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.

A Mixed Bag

So let me start by telling you that I celebrate any holiday with good food!

So this year my son flew home Friday March 31st, the first evening of Passover. My son is Jewish. He spent Friday night in the city with friends, and came home Saturday where we were lucky enough to be invited at a seder at my client and good friend’s of 26 years. Might I add, a seder with 70 people, and it was also Stan’s 85 birthday. Well what a great night!

Gail, Stan’s wife, cooked all the food. She cooked for weeks and froze. It was held in the ballroom of her daughter’s clubhouse. Stan led the seder, calling upon people to read from the haggadah. It was a long seder, but so beautiful. The entire evening was so heartwarming and wonderful. They told me we were part of the family and are to be there every year going forward. My son enjoyed beyond!

The next day, Easter Sunday, my son made matzo brei for breakfast and then we visited my mother. She is in full-blown Alzheimer’s. Shane, my son, is so caring and calls her from school and is always wanting to visit her when he is home. For a fleeting moment, I think she knew who he was. We then went for Portuguese food for Easter Sunday at the Valencia restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Wow, was it great! I had clams and garlic sauce and Shane had octopus in a smokey sauce for appies. For dinner, I had grilled skirt steak, and Shane had Chilean sea bass topped with shrimp. Then dessert and cappuccino – amazing meal!

I sadly dropped Shane at the airport after the meal. Until next time!

Now, the following Sunday – Greek Easter. I had been going to my friend Lia’s parent’s house for Greek Easter for at least 20 years. This year, it fell the Sunday after regular Easter. Lia’s mom, Crystal, cooks like you have never seen. All the traditional dishes and Cyprian dishes, as she is from Cyprus. Mega amounts of each dish and we all go home with trays of food. And she also has a big container put aside for me so I can take home my favorite avgolemono soup, a lemon chicken-rice soup. Lia thinks she makes it better. (Not!!)

Most every year, the house is full with friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and more. This year was different. Mom is sick and in pain and going through chemotherapy. We all wanted to do everything but she wouldn’t give it up. Lia cooked a lot of dishes, and so did her sister, Olympia. I made a couple of things, but mom still managed to do a lot.

It was a quiet Easter, as it was just us, the family, and two friends of Olympia’s. It was bittersweet. We had a wonderful day, but mom was not doing well. As I write, the memories of past years flood my mind, bringing tears of joy and now some of sorrow. Mom needs to pass the torch to her daughters and share her wonderful recipes. I am honored to be a part of this family and its traditions for so long, and look forward to the continued relationship. Thank you, Crystal.