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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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mama and Her World Series

Mama loved baseball. She loved the Yankees, but she'd settle for the Mets. In her last few years she'd still watch the World Series and root for the Yankees no matter who was playing. Since living in California, the Giants were the team to root for - the "home team". It didn't matter to Mama, baseball was baseball and that meant the Yankees were always playing... even when it was the Giants.

If you can't view the video above, click link: 
World Series - Mama Serenades the Home Team

Vin: What are you watching on TV?
Mama: What the hell do you mean? It's the World Series, the Yankees are winning.
Vin: Ma, it's the Giants.
Mama: It's the Yankees! Our home team's winning.
Vin: Well, you're half right. Our home team, the Giants, are winning.
Mama: Don't give me a hard time, it's a damn good game.
Vin: Yes it is Mama.
Mama: I could go for a hot dog right now.
Vin: Of course you could.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Gotta Sing for My Supper

Mama: What's the matter?
Vin: I don't feel so great.
Mama: Well if ya want sympathy, go to the card store!
Vin: Ma, is that any way to talk to your son?

Mama Showing Sympathy 

Mama: Gimme me a break will ya. What about the way you spoke to me when you were a teenager?
Vin: What are you talking about? You can't remember what you had for dinner but you can remember that?
Mama: Dinner? I'm still waiting for my dinner.
Vin: Ma you're full of shit, you ate dinner over two hours ago.
Mama: Oh, go to hell. I'm starving and you always had a potty mouth.
Vin: Where do you think I got it from?
Mama: How would I know I thought I had dinner already!
Vin: I can't follow this conversation. Why don't you sing me a song?
Mama: Sing? You want me to sing a song now too? What do I gotta sing for my supper?
Vin: Ma, you love to sing.
Mama: Yeah I love to sing but I love to eat too.
Vin: So sing for me.
Mama: Jesus Christ, you want all of me?
Vin: What?
Mama: Do you want me to sing "All of Me"?
Vin: Yeah sing it and swing it...


(If you can't view the video above, click this link: Mama Swinging All of Me)

Vin: I needed that... it's just what the doctor ordered. I feel better now.
Mama: Good, now can I have my dinner?
Vin: We've been through this, you already had your dinner.
Mama: Oh Jesus, you have no sympathy.
Vin: Sympathy? I'll send you a card. Goodnight Mama.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Back to School for Mama and Me

Kindergarten
Back to school - it came full circle for Mama and me. I finally knew what it must've felt like for Mama to let go of her fat little crying boy and send him off to kindergarten. I had the same anxious feeling along with a knot in my stomach when I sent Mama to Senior Day Care.

I thought it would've been a good change for Mama to get out of the nursing home a few times a week. After all she'd get a chance to have a scenic ride in a van, be in a different environment, meet new friends and engage in artistic activities. These were things that she missed and complained about not having all the time. So I thought what a great idea... Senior Day Care! She even took center stage and sang a song on her first day, just like I did in school. But that didn't last long, end of Act One. She gradually turned into the child I was back in kindergarten and would often get combative and not want to go back to "school".

Senior Day Care

I tried reasoning with her, but as time went by I realized that the bottom line was Mama needed her routine. She didn't like change, even though the nursing home was less than perfect and she complained about there being "no life and nothing to do in this damn joint". It was easier for her, it was her comfort zone. So after several months, I gave in to Mama (just like she'd always give in to me as a child) and decided she didn't have to go back to day care. We spoiled each other. We're two of a kind and it came around full circle... back to school again for Mama and me.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mama the Actress

Ever since I can remember Mama was an actress. Well let's put it this way - she always gave me drama. From early on in life, her dream was to be an actress or a singer. The ironic thing is that Mama was always an actress... she just didn't know it. And as far as singing... you couldn't shut her up!


Her audience changed over the years. First it was just the family and friends, but as time went on anyone that met her loved her. In her later years her fans were the nursing home staff and the residents... and of course the readers on our blog. She loved that people were reading about her and watching her videos. She was bigger than life with a great sense of humor even at the darkest moments.

As we continue to develop our play "Some of These Daze" about Mama and our lives as her caregivers, we're still her biggest fans. She wouldn't want it any other way. When people ask me if Mama was an actress, I just tell them that she taught me to "never share a spotlight or a microphone". She was a character! My mother the actress... always ready for her close up and an audience.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You're Driving Me Crazy

As we entered the main room in the nursing home we saw Mama. I could tell she was not in a great mood and appeared anxious. She seemed inpatient and was busily searching through her bag and then she'd look out the window into the garden. She did this a few times before she realized we were standing in the doorway. She smiled for a moment and then she started...


Mama: Oh my God, what the hell am I living this way for? I can't find anything. I'm all alone.

Vin: What are you saying? You still have us, don't you?

Mama: Yeah, I'd be lost without you two.

Vin: Well your not lost yet. It's late, do you wanna head back to your room? You can watch some television and rest your legs.

Mama: Okay, that sounds good, I had a long day. Which way is my room?

Vin: You don't know?

Mama: It's down the hall somewhere... upstairs, downstairs, I don't know. I told you I'd be lost without you two. You drive me there.

Vin: Okay, you have everything in your bag?

Mama: Yeah, why? Where are you taking me?

Vin: Back to your room.

Mama: I don't wanna go back yet.

Vin: You just said you had a long day and wanted to get back to your room.

Mama: Okay whatever you say. You always know everything.

Vin: Mama, you're driving me crazy.

Mama: Oh Yeah? And you're just driving me... back to my room. So what are you waiting for? Let's go!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mama, Music and Memories

Mama and I are more alike than I care to admit.  I realize it more and more especially now that she's gone. Music got us through a lot. It helped make her forget her ailments or whatever was happening in the nursing home. It changed her mood and she came alive.

Music does the same for me, in fact I always have music playing. It can put me in a good mood. It can help prepare me for something I may not be looking forward to doing or help me out of a funk. Music can be magical and it has gotten Mama and me through many rough times. We would sing and she'd know all the words to songs - it was amazing. Other times she'd make up the words and we'd laugh that she could still get through a song by putting her own spin on it. Music is a powerful tool especially for someone that has Dementia. 


If you can't view the video above, click on this link: Our Last Duet

This photo was taken at The Talent Show and is one of our final duets together. It can be heard in the above video link. I'll always be grateful that I had the three M's... Mama, Music and Memories.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is My Phone Dead?

I still find myself checking my cell phone and voice mail at home to make sure they're still working. You see, Mama and the nursing home called many times throughout the day. I'd never turn off my cell phone or the home phone. How could I? Now I can turn them both off at night and may even forget to turn them back on. The phone doesn't ring much anymore except for those damn telemarketers. Sometimes I think... is my phone dead?

I'd panic when the phone rang very early in the morning or very late in the evening. It could only mean one thing... something was wrong with Mama. I had to prepare myself for the worst whenever the phone rang. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I was the only one who could "fix" whatever was broken with Mama. I felt like a translator at times between Mama and the nurses and the doctors, oh my! Being a caregiver and always trying to "fix" it wore me out. I didn't realize it at the time, I just did what I needed to do. I'd always be "on call" and always would leave the phone on. I did this for well over ten years and I didn't realize what a toll it took on me... until the phone stopped ringing. Pheww! A relief? Yes, but no. Now I miss those calls that would sometimes get me annoyed and wish that Mama could call me one more time. She could make me laugh and those are the times I choose to remember and share. This is one of those phone calls...


The phone rings earlier than usual. What's going on this time? It's the nursing home calling and I think the worst. Oh Jesus, is everything alright? My heart starts to race as I take a few deep breaths and pick up the phone.

Mama: Hello, Vincent.

Vin: Hello, Mama. Are you alright?

Mama: Oh yeah, I'm fine. Do you have my phone number? I called because I wanna make sure you have my number.

Vin: What? Of course I have your phone number. It's the same number you've had for years, it hasn't changed.

Mama: Okay I just wanted to make sure you had it. And you know where I am don't you?

Vin: Of course I know where you are.

Mama: Well, will I be seeing you later?

Vin: Yes Mama. I'll be over after your dinner just like every night.

Mama: Well then, be careful crossing the streets when you come over.

Vin: Mama, there are no streets to cross in Suburbia. I'll be driving the car and see you soon.

Mama: Oh, goodie. Here comes the food, I gotta go! I gotta eat dinner now. Jesus, I'm starving. I hope it's something good tonight, they serve a lot of crap in this place. Oh, it smells like spaghetti. Bye bye dear. I'll see you later, right?

Vin: Yes Mama see you soon.

I never knew what was coming next whenever the phone rang. It was just another part of our roller coaster ride that would shoot us up then swoop us down without any warning. It was draining but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I had a choice and I chose the role of a caregiver. I was Mama's advocate and friend. I had my daily dose of Dementia with Mama Drama and made the best of it.  

By the way, my phone is not dead! But I still talk to Mama, just not on the phone. And I've started to leave the phone on vibrate every night... just in case!


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