Friday, April 30, 2021

A Dynamic Duo

It was recently the anniversary of my Dad's death. I tried to remember things that I missed about my father, but the memories weren't as clear as they once were. I can still hear his almost childlike hysterical laugh when we watched Saturday morning cartoons or The Three Stooges. Thankfully I remember a few things, like how he taught me which subway lines to take or how to get a good deal by bargaining (if possible) when shopping. Oh and of course he taught me to always look down as I walked on the street in case someone dropped money. That was my Dad!

Then I thought about Mama and it was totally different. It's like she’s still here with me. The many memories of Mama are still crystal clear and I realized why. It's because of our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" and the fact that I'm always on social media sharing our stories and photos while being an advocate for caregivers. It's like she never left.

Mama is still very much a part of my everyday life. I am very comforted by the fact that so many people have had the opportunity to meet her through her story that lives on in the book. That is one of the things she wanted most, not to be forgotten.

Perhaps my Dad’s story will be out there someday, because he was certainly a memorable character too. They were very different from each other... like yin and yang but definitely a dynamic duo. 

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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Happy 75th Birthday Liza - Mama Meets Minnelli

In celebration of the 75th birthday of Liza Minnelli I’d like to share a memorable moment when Mama met Minnelli. She never forgot it and talked about it often, Liza was one of Mama’s favorite singers. Proving once again the power of music and the ability to spark memory in those that otherwise seem to have lost that ability. Thank you Liza for the memory and Happy, Happy Birthday!

Here’s a popular excerpt about Liza from the book “Dementia-Mama-Drama” on Amazon Books


There are other things in your life that you never forget, like when Mama met Liza Minnelli. Meeting Liza epitomizes the New York City experience. It was a chance meeting on the street, no anticipation, just another day in the city. 



Douglass and I were walking down the street in the West Village to visit Mama at the nursing home. As we passed by an outdoor cafĂ©, an extremely animated woman caught my eye and I slowed down. Could it be? No way. Is it? OMG, it’s Liza Minnelli! I said to Douglass “Slow down, listen to me, there’s Liza.” He kept walking and looked at me like I was nuts, he didn’t believe it was her. I looked at him and said “Mama is finally gonna meet Liza! Go back to the apartment and get the camera” (we didn’t have a camera phone back then). I ran across 12th Street to get Mama who was sitting on the bench outside the nursing home. I told her “Hurry, get up, come with me and walk to the corner - Mama, you’re finally gonna meet Liza Minnelli.” Well, I never saw Mama walk so fast with her walker. Douglass now had the camera and the three of us tried to act casual as we strolled by the restaurant. Then we realized that Liza was now standing directly in front of us on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. Oh my God, “Vin with a Z” was taking “Anna with a Z” to meet “Liza with a Z”. We were totally Z’d to the max! 


I lightly tapped Liza on her shoulder and introduced the three of us. She was very gracious and warm, acting more like an old friend than a celebrity. Insisting on taking a few pictures with us, she hugged us all repeatedly and then signed an autograph for Mama. Liza kept talking and talking as if we had known her for years, just like you would expect her to do. She even joked with me, calling me "Daddy" since my name is Vincent just like her father, Vincente Minnelli, who also suffered with Alzheimer’s.  

 


Liza made our day, but even more importantly she made Mama's day. It was a most memorable meeting, especially for Mama. She loved Liza and went to many of her shows with us. She always kept the photo of the four of us by her bedside in the nursing home. Mama never forgot that day and would proudly tell people about the time she met Liza Minnelli. When we ran into Liza a few years later, I told her about that day and how much it meant to Mama. She was very touched and said “Oh baby, I’m so glad." 

I’ll be eternally grateful to Liza for being so giving to the three of us on the street that day and leaving Mama with a lasting memory. Mama met Minnelli and it meant the world to her. She would tell the story again and again and again. To quote a song from Vincente Minnelli’s MGM film “Gigi”... “Ah yes, I remember it well.” And so did Mama!


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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Just Another Day At The Spa

When we lived in NYC, a feel good fix for Mama was getting her nails done. She loved having her hands massaged, it was heaven for her. She'd occasionally doze off as the manicurist worked on her hands. For the next few days following her "beauty treatment" as she called it, she'd show off her nails to all her friends at the nursing home.

Years later in California, Douglass or I would do her nails since she really enjoyed the "beauty treatment". One day as Douglass was finishing Mama's nails, I started to sing "After You've Gone" to keep her from dozing off. Well it woke her up and then she started...

Mama: Why are you singing that song Vincent? Are you doing my nails to get me ready for my casket?

Vin: You love that song and you were starting to doze off. Casket? What?

Mama: Yeah casket! When I die I want to be laid out in a beautiful gown and have everyone come see me.

Douglass: Anna, when did you ever wear gowns?

Vin: And who do you think is going to come see you in your beautiful gown? Besides you said you wanted to be cremated.

Mama: Ok, ok. No more talk about this death crap.

Vin: You're the one that brought it up.

Mama: Well I don't wanna talk about it anymore. Deal the damn cards, will ya? 

Douglass: Okay, let's play. Your nails are dry now.

Mama: Thanks Douglass. My son is a little son of a bitch, always giving me a hard time.

We dealt the cards and Mama glared at me belting out "After You've Gone" changing the words (of course) to "After I'm Gone." 

Oh yeah, just another day at the spa.

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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Friday, January 29, 2021

Recipe For Happiness

Mama always loved food. Mama + Food = Happiness... that was the recipe. Food was something we always talked about, even till the end. When all else failed, I knew the topic of food would never fail. We'd talk about what she ate, what she was going to eat or what she really wanted to eat. As her memory got worse I'd ask her about what she ate that day to see if she remembered. I'd check the menu on her bulletin board daily so I always knew what she really ate. If she didn't remember, she'd say spaghetti (her favorite) or meat and potatoes (always a safe answer).

She constantly talked about cooking and how much she missed it, so I'd ask her about some of her favorite recipes. It became a running joke for me and Douglass because every dish always had the same ingredients. She'd say "a little salt, a little pepper, olive oil and a lot of Italian cheese". It didn't matter what the dish was, it was her stock answer. 


Looking back, it did hold true to most of her recipes. At times it was funny and I'd egg her on to see how far I could take her and what other ingredients she might add on that day. Sometimes she caught on and would give me a look. Then she'd laugh and say "shut the hell up, enough with my damn recipes". It was when she caught on that I thanked God for Mama's recipes and of course "a little salt, a little pepper, olive oil and a lot of Italian cheese".


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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Dealing With Mama

Mama loved playing cards. It was a good distraction and a familiar routine for her. We always played her version of gin rummy. It became our ritual and we could tell if it was a good night or not depending on how long she wanted to play. It was our comfort zone.  No more questions, no more complaining... we were all in the moment. It took our minds off of what was going on and it was fun. It made her think and made us laugh.

On a typical night she'd complain about dealing the cards because her hands hurt so much. I didn’t let her get away with it, Douglass on the other hand was more forgiving. We both knew it was a good exercise for her arthritic hands and could help with her concentration, so I insisted she'd deal. Sometimes Mama added up the scores quicker than Douglass or I could... on a good night!

Playing cards was also a part of her past. She always loved playing cards with my father, her friends or the family. It wasn't only the weekly card games they had but also after every family gathering. She was the "hostess with the mostest" constantly bringing out snacks and would curse when she was losing! My father would just shake his head and laugh. 

We'd play cards with Mama until she got tired or couldn't concentrate any longer. We dealt with the role as caregivers every day but during our nightly card games we were just playing cards dealing with Mama! 

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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

"The Change"

Even before Mama was diagnosed with Dementia, a parent/child role reversal was often there. I remember when I was ten years old and Mama came home late from a doctor's appointment. Of course I was worried... 

Vin: You're late! How was the doctor's appointment? 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: Yeah, 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 about that. Do you want some ice cream?


Years later in the nursing home, Mama's doctor visits were becoming more frequent. I began to worry even more...

Vin: How was your doctor's visit today? What did he say?
Mama: Oh, I'm just 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. Do you want some ice cream?

Some things change... and some things don't. And so it goes.

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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Money? I Have Some Money

I never questioned it growing up, but we didn't really have money. We didn't do without, but we were never extravagant. We lived in a small apartment with two bedrooms, two closets and one bathroom. It was usually four people because my elderly aunt lived with us most of the time. Money didn't seem like a problem, but I didn't realize it at the time...


An excerpt from our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" now on Amazon Books


During a visit with Mama one night we were cleaning out her purse. We did this often because she liked to wrap and save the food she didn't finish at mealtime to keep for “later.” Her purse was always full of stuff, we even found her tv remote in there sometimes. She tried to help and pulled out her leopard coin purse. She took out a dollar bill, looked at it, then put it back in her coin purse. She did this a few times while we cleaned out her purse, so we started to talk about money...



Vin:
Why haven’t you ever saved any money?

Mama: Vin your father was a gambler, that son of a bitch, may he rest in peace. He ran the numbers, he was a bookie. You even took the numbers on Saturday mornings because he slept late after playing cards all night. We never saved a damn dime! 


Vin: Well, why didn't you try to save some money on your own?


Mama: Money? I have some money.


Vin: You do? 


Mama: Sure, I have a couple of hundred in my bank account. When I drop dead, you'll have a couple of hundred.


Douglass and I starting laughing which made Mama start laughing. We knew she didn’t have a bank account for many years. I gave her two more dollars for her coin purse. 


Mama: What’s this for?


Vin: That’s for making us laugh.


Mama:(She looked at us and gave a big smile) I should make you laugh more often.


It was a good night, and worth the two bucks! 


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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Magic of Music

If all we really have are our memories, what happens when you no longer have any memories? Do you have nothing? No recollection or sense of yourself as a person? If music can spark a memory and make you have a sense of life and who you are, then isn’t music one of the most essential elements in the memory making process? Music is memories. Music makes you feel, it creates an energy, it sparks life and rhythm. I know this, I lived this.


I’ve seen, heard and felt the magic of music and what it did for Mama. She’d start singing a song if she didn’t want to answer a question or just to change the subject. She became alive with music and magically her essence was revitalized. She remembered words to songs that I couldn't remember if I tried. We always sang even at the oddest times... during blood transfusions, in the ambulance and during her first (and only) plane ride.



When Mama left this world Douglass and I had her favorite music playing, it was Judy Garland. I sang along as I held her hand. Music was her comfort zone and when she sang everyone around her felt good or  smiled. We made sure Mama was in her comfort zone when she left us and of course it was on a high note from Judy. 


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Saturday, August 15, 2020

In The Beginning

Mama was able to fool all of us. We all thought she was fine, but the doctors and specialists knew better. They told me that my mother had dementia, she may appear to be alright, but had definite cognitive impairments. 


I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want to believe it. She knew who I was, she knew how to play cards, how to count and was able to carry on most conversations. Her sense of humor was still intact and joked about her aches and pains. She knew the words to almost every song she sang and if not, was always able to make the lyrics rhyme. So how could she have dementia? 



I tried not to believe the doctors, but deep down I knew something wasn’t right. I knew that after being discharged from her short term rehab, she wasn’t going to be able to go back home and live on her own ever again. I was scared, the reality was overwhelming and I had to make a lot of big decisions. I had to find a place for her to live and it had to be near me, after all I would be checking up on her and the staff everyday.



I made the best of a bad situation, but it wasn't always easy. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of life as a caregiver.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Day Care Dilemma

        What you may think is a good idea, doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes caregiving is all about trial and error. I thought it would've been a good idea for Mama to get out of the nursing home a few times a week. But boy, was I wrong...


        An excerpt from our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" now on Amazon Books.


        I finally knew what it must have 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 when I sent Mama to senior day care.



  I thought it would have been a good change for Mama to get out of the nursing home a few times a week. She'd have a scenic ride in a van, be in a different environment, make new friends and engage in activities. These were things that she missed and complained about not having at the nursing home. I thought the perfect solution would be senior day care! Of course she took center stage and sang a song on her first day, just like I did on my first day of kindergaraten singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” But that didn't last long, she gradually turned into the child I was in kindergarten. She would often get combative, refusing to go back to "school". The nursing home called me often to coax her into going since the van was waiting for her. This “perfect solution” was not working out so well and it was expensive. 

I tried reasoning with her repeatedly, 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. She complained that “there’s no life here and there’s nothing to do in this damn joint". It was easier for her to be there and complain, it was her comfort zone. 

After a few months, I gave in to Mama just like she always gave into me as a child. I told her that she didn't have to go to day care again if she didn’t want to go back. When I said that, she seemed just as happy as I did when she told me I could miss a day from school. We spoiled each other. We were two of a kind and it came around full circle. 



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Friday, June 12, 2020

So Happy Together

Here's an excerpt from our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" now available on Amazon Books.



Mama's Nursing Home was quarantined for nine days due to a flu virus outbreak. It was nine loooong daze! The few activities that had been  scheduled stopped altogether. It left Mama with even MORE time on her hands and even LESS time being around others. This did not stop Douglass and me from visiting, even though visitors were "strongly discouraged.” We wore masks, just like the staff and residents. It looked and felt odd and Mama hated every minute of wearing a mask. 


Mama: I had a crazy dream last night.
Douglass: What did you dream about?

Mama: I dreamt you got married.

Vin: Really? How was the wedding?

Mama: I said to you in my dream, what the hell are you getting married for? The three of us 
are already so happy together.

Under my breath I said to Douglass “we told her we’re married, she must’ve forgot.”

Vin: Oh so now you're saying you're HAPPY? You
never say you’re happy, that's a first.

Mama: Yeah I'll be HAPPY when I can go home! 

Mama always talked about going home. Like many with Alzheimer's, she’d repeatedly say “I wanna go home, I wanna go home.” I'd tell her she sounded like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz,” she'd laugh and change the subject. I was never sure what she meant by home. Was it where she was born, her last apartment or New York? I always got a different answer, so I never knew.

Douglass: So you’re not happy?

Mama: Well I’ll be happy when I can at least take this damn mask off and hear everything that you're saying. Everything is muffled and I can’t breathe. Everybody is wearing masks in this place, it’s crazy. I can’t take this anymore. Do me a favor, take this damn mask off me already and hand me my lipstick.

Ahhh yes, "sooo happy together"...


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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Mama, You're Such an Actress!

I didn't realize it growing up but Mama always needed an audience. It became more obvious once she was in a nursing home. She would sing a song or tell a joke at the drop of a hat as long as someone was listening, and she made sure someone always was...


Here's an excerpt from our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" now on Amazon Books.


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 and 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 once she started.

Her audience changed over the years. First it was just family and friends, but as time went on anyone that met her became her audience. In her later years her fans were the nursing home staff, the residents and of course the readers of our blog.

When people ask me if Mama was an actress, I gotta say yes. She was the one who taught me "never share a spotlight or a microphone". My mother the actress who was always ready for her close up and her audience.

One night as Douglass and I arrived at the nursing home we heard someone ranting rather loudly from down the hall, it was Mama! She was as I liked to call it “Anna-mated". Sometimes we knew what to expect when visiting and decided to play along joining the “Anna with a Z" show, after all she was the star.

Vin: What are you doing? Are you an actress?

Mama: Of course, I'm a CAREER actress!

Vin: You're a career actress? Since when?

Mama: Since I’ve been in this damn place. Ya gotta be an actress in here.

Vin: What do you mean by that?

Mama: Ya gotta be an actress here to get what you want, if you wanna get ANYTHING.

Vin: Why do you say that?

Mama: They'd ignore you otherwise, so I scream and carry on. I’m a diva, damn it, I give drama! They should give me an award for the best actress.

I couldn't have said it better myself. "And the Oscar goes to ..."



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Monday, April 20, 2020

Grief Groups And Moving On

I never thought I'd be one of those people who went to a grief group. I'm all for therapy, but didn't really get the need to be in a group to discuss a loss. Perhaps I didn't know enough about them, but I felt it was just another way of holding on and not moving on.

I know I needed a form of grief therapy after Mama passed and went to a one on one with open arms and bleeding heart. The next step was group therapy, but I was still hesitant about it... nevertheless a new experience. I needed closure and knew that I wasn't alone. I was totally cynical about "group" therapy.  I pushed to join the first available group meeting because I wanted to feel better and move on! There was a wait list for the group... are you kidding me? That made me even more determined to get into the next group. Being relentless, I got into the group.

During the first meeting I was overly emotional almost from the start which surprised Mr Cynical. The weekly group meetings became a ritual and not alienating (as I had thought) but bringing a group of unlikely people together. Some were unprepared for their loved ones deaths, I was lucky that I knew it was coming. My yoga roots and experience were revisited in a different way by helping bring the group together through meditation and centering. I was surprised how I was able to return to Yoga after being away from it for a while, but then again I was moving on. After all Yoga is mind, body and spirit but I never thought I'd be using it as a tool while grieving.

Well like Mama would say "live and learn". I was an important part of a grief group and my preconceived ideas of  it all had all changed. I'm lucky that I've maintained a few close relationships from the group over the years. It was an important experience I didn't think I needed but I'd recommend it to anyone who has gone through a loss. Keep an open mind and "try it you may like it", it's all part of moving on.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Moments of Pride

June is a very special month for me for two reasons. It's Alzheimer's Awareness month and it's Gay Pride. Mama and I have always supported each other... we were proud of each other and were blessed!



She always accepted me for being myself... and she loved the New York Gay Pride Parade. She would sit outside the nursing home and engage with "her audience". She loved the attention (no surprise) and they enjoyed her bawdy sense of humor!

As Alzheimer's caregivers we were there with Mama for many years and made her smile and sing. Did I say sing? Yes, she sang for anyone and everyone. It was great therapy for all of us... it got us through a lot of rough times (and there were plenty).

It's June again and during this month when it's Gay Pride's 50th Anniversary I know that many other Gay caregivers are with their loved one and who knows... they might just be singing "Over the Rainbow".

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sometimes Ya Need A Break

Being caregivers for Mama for so many years has taken a toll, so we needed a little break. A time to pause, reevaluate and gather our thoughts so that we could help other caregivers and continue her story.

Caregiving 101 was like second nature to me. I knew myself and Mama too well, we were both drama queens - highly emotional without any filters. If I wasn't feeling 100 percent, I knew I couldn't give 100 percent. I knew we had to distract Mama to make everyone happy... or at least get through it.


When we were caregivers there weren't many resources available to us. We were pioneers on a new territory, so we went with our feelings and what worked best for us. Men weren't the typical caregivers, let alone a Gay couple. Many times we did what was not suggested by the professionals, but back then we knew what worked for Mama... and us.

We used music, humor, pampering and pet therapy before it became "a thing". We took videos and photos before most did this (she wasn't happy unless the camera was on her). It became a therapy that worked for all of us. Mama always wanted her story told.  She didn't really care which story it was - she had many (remember I did say she was a drama queen). Lo and behold, "Some Of These Daze" was born. It's a play we worked on with Mama and will continue to develop until her story has been told.

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