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.

*   *   * 

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...

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. 

Our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" is now on Amazon Books.

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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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