Category Archives: dementia

If My Mother Was My Boss…

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The holidays had brought forth what felt like the Twelve Days of Mom.

In that approximate time, Mom experienced two ER runs, one in which I drove her, the other in which I didn’t dare. She was diagnosed with three infections, multiple scab wounds, pain and discomfort from shingles, a disease for which most folks are given chicken pox vaccinations, or don’t live long enough to experience the adult onset of chicken pox. And a week of the runs caused another ER run.

And this was AFTER Mom’s trifecta of seizures, soap swallowing and sun exposure earlier in the year. (See soap blog, part 1 and part 2).

By the end of the year, I was tired. I pondered a change.

Back in my corporate days, New Year’s had signaled job change. Or at least, looking for a new one. The rush of the holidays always led to a significant energy drain. Like any good employee, I directly attributed the drain to my job or boss, but never myself.

As 2017 approached, I had found myself in the same mode. Tired. The kind of tiredness that comes from knowing what comes next in my mother’s moment, and also, not knowing.

At month’s end, when I spoke to her house doctor, he flipped through her bulging chart. After five minutes or so, he looked up at me. “She’s one tough lady and you have one tough boss.”

Yes, in what job could I be employed by a boss who forgot all the good years I had put in, for the sake of one awful moment in which I accidentally bumped Mom while trying to hold down her arm so the nurse could get the blood pressure cuff around her triceps long enough for Mom to yell, “Oh, no, oh wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute?”

In what job could I work for a boss who voices a long stretch of No’s when she doesn’t like something? Remember what Ralphie said about his dad in A Christmas Story? “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” If Mom were still in northern Ohio, she would have blanketed all five Great Lakes with her words.

Where else could I find work where I will never get a promotion? In fact, I’m not sure I would want a promotion, because that would mean the woman I worked for is no longer in need of me. In essence, downsizing of the most tragic kind.

Where else could I be chastised by the boss for what I was wearing, as if there was a dress code for visitors at the care home? “What the hell are those things on your feet?” “Umm, boots?”

In what job could I endure my boss’s harassment for which there is no name? Its not ageist, nor sexist. The closest approximation I can come is reverse genetic harassment, in that my boss only harasses those to whom she gave birth to and is directly related.

Where else could I work where there is no strategic planning by the boss? When I plan to visit for the Christmas show, my boss takes a snooze. When I hope to bring the boss home, my boss bawls loudly and sometimes growls.

Where else could I sit at a job, thinking about all the other things I could be doing while my boss is fast asleep, but holding me in place by the death grip? If she couldn’t leave, neither could I.

In the end, the calendar turned over. My tiredness waned.

Lucky for Mom – and me – she was not my boss. But if the years with Mom taught me anything, my most important job was to sit in her quiet space and make room to meet her where she was, ER or not, furniture mover and all, and hope to one day receive a raise in hugs.

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Filed under alzheimer's, arden courts, care partner, dementia, summer, Uncategorized

Writing as Daughters, Healing as Writers

Pauletta Hansel and I sat as facilitators, at the front of the conference room in the Cincinnati’s offices of the Alzheimer’s Association, facing participants for a workshop titled, Writing Our Lives as Caregivers. Both of us were grown daughters of mothers experiencing dementia.

But Pauletta and I had first known each other from a different life. One grounded in writing. I was new to writing then. And new to an organization called Women Writing for (a) Change. I was also new to grief. And single motherhood. And the arts, as my previous training had originated from a technical background and multiple cancer floors.

But I needed something to sink my teeth (or pen into) and found how much I not only relished the writing process, but speaking and sharing with others about writing brought about healing for myself.

It was by some surprise then, that I found myself nominated for the board at WWfaC, with Pauletta at the helm. I was even more surprised that she nominated me as an “energetic volunteer of the arts”, profiled in the newspaper. I felt rewarded, not necessarily for something I did, but for something I felt.

Years later, she and I were grounded by our mothers. But we were still writers. In fact, Pauletta as the Poet Laureate of Cincinnati. And I, a blogger on the topic of dementia, with a few smaller publishing feats under my belt.

In recent years, our individual work had evolved. The work was from us, but not always about us. However, as we began plotting out our circle, Pauletta had suggested we use our own writing as prompts to move participants towards their inside words. I was surprised. I had never used any of my work as a model for others to emulate. But I knew, as a writer, we must know when to show the way.

What was the best way to demonstrate writing about loved ones with dementia, instead of telling them? Yes, showing them.

Thus two of our poems acted as the impetus for many, many words in that workshop. Ironically, my best writing that summer day originated from one of Pauletta’s poems.

In the best of Mom’s moments now, she smiles. A broad, I know you because I have loved you, smile. It is that smile I always carry with me, for those “other” days, of which there are plenty.

I don’t recall her smile so much when I was younger. In the grainy photographs of Mom, images have melted back into the ink. A regular utterance on any family vacation was, “Ette, do you have the camera?” Or “Ette, did you get a picture of that?”

While she demanded my father carry the camera, change the film, and snap the picture, she never wanted to be the subject of his frame. She would duck away from the lens or out of sight.

If she became the subject, her smile often appeared forced, painted on like lipstick. Those were my memories of her in black and white, and Polaroids.

IMG_7217Ironic now, a shift in media has brought more vivid colors, more clarity as I capture her. In tandem, she smiles more. She has let go of a certain consciousness about her appearance – her hair, her nails, her style of dress. Mom’s smile now comes from a place deep within. When she first sees me, she lights up, even if in the next moment, she begins to yell again.

I experience my mother as joyful (not happy, that emotion seems fleeting). Her pudginess gives way to the youthfulness of a four- or five-year-old. This is how and when I remember to love.

As we closed the writing circle that day, more tears had been put to paper and more joy had replaced the tears. The workshop also brought a demand for more workshops like it.

In the interim, each participant was asked to contribute two lines to a group poem. Gifted with an ability to see patterns in others’ words, Pauletta crafted this touching group poem.

For As Long As We Can: Writing our Lives as Caregivers

There is much more hurting than healing
in our lives right now.
An incredible sadness.
Robbed of all this time,
many years, with my mother.
I let go of the colorful gal I once knew;
now her words cut through me like a machete,
leave a hemorrhage like no other.
All this before I even sit down.

I want so desperately to believe
God has a miracle for my dad,
for my beautiful Gina, in beautiful Bermuda—
how I would love to take her again,
away from the tiny world she knows
—and the bitterness of that impossibility.

I hold to every word, to every syllable,
to every streak of black
remaining in Mom’s soft white hair.
I know I am still her baby girl.
I cling to my old memories.
I don’t want it to change, but it does.

But then, a conversation—mother and daughter.
Mom hunched her shoulders
and walked in a silly way, making me laugh.
She doesn’t need that jacket on,
but she’ll wear it anyway,
singing “76 Trombones” and I join in.
It takes her a moment to connect
my place in her room
with my place in her life.
I know she is in there.
She looked in my eyes; I let her love me.
Mom was back,
but not for long.

The touch of your hand—unnerving,
unbounded by time.
At Mirror Lake in Eden Park
the air had cleared,
the colors of sunset filled the western sky.
Tiny blue gills swirled alone in lazy Van Gogh circles.
Heads together, giggling like conspirators
and wishing for more.
I am still comforted by your touch.

Moments—come and gone—
that would not have been
had we not been present.
Engulfing moments unborn, unknown by us.
A salve to put on the wounds part—
the baggage of the day
and my beat-up body,
the parts that broke,
under the pressure of loneliness.
I breathe deep until the next time;
I sink into the car
and think about doing it again tomorrow.

The contrast—the leaving,
the spent memories so different,
so contrary, so final.
Or maybe not final,
maybe this too will change.
I hold her strength, yet I cannot find her.
The joy we had, the hope
and promise of things to come.
I want to believe.
I cling to these prayerful words:
Relax, you are safe.
I will be here for you—not forever,
but for as long as I can.

I have high hopes the Alzheimer’s Association, and other organizations, will continue to sponsor similar programs that use writing as a tool to mend. As a society, we don’t need more pills, just a few more pens and poets who can lead the way through the heart, even if the mind has already let go.

I can’t speak for Pauletta, but in that workshop, we sent the participants off on their day not as spouses, or siblings, or adult children. Not even as caregivers. We sent them off as writers, in hopes they could mine with their words what the mind could not grasp.

Send an email to Annette Januzzi Wick for more information on writing workshops for caregivers, individuals experiencing dementia and other related topics. Information on her upcoming workshop held in September – From Moments to Memories can be found at Women Writing for a Change.

Visit Pauletta Hansel for more information on Cincinnati’s 2016 Poet Laureate.

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Filed under alzheimer's, dementia, healing, Uncategorized, writing

Still Saving Seats in Old Age

FullSizeRender-28Big, burly Jack moved closer to the adjacent chair.  Jack was saving that seat in the activities’ room for Emma. But Emma was already gone.

With youthful-bobbed white hair, Emma had been a resident at Mom’s care home. Always upbeat, Emma never stopped smiling, could still stroll the path at the former Blue Ash airport, and waxed poetically about times when she was little.

Emma’s husband had passed away, prior to her entering Arden Courts. Rumor was, Emma also had a boyfriend named “Jack” before her family had admitted her to the care home. When Emma arrived at Arden, she was soon found seated in the westside parlor with another resident, Big Jack. The two could be seen finding humor in themselves (see Vignettes from a Care Home), gazing out the window, or interacting with visitors and staff.

The parlor faced the secure door. Oftentimes, upon my entry, I gravitated towards Emma and Jack first, before seeing my Mom, and offered a hug, a laugh, a where have you been sort of joke to turn the tables on their lives and mine. Their presence, an unusual lightness in their togetherness as Jack was always seated on the chair and Emma on the love seat, lifted and warmed me before I would learn what condition or mood I might find Mom in for the day.

It was as if the two had already shared lifetime together.

Both residents possessed moderate cognitive impairment. For caregivers and staff, who care for more difficult cases and love each person for who they are, residents like Emma and Jack were subtle reminders of the lives residents used to lead, the persons they used to be before they slipped out of those skins. Emma and Jack were also tokens of how sneaky and impactful love can be.

Their joy in each other’s company was evident, palpable, such that I often sat with Mom in their company to relish in that bliss. Theirs was the purest form of love.

Emma had found joy in someone who she didn’t know where he had worked. Jack had discovered delight without knowing how many children Emma had birthed. Neither had known where the other one lived or was born or what was important to them, though I suspect some topics might have risen to the surface and then soon were let go. The only thing each of them remembered was love.

One morning, I arrived to learn Emma’s son had moved her to another care home. That event occurred often, when the money ran out, when the siblings fought, when the individual progressed into a new phase of the disease.

There was never a guarantee that the first place or the best place would be the last place.

Now, I see Jack sitting behind his walker in his usual chair near the exit door, as if ready to depart. The caregivers informed me he is still saving a seat for Emma, yet his disposition is as corny as ever. “Dad” jokes come to mind. Jack still returns hugs when I offer my arms. When I say, “I’m off to go see my mom,” Jack responds, “Tell her I said hello, would ya?”

As for Emma, love had left her time and again. But she didn’t act like a person who would ever lose the capacity to love. Emma will offer and find love at her next place, of that I am certain.

Perhaps Emma’s time with the residents was to give just that, the ability to love again.

And the empty seat next to Jack? The ratio of women to men in memory care centers is 3:1. Sadly, plenty of women will arrive to take Emma’s place. But I hope Jack stands (or sits) his ground, and doesn’t relinquish that chair, as a reminder of how fleeting and precarious unions can be, and yet still be profound.

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Filed under alois alzheimer center, alzheimer's, arden courts, best place, dementia, dementia in men, mom, Uncategorized