Monday, September 15, 2014

...About Loyalty

I started this blog a few years ago as a way to deal with my mother's recent Alzheimer's diagnosis, but like every other attempt I've made to keep a diary or journal, I've failed to update it... I hope my four followers haven't been holding their breath since my last post. :) Sorry loyal friends and followers!  How ironic that today I have decided to post about loyalty; something with which I continue to struggle even though I grew up with the president and poster-child of The Loyalty Club, my mother.  (Full disclosure:  The Loyalty Club doesn't exist... I made it up.)

Today I visited my mom.  She's been living in a memory care unit for 19 months, and we recently moved her to a new facility that can better meet her needs.  It's been weeks since my last visit (loyalty fail); I've struggled to cope with the move even though it was my idea.  I don't visit on a regular schedule the way my aunts do (loyalty fail), or the way my mom and I visited Grandma when she was sick (loyalty fail).  But today something hit me; today I realized that even though my mom doesn't have the slightest idea who I am anymore, she still FEELS comfort in my presence.  She sat through her very first meal, at the table, with another resident and myself!  This is highly unusual!  And the staff was amazed! And believe me, I was amazed too because I wanted to turn and run (loyalty fail)!  It's hard to watch your one beautiful and confident mother look so confused at the sight of a plate of food sitting in front of her. It's awful watching all of these residents stare at their plates with an inquisitive look on their faces like, "damn that looks good, but what the hell am I supposed to do with that!?!?"  But I sat there and helped my mom pick up diced, cooked carrots with her spoon.  She would get frustrated attempting to pick up her food, so I would scoop up a small spoonful and then hand her the spoon. She would take the bite but then immediately fail to pick up a spoonful of chicken sandwich, so she would set her spoon back down, and we would start the process all over again. We did this for a half hour, and it was gut wrenching.  I wanted to scream at her that it was me, Lara, her daughter, and that she knew how to use a spoon, that she was the one who taught ME how to use a spoon... but I just sat there in silence trying to smile while the other resident having lunch at our table attempted to make cheerful, yet nonsensical, conversation. 

I realized today that I've been selfish; I've put my needs before my mom's (loyalty fail), and she ALWAYS put everyone's needs before her own (sometimes to a fault).  I can't do that anymore.  I can't abandon her just because she can't give anything back to me.  That's what love and loyalty are all about right?  Selfless acts?  Unconditional love and commitment?  Right?!?!?  I'm glad I married a loyal guy.  He's taught me a lot about loyalty.  He doesn't give up on me when I behave like an ungrateful jerk; he fights hard to bring me back from the deep, dark depths of my own idiocy or depression.  He's a Marine, and he fights like it.  He fights for me when I can't; he fights for our marriage and family when I feel like I have nothing left to give.  And today I thought of him, and his strength, to get me through this day with my mom...

I am almost looking forward to my next lunchtime visit... with Big Mama screaming, "I'M HUNGRY! HELP ME! FEED ME! HELP ME! FEED ME!"... and another resident dropping spoonfuls of food onto the floor, bending over in her chair, and scraping her fork across it like it's a Zen Garden... and the "other" Diane scooping spoonfuls of chocolate milk over her entire plate, like it's gravy, and then offering her cup to me... and the confused looks from the other residents with eyes that are pleading for help and understanding... I'VE GOT THIS! I CAN DO THIS! I'm not a Marine, but I'm going to try to fight like one... Semper Fi, Mom. Semper Fidelis!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

...About Halloween

Today is Halloween. My two favorite things about Halloween are: 1) you can dress up like whatever you want and pretend you're somebody/something else and 2) October 31st marks the end of the worst month of the year.

For about as long as I can remember I've always hated October. And I shouldn't hate it because my birthday is in October, and everyone loves their birthday right? But my biological dad's birthday is also in October, two days after mine. He was an absent parent all of my life, but I always thought because our birthdays were so close together that he would remember mine, and call me. But he never did, and I was always disappointed. My mom knew that this bummed me out every year, and she always tried to make me feel extra special. My dad had a lot of problems, and in October of 2000 he committed suicide right before our birthdays. At first I was glad and I thought, "good, now I don't have to care about you anymore you stupid asshole!" But Mom knew better, and she was there, once again, when I cried about feeling abandoned. This year was the third year in a row that Mom forgot to call and wish me a happy birthday. Three years ago she called a couple of days later and said, "I'm so sorry I missed your birthday!" I said, "It's okay, I had CPA review all evening anyway." But what I really did was sit at Brit's Pub, by myself, and cry because my mom didn't remember my birthday. The bartender felt so sorry for me that he gave my a free piece of cake and made everyone in the bar sing happy birthday to me. Last year she didn't remember it was my birthday until we all went out for my birthday a few weeks later, but I think she only "remembered" because my dad (step-dad) told her. This year she didn't remember at all, but this year she doesn't remember much at all. She doesn't remember where she lives, or what she's doing most of the time. She remembers my dad but doesn't remember that they are married. She remembers me and Audrey, but I'm afraid she will soon forget us. I makes me sad to think all of her memories of me are gone, and to see her as a shell of her former self. I don't want to remember her this way, so I need to constantly remind myself of who she was and who I believe, deep down, she still is. Because she isn't here to comfort me anymore when I need a shoulder to cry on, I will find comfort and strength in the good memories and know that I will be okay because she was a really great mom.

Mom was always the one who took me trick-or-treating. Jay stayed home and handed out the candy, and Mom always accompanied me through the neighborhood. When I was in Kindergarten, she had a broken foot, but because I insisted that she come with me, she pulled out her crutches and away we went. Now THAT is dedication! In 1991 we went out in the infamous Halloween blizzard; she kept saying, "I think we should head back" as we trudged through knee-high snow, but we kept going and I had collected so much candy that year that I still had some left over the next Halloween! After trick-or-treating we'd go home and sort through my candy. She would inspect it to make sure some creeper didn't try to sneak a poisonous piece of candy into my bag, and then we would watch It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on TV.

Now I have The Great Pumpkin on DVD and my own daughter to take out trick-or-treating. And I'll continue trick-or-treating with Audrey until she's too old, and I can guarantee you that I'll be thinking of my mom and remembering all of the good times we shared!

Friday, September 28, 2012

...Life isn't fair!

Sooooo, it's been over a year since I started this blog (and made my last post), but I've been busy. In the past year I've: changed jobs, become a licensed CPA, consumed a lot of wine (thanks Wall Street Journal), become a crazy "dance mom", survived another tax season, helped my child through a grueling year of kindergarten, traveled to strange and exotic lands like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico, AND for the past six months or so, I've spent most of my time completely trying to forget that my mom is suffering from a terrible disease. Trying to ignore reality is surprisingly exhausting and a complete waste of time; it's like trying to outrun a rabid dog. Even if you're as fast as Jesse Owens, eventually, you're still going to get bit in the ass!

When I was a kid, I probably used the phrase "That's not fair!" more than anyone I know. And my parents would always fire back with, "Well, life isn't fair!" Lately, I've caught myself saying it more and more frequently. I've been kind of throwing myself one huge pity party for about the past year or so, and I started saying to myself, "It's not fair my mom has this disease. It's not fair I don't get to have a mom anymore. It's not fair Audrey doesn't have Grandparents. It's not fair that I have to do all of the laundry and clean my house. It's not fair that I have to go to work when it's sunny and 75 degrees. It's not fair that I have to get out of bed and take a shower." But that's the crazy reality you create for yourself when you've decided to stop living your life and succumb to the stress and devastation of this disease. I've never been the most optimistic individual, and I've been going through the motions of everyday life without actually living it. Get up. Shower. Go to work. Call mom. Come home. Call mom. Drink wine. Go to bed. Repeat.

Because I live an hour away from my parents, I'm unable to provide very much support for my dad and other family members who are currently caring for my mom, and I feel guilty. Sure I call my mom regularly, but the conversations are usually very short (if she even answers the phone) because she is unable to follow the rhythm of a conversation and her ability to communicate her own thoughts is diminishing. It's hard to watch this happen to someone you love, and sometimes I just have to walk away. Sometimes I have to ignore the phone calls because if I don't talk to her, I can remember her the way she used to be. Running away from uncomfortable situations makes them go away right? WRONG! But that is the approach I've been taking. Just don't deal with it. "I'm sorry, I'm too busy to come and visit." I've tried to stay strong, but lately I've felt a deep sense of loss and profound sadness. The grief is devastating, and unlike normal grieving, this grief process goes on for years and even decades. The loss is sometimes slow and steady, or fast and furious, but one thing remains the same, each day is unpredictable.

I'll try to be more diligent about posting more frequently. I think it will really help me cope. Sometimes I just need a little kick in the butt; thank you to all of my supporters out there!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

...About the beginning.

The story of my family history is long and filled with many many people. When I was a kid, I loved staring at the custom-framed family tree in my grandparent's dining room.  My mom is from a pretty big family.  She is the tenth of eleven children, and youngest girl, born to T.N. (Touey) and Eleanor Andresen.  And this is what I remember most about her childhood.  The abridged version...

My mother, Diane Mary Andresen, was born on May 3, 1959 when my grandmother was 41 years old.  My grandmother was a hardworking lady who, obviously, had a VERY high pain tolerance. My mom always spoke about her mother with great admiration, love, and respect. Grandma was kind of your typical 1940's house-wife, but she also answered phones and was the bookkeeper for my Grandpa's plumbing business. She participated in women's circles, was a devout Catholic, and a public notary. (I know she did much much more, but this is the abridged version remember?)  My Grandpa was also a very hardworking man who ran his own plumbing business, could fix anything, and was a remarkable chess player!  But my mom never spoke very fondly of him and always said she was scared of him.  He was an alcoholic for most of his life, but he quit drinking when my grandmother needed more comprehensive care after years of showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer' Disease.

My mom remembers being about 16 or 17 years old when my grandma's "forgetfulness" became pretty obvious.  It was the mid 1970's, and although Alzheimer's Disease was given its name in the early 1900's, it was relatively new to the public.  There were not a lot of resources available to people effected by the disease, and most people exhibiting signs of dementia up to this point in time were locked away in hospitals, nursing homes, and asylums.  My great-grandmother had been one of those people.  (Did I mention my great-grandmother had the disease too?)  Anyway, so my grandma was about 57 or 58 when she started exhibiting signs of mild to moderate cognitive impairment, and by the time she was about 63, my grandpa had to retire completely to take care of her.  I don't remember much about my grandma, at least, not much about her BEFORE the disease had captured her mind completely.  But I spent a lot of time with her AFTER because my grandpa cared for her at home, with the help of my mom and her sisters, for nearly 20 years after the first symptoms of the disease appeared.  My grandma died in 1998 the day before her 80th birthday, and she spent only about 3 years in a nursing home... I know too much about the later stages of this disease.

Just because I grew up watching this disease claim the life of my mom's hero, does not mean that I am prepared to watch it slowly take away mine.  My mom and I have been through a lot together, and it wasn't until I had my own daughter, nearly 6 years ago, that I truly began to appreciate her.  Over the past year her memory has declined quickly, so I'm going to stop taking her for granted and not waste these last few weeks, months, or years we may have left.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

...I started a blog.

Today I decided to start a blog.  I've been thinking about it for some time now, and today, I finally did it.  After all, this is what my generation does right?  We post our every thought on social media websites and hope that somebody cares enough to comment on our current status. I think, I feel, I am doing (fill in the blank)...  This blog is going to be a lot of the same I'm afraid, but I do have a purpose for starting it...

My mother was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer's disease this winter at the age of 51, and about a month after receiving the diagnosis, we found out that she had breast cancer too.  So this blog is about our journey living/dealing with two very painful diseases.  If nothing else, I hope this blog will give me the outlet I need to express my feelings, but I hope it will help others find comfort and peace as well.