Friday, July 31, 2015

Filling In The Blanks - Memories of Mama

If life is made up of memories, what happens when you lose your memory? Is your life over? Or just the life you once had? Is your life just the pieces that you're able to remember? It's all a puzzle, it's a game where no one comes out a winner.

Do you fill in the blanks? Or just let your loved one fill them in and make it up... if they still can. These are questions that caregivers have every day. I know we felt this way and sometimes it was like we were all playing "The Wheel of Fortune". How ironic that this was one of Mama's favorite game shows.

There were many nights that none of us could buy a vowel and those were challenging nights, but thank you anyway Vanna White. We're still "filling in the blanks" as we continue to develop our play "Some Of These Daze" just like we promised Mama that we would.


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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Am I Forgetting? - Memories of Mama

I think of Mama and miss her everyday... but my memory of her face is starting to fade and I feel sad. I still look at my watch to see if it's time for our nightly visit, and I still check my voice messages to see if Mama or the nurses called... what am I thinking? Sometimes I even forget what our daily rituals with Mama were at the nursing home. They say that "time heals everything" and "grieving is a long process", but that doesn't make me feel any better. 



Naturally I have my daily reminders of Mama, there's the "genetic thing" that I've inherited from her. Her love of music, singing and food, her nervous energy, her anxieties, the list goes on. I find myself seeing more and more similarities and think "Oh my God, I'm turning into my mother". I've heard many others say that, but I never really got it. It can be funny, it can be comforting but when your mother has Dementia, it can be scary. 



What's really scary is that sometimes I forget. I have to look at photos to remind me of my mothers face. As I go through my photo files, I look, I smile and sometimes I cry. And then I vividly remember her face like it was yesterday and I can hear her voice... it makes me stronger. It makes me more determined to keep the promise we made to Mama... to tell her story, our story... as "Some Of These Daze" continues to develop.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day - Memories of Mama

During our nightly visits with Mama, we would reminisce and talk about "the good old days". This was usually safe territory because Mama was able to make up or elaborate on things that had happened. She had a better recollection of the past than I did, it was her short term memory that was the problem.


A few years ago on Father's Day I asked Mama to tell me and Douglass something she remembered most about my father. She looked at me like I was crazy.

Mama: Your father? You want me to talk about your father?

Vin: Yeah, Mama tell me the first thing that comes to mind about Dad. Tell Douglass something about him, he never got to meet him.

Mama: Well Douglass, my husband was a gambler.

Douglass: He liked to gamble?

Mama: Where the hell have you been? Of course he liked to gamble! He loved to gamble - the horses, the numbers, cards, you name it he did it all. We never had any money because of his father.


Vin: Ma, is that all you're going to say about Dad? It's Father's Day after all, say something nice.

Mama: Well, I miss that son of a bitch. Why the hell did he have to leave me?

Douglass: He left you? Where did he go?

Mama: He left me, he's six feet under. God rest his soul, he was a good man, but what a gambler!

Vin: Ma, it's Father's Day.

Mama: What do you want me to say? Happy Father's Day, wherever the hell you are! Now let's play some cards.


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Friday, May 8, 2015

Mother's Day - Memories of Mama

Remembering Mama
It's Mother's Day and I'm thinking of Mama... Another Mother's Day is here, but Mama is gone. I want to share a Mother's Day post for all the Mothers and family out there. I hope you enjoy your day together, we always did.   

Mama never wanted any gifts for Mother's Day. She'd never ask for jewelry or extravagant things. All she wanted was her spaghetti and meatballs! Of course she loved the flowers or clothes we'd buy her, but all she really wanted was for us to be together and eat her favorite meal.


Mama's "Bling"
I remember our last Mother's Day together. It was like many other times when she'd come over to our place.

From the moment we picked her up she'd say "thank God, you're here... I'm starving." The "I'm starving" would continue until we ate. We'd talk and sing nonstop to keep her mind off the food until it was ready. She'd start a song about almost anything that we'd be talking about. It was amazing to see how she'd take the words from our conversation and put them into a song without missing a beat. But once she started, you couldn't shut her up... even when the food was finally on the table. She'd give in saying "Okay, enough singing, I'm wearing myself out, let's eat!" 

Always Making Me Laugh
Memories of Mama and eating... the two just go together. Ever since I remember, Mama was a bit of a messy eater. Okay, she'd drop her food... everywhere. It would land on her blouse, on the table, on the floor, but she'd continue to shovel it in. She enjoyed her food and Mother's Day was no different!

Mama's Favorite Dish
At the end of the night she'd want coffee and cake, even if she was full! She had to have her coffee and cake, it was her routine. We knew she was getting tired at the end of the night because she'd say "Oh my God, I ate like a pig, I'm exhausted now. When are you two gonna take me back?" 
Mama and her Meatball

In memory of Mama this Mother's Day we'll have spaghetti and meatballs. We'll be thinking of Mama singing, dropping her food and not taking her back until she had her coffee and cake. It'll be the same as always... almost.


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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Back at The Palace Theatre on Broadway - Memories of Mama

On Broadway
We recently went to see "An American in Paris" at The Palace Theatre on Broadway. It was one of Mama's favorite MGM musicals. She loved Gene Kelly (who didn't) and Leslie Caron in one of Vincente Minnelli's most lavish creations. She loved Minnelli so much she'd tell me I was named after him. I always thought I was named after my grandfather, but then again that was Mama's story.

"Minnelli on Minnelli" at the Palace

The last time the three of us went to The Palace Theatre was to see "Minnelli on Minnelli". It was Liza Minnelli's loving tribute to her father's films. It was also Mama's last Broadway show... and you know she loved her Liza! I was feeling very nostalgic during "An American in Paris" on stage remembering us watching the movie over and over on the late late show marathon. Mama and I loved our musicals!

MGM Classic
I knew that if she was with us at the show she'd be in heaven. At the end of her favorite songs, she would've been yelling "One more time" just like she did at Liza's show. That's the way Mama rolled. She loved her music, and that's when she came alive. 

During the curtain call at "An American in Paris" I stood with the rest of the audience as I yelled out "One more time" just like Mama. Oh my God, I guess we're a lot alike.


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Friday, February 27, 2015

Parsley and Nerves - Memories of Mama

Ever since I can remember Mama always told me that parsley was good for the nerves. I haven't done any Google searches to prove her theory, but what I do know is that Mama was always "a nervous wreck" so I don't think it ever worked.


I'd always question her and asked "if parsley was supposed to be so good for your nerves, why doesn't it work for you"? She never had an answer but would still insist that I should eat my parsley. I ate it thinking what have I got to loose? Mothers know best and maybe it would work for me.


We'd be at a restaurant and there would always be parsley garnish on our plates. We'd look at each other and I'd wait for it... "Eat your parsley, it's good for your nerves". I'd laugh as we both would eat it knowing it did no good for either of our nerves.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

"The Change" with Mama

Mama and Vin With Attitude
Even before Mama was diagnosed with Dementia, the parent/child role reversal was there between us. When I was ten years old Mama came home late from a doctor's appointment and I was worried... 

Vin: How was the doctor's appointment? You're late, what did he say?
Mama: He said I'm too nervous and I need to relax.
Vin: That's what he always says. But are you okay, Mama?
Mama: Yes, I'm fine but I'm going through "the change".
Vin: What change?
Mama: "The change".
Vin: What's the change?
Mama: Ask your father. Do you want some ice cream?

A few years ago in the nursing home, Mama's visits from the doctor were becoming more frequent. I began to worry even more. I asked her what the doctor said... 

Vin: How was your doctor's visit today? What did he say?
Mama: Oh, I'm sick and tired.
Vin: He said you're sick and tired?
Mama: No, he said I'm fine.
Vin: You're fine?
Mama: Yes he said I'll be fine when my son gets me the hell out of this place.
Vin: I'll ask the doctor about that one. Do you want some ice cream?

And so it goes. 

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Where Does Dementia Come from Mama?

In the Beginning - Mama & Vin
In the beginning God created Mama. And He saw that she was good. Many many years later, Mama gave birth to her pride and joy... me! Whenever I would ask "where did I come from Mama"? she would say that I was the Immaculate Conception (don't ask!). Mama said novenas, lit candles and saw doctors. She was very religious and believed in miracles and I was going to be the miracle birth! I guess her prayers worked because she had me at a very late age with only one ovary (again, don't ask!). She dressed me in blue for my first few years to thank the blessed Mother for her miracle. Of course I was a long and hard birth! She loved to remind me of how much she had to suffer so that I could be born. She'd tell the story over and over until the very end and it wasn't just because she had Dementia. 

Just Another Day in the ER
Mama had intense anxiety, heart problems, blood clots and finally needed to have a pulmonary embolectomy, an extremely high risk operation. We didn't know that Dementia or Alzheimer's could be brought on as a result of such a serious operation. Who knew? The Doctor said it would be a 50/50 chance, but it was the only chance she had to survive. What did I know of the risks? I wanted Mama to live! The risks of Dementia were never mentioned back then... that was over thirteen years ago.

Transfusion Distraction - Douglass Doing Mama's Nails
Years later we'd become Mama's detectives constantly investigating her ailments and diagnosis. The doctors were dismissing many of her problems blaming them on her age or her anxiety. We knew better, we knew Mama and were her Caregivers and Advocates. When she started to need blood transfusions more frequently, we discovered that she had another disease, it was called Myelodysplatic Syndrome. I only heard about MDS through "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts because she was going through it at the same time. The blood transfusions started to happen even more often and we finally realized that Alzheimer's would not be the cause of Mama's death after all. During our usual outings to the ER for her transfusions Mama would repeat "what the hell am I doing here? I don't need blood, I got enough of my own". Then we'd all start singing to keep her occupied. As horrible as the visits could be we all managed to laugh and sing and the hospital staff were amazed how we got her through it. She always attracted an audience, that's our Dementia-Mama-Drama!

My Blessed Mama
So, where did I come from Mama? As always she'd insist that I was the miracle birth. Where does Dementia come from Mama? She never had an answer for that, but then who does? We're finding out slowly and like Mama I believe in miracles and hopefully the answer will be soon. "In the beginning..." it only took God seven days to create the entire world, what's taking us so long to find a cure?

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's to Family... Here's to 2015

It's New Years Eve and Mama would always say to me "the way you spend New Years Eve is the way you'll spend the rest of the year." Year after year she'd always say the same thing. I'm not sure where the saying came from or whether it was just her belief. Maybe it was just some of that Italian Catholic guilt philosophy. I think it was really an excuse to have the family together... nevertheless I bought it. 

And speaking of family, we'd like to thank you all for being a part of our family in 2014 following our story. It was Mama's wish for us to continue to tell her story and as we develop our script "Some Of These Daze" it looks like 2015 could be the year for Mama's wish to come true! 

Happiness and love to all who have supported us and to all the Advocates and Caregivers out there who are truly selfless. It's our belief that love, music and humor can help get us all through it. Here's to 2015!


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Italiano Christmas Eve with Mama

Mama loved the Holidays... any Holiday, but especially Christmas. For her it was all about family and of course food. On Christmas Eve we followed the Italian tradition of the Feast of the seven fishes. None of my Aunts really knew whether it was suppose to be seven, nine or thirteen fishes, all I knew was that we had a lot of fish. I didn't really like to eat fish back then so it didn't matter to me. All I cared about on Christmas Eve was learning about the cure for Malocchio



Malocchio is the evil eye in Italian superstition and you can only learn how to get rid of it on Christmas Eve by your Mother, Aunt or Grandmother. Mama couldn't be bothered with it and told me to ask one of her sisters as she continued to cook. I tried to find out about Malocchio as a young teenager, but it was Christmas time and my attention span was even shorter than it is now. I'd forget to ask but would remember on Christmas Day (which of course was a day late so I had to wait another year). Finally on one Christmas Eve I remembered to ask my oldest Aunt who lived with us in our tiny apartment, she was like a grandmother to me. She taught me the special prayers to say with a plate of water and oil and then the person could be cured. Amen, I finally learned the secret... but as time went by I forgot it!


A few years ago when Mama was over for dinner on Christmas Eve, I bought her a necklace with the Italian horn (which is suppose to protect you from the evil eye). I asked her if she remembered when I'd always ask about Malocchio and she said that it was all a bunch of crap, so let's just eat. That was my Mama! Her love for food was the same as always as she continued to eat her calamari and Spaghetti aglio e olio. Some things never change.


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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Elephants Never Forget...

Elephants never forget, but people do. Like Mama, some people get Alzheimer's

I went back to school a few years ago and got two degrees in Yoga. When you graduate and become certified, the instructors and Swamis assign you a spiritual name. A name carefully selected for you based on their understanding of your overall persona. Most students use it when they start teaching. The name given to me was Vinayaka and I loved it!

I was very attached to my chosen name. Vinayaka is a man with an elephants head and he symbolizes overcoming obstacles and was the protector of his mother. How perfect - that was my life story! Overcoming obstacles was my middle name. I had obstacles every day when I was a caregiver for Mama. Vinayaka is also another name for Ganesh, a sacred deity. Many people would say I was a saint when I was a caregiver, but I just did what I had to do. I learned to overcome many obstacles and was the protector of Mama up until the very end. Maybe it was all something that was just meant to be. Cosmic, Kharmic... call it what you want.


(If you can't view the video above, click on the link: Chanting OM with Mama)

During our nightly exercise routine I'd often add some Yoga exercises into them. It was like when a parent sneaks a little veggie into the meal. Sometimes I'd add three part breathing, sometimes gentle basic poses and other times we'd chant the Yogic "OM" mantra. Mama always got a kick out of chanting because she loved to sing. She preferred show tunes, but who wouldn't? She was a trooper and in this short video you can hear Mama chanting and having a hell of a time, we both couldn't stop laughing. Laughter is the one thing that always helped us overcome our obstacles and that's what this "elephant" will never forget.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Food + Holidays = Happy Mama

Food was everything to Mama. Mama felt very strongly about her food. Truth be told, she was obsessed up until the end. Whenever a Holiday was near, we'd ask her what she wanted to have for dinner. It didn't matter if it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or a Birthday, it was always the same answer. She wanted macaroni and gravy... maybe a meatball. She'd never say pasta, it was always macaroni, just like it was always gravy, not sauce. I tried explaining the difference many times, but old habits die hard.


Growing up in an Italian family, pasta was the main event. Everything else was secondary, especially to Mama. Of course we'd start off with an antipasto. We'd have nonstop bread and rolls that never left the table. There'd also be either turkey, lamb, roast beef or ham. We'd take a break to play a few games or sing followed by a multitude of desserts with coffee - American coffee and Italian Espresso. Mama's most vivid memories (that Alzheimer's couldn't erase) was of her food and those special times around the dinner table with family.

I remember a typical conversation we'd have about planning the menu. The main difference was that now there were only the three of us and she wasn't doing the cooking...

Vin: Mama, what do you want to eat on Thanksgiving this year?
Mama: What the hell do you think I wanna eat? What do I always wanna eat?
Vin: Pasta?
Mama: Of course, what's wrong with you? I want my spaghetti and meatballs or maybe ravioli. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Vin: Okay, Mama. We'll have your favorite dish again, as long as that'll make you happy.


Mama: I'm coming over to your place ain't I?
Vin: Yes, you're coming over to our place.
Mama: Then I'll be happy! Just make sure we have some macaroni with lots of cheese and some good Italian bread. 
Vin: Okay, okay. Anything else?
Mama: Yeah, don't forget... we gotta have coffee and cake. Oh my God, I'm gonna dream about it tonight.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Mama - Always a Broadway Baby

Mama loved music. She always loved to sing and was always a Broadway Baby. She'd sing at the drop of a hat. Okay who am I kidding? She'd sing with or without anyone dropping a hat. We took her to many Broadway shows and she loved every one of them. Sometimes I think she thought she was the star of the show. The last show we were able to take her to was "Minnelli on Minnelli" starring one of her favorites, Liza Minnelli.


It was Liza's loving tribute to her father Vincente Minnelli saluting his movie musicals. He, like Mama, also suffered from Alzheimer's. Mama knew every song and sang along throughout the show. We were sitting close to the stage (of course) and at one point Liza looked at Mama as if to say "whose show is this lady?" I told Mama to put a lid on it and she did after rolling her eyes.

Mama Meets Liza 
Almost a year after the show, Mama finally got to meet Liza and was in heaven. Liza was just what you'd expect - genuine and warm. She took the time taking pictures, telling stories and giving hugs. Mama told Liza that she named me after Liza's dad, Vincente... without the "E". They both laughed as Liza gave me a hug and called me "daddy." Mama was living in the nursing home then following a major operation and had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. After all this drama, the music may have stopped for many, but not for Dementia-Mama-Drama! She sang up until the very end, always the "Broadway Baby". She forgot many things but vividly recalled meeting Liza and always remembered the words to her favorite songs. Here's a short video of Mama singing her version of "Give My Regards to Broadway."

(If you can't view the video above, click this Link: Mama Gives Her Regards to Broadway)

Mama was a trooper and knew that the show must go on. She was very excited that we were writing our play "Some of These Daze". After all it was all about her, she was finally the star. I swear it must've kept her going even when her body started to fail. But remember, Mama was always a Broadway Baby!

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