Monday, December 20, 2021

Joy and the Purple Christmas Tree

Christmas trees always put a smile on Mama's face. It didn't matter what mood she may have been in, she would see a Christmas tree and automatically light up. It was almost childlike and very contagious.

I drove by Mama's old nursing home the other day. I wanted to see if the Christmas decorations were the way I remembered them and the way Mama loved them. They didn't seem as bright and cheery this year but maybe it was because Mama was gone.

This year I put up the little purple Christmas tree again (yes purple) the one that Mama loved to see every year at our place when we brought her over to celebrate. It still brings me joy remembering her smile and her saying "only you would have a purple tree"! We'd eat (pasta of course) play cards and sing during our Holiday celebration around that purple tree. I didn't realize it back then that we were making memories... I thought we were all just having a good time. 

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Elephants Never Forget

    Many people over the years have asked me why was I so protective of my mother and why I took the drivers seat in the role of caregiving. The answer for me was simple, I put myself in her place and I felt complete empathy. 

    Here's an excerpt from our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" now on Amazon Books that may further fill in the blanks.

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

I enjoyed Yoga for many years and decided to study and get my degree so I could also teach. The concept of mind, body and spirit is important and helpful. I received two degrees in Yoga, the second one being in “gentle yoga” to help Mama and others like her. When you graduate and become certified, the instructors and Swamis assign you a spiritual name. The name is 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.

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. I was very attached to my chosen name. Vinayaka is also another name for Ganesh, a sacred deity. Many people said I was a saint when I was a caregiver, but I just did what came naturally. 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. 

During our nightly exercises with Mama I'd add some Yoga exercises to the mix. It was like when a parent would sneak some vegetables into the meal. I’d add three part breathing, gentle basic poses and sometimes we'd chant the Yogic “OM” mantra. She was a trooper and did the exercises even though she usually didn’t want to do them. 

Mama always got a kick out of the chanting because she loved to sing. She preferred show tunes, but who wouldn't? She didn’t know what she was chanting and it always made her laugh. Her laugh was contagious and the three of us couldn't stop laughing. Laughter is one of the things that always helped us overcome our obstacles and that's what this "elephant" will never forget.

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Read more about our journey with Mama in our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" on Amazon Books
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Monday, May 31, 2021

Anniversary Of Our Book - What A Year

It's the one year anniversary that our book "Dementia-Mama-Drama" was published! The past year was a stressful and isolating one that we all will never forget. Most of us learned a lot about ourselves and we discovered new things that we did but thought we could never do. Zoom became a common ground for social get togethers and family became even more important.

As for me, I'd rather focus on the positive things that happened for us. Since our book was published, "Dementia-Mama-Drama" was part of The Easton Book Festival. I was a guest author on Memory Cafe and was interviewed live on Leeza Gibbon's Leeza's Care Connection. I was also asked to be part of the AlzAuthors family along with being interviewed on the AlzAuthors Podcast! I was even on a panel with other caregivers for medical professionals discussing Alzheimer's and caregiving for the John Hopkins Alzheimer's Center. OMG, even more events are scheduled for later this year. 

To celebrate all this, I thought it would be a great time to repost one of my first blog posts. We've come along way since then and I know that Mama would've been so excited that her story was being shared with a new audience.


On one of my daily visits I asked Mama what she knew about Alzheimer's or Dementia. She said it was a disease and that she gets sick just thinking about it. She didn't really want to talk about it. Her response was "I like what I am and that's it". Once again she changed the subject and broke out singing another version of "Some of These Days". Here's the video from our visit.

I usually didn't put Mama on the spot about the subject, but I just wanted to hear her feelings about it at this particular moment in time. 
Some days that's just how we dealt with it.

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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, 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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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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