Bittersweet

IMG_8383So one day four years ago my brother and I started noticing mom’s memory not being so sharp. At that time she was 77 and working full-time as head of affordable housing and public advocate for her town. We chalked it up to normal old-age memory loss.

A year later, her boss called my brother in for a meeting, as he also worked for the town, and they knew each other. He proceeded to tell my brother that mom couldn’t perform the functions of her job anymore. They had noticed for a while and loved her so much they carried her as long as they could. This was the beginning of watching our mother decline, as well as suffer, for she knew what was happening to her and hated it.

At this point we took her to see a neurologist, who diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. We watched her go through the standard test, getting so upset because she couldn’t remember things.

IMG_8382Let me state that my mom was an intelligent, vibrant, and beautiful woman, loved and respected by everyone who knew her. She was still functioning at home on her own, and still driving. Then soon we realized she was driving without her (much needed) glasses. She would be gone for periods of time but always landed back home.

When she was younger, mom liked her beer and cocktails, but she had not had a drink in a few years. All of a sudden we started to find cases of Heineken hidden all over the house, empty bottles hidden in food cabinets, even the freezer.

At this point my brother and I met and decided to see the neurologist again. I’m lucky because my brother and I work as a team on these things, as we did when my father was sick. For many families, this is not the case. The neurologist told us she couldn’t live alone anymore and could no longer drive. Well, OH BOY, you try telling mom no more driving! So the doctor took the hit on that one to spare us. It was still a hard transition.

Now to find a live-in aide, which was not easy. We went through a couple of women. Mom was not going to like anyone coming in and taking over her house, as she still had a lot of her faculties. Eventually we found the right woman. She was sent from heaven: patient, loving, and understanding. She was a 45-year-old woman from the Republic of Georgia where in her country she was a police detective. They had a civil war and the government changed and she was no longer getting paid correctly Her cousin was an attorney with the same issues. They are both now in the United States caring for old people 24/7.

She and mom slowly because household partners, and eventually mom came to love her and depend on her. Their bond became incredible! But as the year went on, mom got worse. She didn’t know who me or my brother were, but she knew she loved us, always hugging and kissing us.

From the spring of 2017 through that August, my mom was obsessed with being  at my house and with me. Sometimes she would ask her aide to bring her over twice a day, as I live and work only 10 minutes from her house. If I tell you she came every day, I am not kidding! We hung out at my hair salon, on my deck, and in the pool, barbecuing all the time – and mom always hated pools! Going to dinner on the waterfront in Keyport all the time. Mom was so happy, as was I.

I asked her one day, “Where is Tracy?” She said, “I don’t know.” I asked if she knew who I was. She said, “You are my friend.” I said, “And you are my best friend.” We just enjoyed our time together every day. Some days I was tired, but I never said she couldn’t come over. Boy am I glad for that.

Eventually mom got worse, so we started filling her Heineken bottles with Crystal Light raspberry lemonade, lol. I would even bring them into restaurants and explain to the staff!

img_8384.jpgSometime in August of 2017 things changed again. Mom took a turn for the worse. She became afraid to walk on her own, she stopped speaking English, and reverted back to her native language, German (which none of us understood). She stopped feeding herself. Her aide fed her and dressed her. Soon she became incontinent and had to be spoon fed pureed food.

No matter what, she was still happy to see me and my brother. But she came to love and want her aide, Shorana, more and more every day. This was the way mom was until the last weekend in April of 2018. It was a Saturday and I was working when Shorana called: “Something is wrong with mom!” My brother ran over and soon called me to come.

I canceled my day and went over. Mom was in bed, unresponsive and weak. She has a living will and a DNR so no going to the hospital. My brother and I sat by her bed in fear, and confused. What was happening? We figured this was the next turn and she was dying. I said let’s call hospice, maybe they can send someone to see her.

Well, they sent a nurse that Saturday night. By then I had inclined the hospital bed to a sitting position, and for three hours got mom to drink some Ensure and electrolyte waters. Shorana put an ice pack on her face to try to wake her, and me holding her nose after every sip to prompt her to swallow.

This continued into Sunday as well. We were devastated and started preparing for the end. Monday morning a text from Shorana saying “Mom is back!”

I am not a religious person but THANK GOD! Mom was back to the way she was three days prior. We have no idea what happened but we are all so thankful to have her back.

IMG_8385My point in telling my story is to remind people to cherish every day you have with people that matter to you – family as well as friends. Realize what is important in this life. Family needs to pull together in times like these.

I will always be grateful for that spring and summer of 2017. I’m thankful that my friends always wanted to be around mom. But most thankful to the man I was dating at the time, who also came to love my mother. He never minded mom being over when he was there, too. He never minded that we had limited time to ourselves that spring and summer. He was rewarded by mom asking every time she was over, “Is that nice man coming over?” and her being so happy when he did come. Thank you, Duane.

The High Road

5802619870_40661fcb47_zimage via Beau Lebens/Flickr

In my experience, there are many high roads we can take, as well as many low roads in life. I have personally experienced different let-downs in my life, and been hurt or disappointed by people, whether they be friends, family, or even sometimes clients.

I have many clients and friends who have come to me to get advice or just vent on these such issues. This is my advice and feeling on this matter – be hurt, get mad, but in the end, smile. Try to let it go, and in some cases – especially where family is concerned, TAKE THE HIGH ROAD.

People have said to me on many occasions that I should stop being so nice, stop doing what you do, and I always say and am a firm believer that I like who I am, and I like the way I am with people. So I refuse to change me because others don’t think like me, and hurt and disappoint me. We come to realize in life that family doesn’t always mean blood.

Life changes and so do people, so sometimes we let go of or lose people that we thought would be in our lives forever, as sad as that is. And in their place we form new friendships that even become part of our family. As sad as we are for our losses is as grateful as we should be for our gains. Every day there are things to smile about, a passing thought that makes us laugh or brings a smile to our faces. So when people or things get you down, I want you to stop and think of all of the things that make you smile & let the bad go!

You can’t change people, but you can change the way you let them affect you.

From my deepest place in my soul, take that high road and make yourself smile!