married – whatever it was I chose to do my dad was front and center rooting me on.

Dad was a hard-working man and still is.  He has been retired for almost 30 years but still has trouble relaxing.  Go by his house and you will find him working in the yard or washing the car.  He may be on top of the motor home cleaning it (“for in case Air Force One flies over”), cooking something or perhaps re-sealing the patio bricks, you just never know.  He didn’t have a desk job like some of my friends’ fathers, but he always provided well for the family.  I have been to nearly every state in the country because my dad thought it important to travel and enjoy what God provided.

I learned about loving relationships by watching the way my dad treated my mother.  He adores her.  Even now when mom barely says a word and he has to take care of her every need, he still looks at her with such love in his eyes.  She is the center of his world and I know that he will love and care for her until his dying breath.  And no matter what I do or where I end up, I know he will always love me too.

My dad is special.  He would never admit it, he would never agree.  That’s who he is and I love him for that.  Happy Father’s Day.

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I’d like to say that mom has made huge improvements in the dementia department, but I can’t.  I’d like to think that a combination of the increase in Aricept, the coconut oil and prayers to Pope John Paul II have turned things around, but I can’t.  Dementia teases you.   There will be one really good day and everyone gets very excited and encouraged.  Then one look at mom’s eyes the next day tells you things have changed again.  Funny how that works.  I can tell immediately if my mother is having a good or bad day with one look at her eyes.  It tells all.  There is no hiding behind them.  Even more than her disheveled hair or lack of speech, it’s all about the eyes.  There is no reading into them because there’s just nothing there – blank – empty.  But I’ll keep hoping and praying and enjoying the clear-eyed days.

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“Well, I got my wife back today,” dad said shortly after I arrived at their house.  “What do you mean dad?”  “Your mom is almost back to her old self.”  I had noticed that mom looked better, it’s all in the eyes, and her eyes looked clear and alert.  Mom had had her hair done then went home, folded and put away the clothes and helped with the dishes.  She didn’t even take her morning nap and here she was looking awake and alert.  “She’s even been talking more today,” dad proclaimed.  And it was true, mom joined in the conversation more readily and asked me questions.  It was good to see.  I’m not sure what exactly has caused the transformation.  It could just be the upswing we’ve been dealing with and the downswing is sure to follow.  Or it could be a combination of the increase in Aricept, elimination of the hallucination medicine, the coconut oil and good ole’ Pope John Paul II, but whatever it is, we are going to enjoy the blessing of having my mom back – even if it is temporary.

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I had such high hopes for the coconut oil.  Mom had been taking it for about two and a half weeks and, maybe it was wishful thinking, but dad and I both thought there was some improvement.  Definitely her mental decline seemed to have stalled.  She was now at times initiating a little conversation.  That was an improvement.  She looked more alert, not so lost, and dad had even found her cleaning the mirrors in the bathroom one day last week.  That had to be something. Dad attributed it to a combination of the coconut oil and his prayers to Pope John Paul II.   Then they went camping with friends and she came back different.  On Sunday night at our family night dinner she sat on the patio in her own little world.  She spoke very little and just wasn’t with us.  She had applied make-up which consisted of round little circles of rouge on her cheeks, blue eye shadow with mascara smeared under her eyes and lipstick haphazardly applied.  Honestly, she looked like a dementia patient.  I wanted to cry.  Then came my wonderful three-year old granddaughter who took one look at mom and declared, “Granny, you look beautiful!”  “Why, thank you!” my mother merrily replied.  My heart filled with joy.  Children have a way of looking at the bright side of everything.  Thank you God for the innocence of children.

The next day mom had an appointment at 9:15 with Dr. L.  They arrived a bit late because of an accident with her colostomy, it had fallen off as they were leaving and dad had to clean things up and change her.  Mom had the vacant look in her eyes and it only got worse the longer we waited.  When Dr. L walked in she knew immediately that mom wasn’t in a good place mentally.  She decided to take mom off of the medication for hallucinations and doubled the Aricept, the medication for dementia.  By the time we left mom had missed her morning nap and could barely function.  She couldn’t even remember how to get into the car, she almost missed the seat completely.   It took both dad and me to get her in and situated.  When I went by later that day mom was worse.  For the first 20 minutes she would not speak at all, she would not even answer my questions.  I gave dad a questioning look.  I was afraid she had had a stroke.  Her eyes kept rolling back and closing and no matter how hard I tried I could not get a word out of her.  Finally, after much encouragement I was able to get her up and had her walk to visit her sister two houses away.  It was not an easy task as she kept tripping over her feet.  I was so disappointed – I really thought the coconut oil was helping.

Later that evening my daughter told me that dad had forgotten to bring the coconut oil with them camping.  Mom had not been given any in four days.  My heart skipped a beat.  I’m not giving up yet!

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