Dad, Mom, Alzheimer’s & Love

Today I talked to my Mom. We facetimed so I could see Dad. He rocked back and forth and she told me he’d had a rough week. This means he fell a few times, and is weakening overall. Luckily, Dad’s always been a slow mover, so I think his falls are somehow in slow-motion. <smile> But truly, I think that’s kept him from breaking any bones.

I realized something obvious today. The Alzheimer’s battle isn’t really his anymore. It’s hers. She cleans, leads, makes tough decisions, and has had to learn how to manage someone who used to be strong, but is now like a 10-month-old baby. Best guess. This means there’s not much control on his side, and there are lots of messes and fits.

He rests well and he isn’t in pain. Mom somehow maintains his health with amazing food and nutrition…and he’s able to rest at night and avoid sickness. I cannot imagine her having to deal with a stomach flu (or any other sickness) on top of his Alzheimer’s. Grateful he’s healthy in that regard.

I sometimes wonder what people think about Alzheimer’s, if they haven’t dealt with it in their own family. And I’ve had to deal with a sliver of resentment when people say, “I understand, my grandmother had it” or “My great-aunt has it – I know how you feel.” I’m not belittling anyone’s experience, or maybe I am, and I apologize for doing that. Because it’s just so hard, no matter who you know who has it. The resentment is there because I don’t know that they can truly understand and relate. Because when it’s your Dad, it’s just different.

This is the man who taught me to read. I remember running to the door when I was about 5 to greet him when he got home from work. I wanted to show him I could tie my shoes. I wanted his praise. He gave it often. All my life. Except the times he caught me sneaking out of my room at night in high school. Those weren’t his best moments. haha!

Dad is also the man who taught me how to sing, love, laugh, tease, look at things differently.

He took us four (all daughters) camping (without Mom! hello crazy vacations!), and each trip deserved its own medal. He timed us each time we set up the tent. Thank you Dad for building my competitive nature. It’s worked very well for me. Except when I’ve lost anything.

When he first was diagnosed, about 9 years ago in 2004, he struggled with frustration and facing the future. He didn’t research it much, to my knowledge at least, maybe because that was too painful for him to face. I get that. He’d already dealt with suffering and pain and I think it was just hard to face. Normally a man with a great sense of humor, this wasn’t something he knew how to joke about very well. That’s how I knew he was probably fearful of the future. He could usually handle anything with his fun outlook. He did make a few jokes, but he usually didn’t want to talk about it. He did compensate very well with his humor. As he started to forget names, we didn’t know it. I remember the day I realized he didn’t know my name. He knew I was a daughter, but not which one. That was a painful slap. A life with Alzheimer’s is a life with many painful slaps and stabs.

Honest Truth? Sad Tonight.

Honest truth? I’m sad tonight. We ‘should’ have a 5-month-old goo-goo-ing while we decorate for the holidays. And every day. No doubt, I am beyond grateful for my family of two. We feel our family is complete, most of the time. And yes, I’m happy for all of you and your littles.

Yes, I know all the words of consolation about miscarriages. Those sting less than hearing nothing from those who never say anything. (Why can’t people address pain? It’s reality.) And yes, I know I have so much more than 99.99% of the world. Yes, I’m grateful for my life. Yes, I know the scripture and I know the options. But at this moment I’m just missing our little one and am sad. I know there are people worse off than I. I know there are those suffering agonizing losses right now. Do I want to trade places? No. Does their pain make my pain unimportant? No.

Tonight it’s the big kind of sad that’s too deep to ignore and demands attention.

If I didn’t address it I’d quickly shut off contact, and curl up until I feel too guilty for focusing on death and for ignoring life. And life’s given me a lot of good things. Yes, I do believe life is beautiful. But it’s ugly sometimes. Or at least I am. I’m not perfect over here. Sometimes my faith is weak. Sometimes I’m jealous of you. Sometimes I’m angry.

But then I (gradually) come around and remember God’s great love for me. His gifts. And the gift of his son. And the great sacrifice at age 33. And I remember that God works all things together for GOOD. When I remember these things, it is well with my soul. And then I feel better. Sometimes it takes a while to feel better. Like tonight.

If someone close to you has experienced loss(es), say something. They haven’t forgotten.

May God bless and comfort us all!

Value of Senior Citizens

My Dad’s been a senior for over half my life. Being a senior himself, that’s likely why he took his four daughters to sing at nursing homes from a very early age — for as long as I can remember.

Either way, he taught us to value seniors when we were young. Apart from my selfish teen years, I’ve always had a soft heart for the elderly. Surviving life for 55+ years is a feat. Seniors have learned valuable lessons through loss and pain, success and failure. The wisdom they can share is invaluable.

Pictured above is my Dad (far right) and his siblings and their spouses. This was the last time all four siblings were all together, due to his Alzheimer’s and all of them not being able to travel.

What else do seniors bring to the table?

1) Recipes

It’s a shallow example, but good food can’t be forgotten. I’ll never forget “Granny Toast.” As simple as it is, it’s still the most delicious toast one could ever have. When you have a big fam and want everyone to eat at once, you can’t stand by a toaster for long. What do you do? Butter a bunch of bread up, place them on cookie sheets and throw it in the oven. After waiting until it’s perfect, and you’ll know when that is, you all have your perfect Granny Toast. Recipes are the best from our elderly family and friends. Sausage gravy cooked in bacon grease. The real-deal Thanksgiving meal. Meatloaf with that added splash of what-have-you. (You didn’t really think I’d give away all these recipes, did you?) Food is one of the keys to a healthy heart and home.

Seniors give us much more than just the recipes. They give us the memories associated with them.

Sitting around at Thanksgiving, sharing our hearts. Learning how to bake and decorate the sugar cookies at Christmas. Then carrying on foodie traditions long after they’re gone. My Dad has late stages Alzheimer’s and I’ll always think of him when I eat a t-bone steak, medium rare, seasoned with only salt & pepper. Thank you for the memories, Mom and Dad, and all my senior relatives and friends.

2) History

When I was little, I was fascinated with the history of the Titanic — the boat, the heroes, and the victims. I was fascinated with the stories from those who were old enough to remember it well. Over the years, I’ve learned that history is very easily forgotten. I interviewed my Dad while he could still talk, and before he lost his memory. I heard so many stories about him, his family, his teen and college years. Stories I’d never heard before. I talk to his siblings now and learn even more. Every single time I talk to one of his old college buddies, I learn something new. History is easily forgotten. Who records the simple stuff…

Seniors bring it to life again, with every conversation. It’s beautiful. Talk to them. Record it. I urge you to start journaling (publicly or privately). It’s a way to honor them, by remembering all the little (and big) memories you shared. Teach your children to journal now, so you can all reflect later. It’ll be worth it!

3) Respect

As mentioned earlier, when we were little, Dad taught my three sisters and I to sing four-part aca pella harmony to the “oldies but goodies.” These were REALLY old. Like from the 30’s and 40’s. Like, “Jada Jada Jing Jing Jing.” (I’ll bet you’ve never heard that one.) When we were super young, we had no idea we were “missing out” on current pop culture like Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Bon Jovi. We were proud of the McGuire Sisters, Lennon Sisters and other big names none of our friends knew. I remember realizing in about 8th grade that I wasn’t as cool as I thought. I didn’t know all the songs everyone else knew. I was busy singing “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “You Are My Sunshine.”

Because we sang either aca pella or with Dad’s ukelele accompaniment, we were able to easily travel all over our little area in Texas and sing for nursing homes, at malls and even the Texas Opry Jamboree. When I think back on the times we went to nursing homes, I remember the great joy on the faces of the elderly, who were then confined to a 12 x 12′ bedroom and a community living room. No real kitchen. They loved seeing young people. Some never had family visit at all. They seemed lonely and angry. I learned a smile and a yessir/yes ma’am softened hearts.

I learned to respect their lives, hearts, their knowledge and experience.  I learned to look them in the eye. To not be afraid. To speak to them. To speak up when they seem frustrated that they couldn’t hear me. To think of them. Not myself. When I was in my 20’s, I thought the decade would never end. I was the most selfish and disrespectful in that decade. I’m grateful for my 30’s. This past decade included living with my Dad for four years as he began the Alzheimer’s battle, living with Mom as she served him. Getting to know their siblings as an adult. I’ve learned to respect their lives more, even as they fade.

The value of seniors can be found in history and in learning respect, and even in food/recipes.

But learning to LOVE ALL PEOPLE (especially the oft-forgotten elderly) is likely the biggest ‘value’ I learned from my Dad and Mom, my two favorite senior citizens.

I would absolutely be THRILLED to hear what you value in senior citizens. Share in the comments below if you’d like!

Sandi Boudreau