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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Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Love the Puppies

I would always joke with Mama to keep her on her toes and to make her laugh. Okay, she made me laugh too. Humor always worked for us. Here's just another day with Mama, ya never know...

 
Mama: I LOVE the puppies! They make me forget.

Vin: Maybe you shouldn't love the puppies so much, if they make you forget.

Mama: What are you talking about? 

Vin: I'm talking about the puppies. What are you talking about?

Mama: I dunno, I forgot. I guess the puppies made me forget.

Vin: Forget what?

Mama: Vin, you're driving me crazy. I love the puppies and that's that.

Vin: That's what?

Mama: Oh forget it, I already did.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Missing Mama... Not a Day Goes By

Not a day go by that I don't miss Mama. It's selfish in a way, because her body and spirit were fading and she was ready to leave.


But every time I pass by the phone, I stare at it. It's silent, it hardly rings anymore. The endless calls from Mama or the nursing home have stopped. I often find myself leaving the house for our nightly visits with Mama at the nursing home and realize... she's not there.


I miss telling her my problems and see how she was still able to play Mama and make me smile. She'd listen, make a silly face or sing a song to comfort me. Mama made me realize that my problems weren't that bad, after all I wasn't living in a nursing home with Alzheimer's.


When people say to me I must be relieved that she's gone and "the burden" has lifted, I look at them as though they're crazy. I always thought that's how I'd feel when the time came, but I don't, instead I miss Mama. I'm sure they mean well, but obviously they never had a Mama like mine.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Memories of Mother's Day

Mama Lovin' Every Bite
Mama never wanted any gifts for Mother's Day. She'd never ask for jewelry or extravagant things. All she ever 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.

I remember our last Mother's Day together. It was similar to other times when we'd pick her up and bring her over to our place.
Mama's "Bling"
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 would come up with a song for almost anything that we'd talk about. It was amazing to see how she'd take words from our conversation and put them into words from a song. But then you couldn't shut her up even when the food was on the table. She'd finally say "Okay, enough singing, I'm wearing myself out, let's eat."  

Memories of Mama and eating... the two go together. Ever since I can remember, Mama would be a bit messy eating. Okay, she was a sloppy eater, she'd drop food everywhere. It would land on her, on the table, on the floor but she'd continue to shovel it in. She loved every bite she took! Mother's Day was no different!


Mama's Favorite Dish

At the end of the night she'd want some coffee and cake. Always had to have her coffee and cake, it was a routine. We'd enjoy dessert and then we knew she was tired because she would say "When are you gonna take me back? Oh my God, I ate like a pig, I'm exhausted."

In memory of Mama this Mother's Day we'll go out and have spaghetti and meatballs. We'll be thinking of Mama singing, dropping her food and not leaving till she had her coffee and cake. And this year we won't leave until we have our coffee and cake either.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mama and Yoga and Chanting - Oh My!

Mama Exercising
Mama and I had our rituals during our daily visits. We sang, we played cards, we did breathing exercises and always ended with some physical exercises. Some of the exercises were ones I did while teaching Yoga. We did breathing exercises that lead to singing and chanting "OM", the universal Yogic sound representing past, present and future. 
Mama Wearing Her Favorite Shirt

During the visit in the video below, Mama was wearing one of her favorite shirts (I made it for her). She held her "OM" until she ran out of breath. We would do this to help strengthen her breath. She said "if anybody hears me, they'll think I'm crazy."  Later on she told me "to go to hell with this Hari Om crap"... so much for positive energy. It's all about mind, body AND spirit. Mama definitely had the spirit!

If you can't view the video, click on this link: Chanting OM with "Anna with a Z"  

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