Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blog 60: Another Year Older

Today is my mom’s birthday and she turned 77 years old.  I don’t think she understands that, at least that’s how she seemed when I talked to her on the phone. There was no excitement, or even any complaints about being another year older.   It was like this was just an ordinary day for her, full of confusion and sadness.  But it was a special day for me.  She doesn't have the memories that I have of her past birthdays.  There were many good ones.

She’s getting up there in years but she is still young by many people’s standards.  It’s all relative to how healthy and active you are I guess, and since she is sick, she is far from young.  I know from volunteering in a nursing home that even people in their 50’s can be ‘old’, and then I see 70 year olds in the gym who are anything but old.  

When I called for Mom one of the caregivers at the group home helped guide Mom with the phone since she doesn’t have good phone skills anymore.  The same lady answers whenever I call.  She doesn’t speak very good English, but she understands that I want to talk to my mom, and she is very good about helping her with the phone.  I don't know what she does, but I imagine her standing close by, just observing and making sure Mom keeps the phone in her hands. 

Mom knew who I was as soon as she heard my voice.   That is always a relief to me.  Hearing her say my name always melts my heart.  At least she still knows my name, even though she can’t seem to remember anything else about me.   I don't even know if she knows who I am, but the voice recognition seems to help her.  

I told my mom I love her at least a dozen times during our 15 minute conversation…if you can call it a conversation.  It was more one-sided, but that’s just the way it is now.   Out of the many times of saying I love you, Mom said it back to me twice.  I hold on to those words from her and that gets me through to the next time I get to talk to her.  Her voice was so pure, so soft, and so quiet.  As much as she has changed, her voice is still the same, even though it is weaker and quieter.    

Mom used to like to spell words and she was so good at it up until some time in the past year, when those skills seem to have vanished.  Now she doesn’t spell anything.  She doesn’t even understand the question when I ask her if she wants to spell something. 

I sang Happy Birthday to her but she didn’t really seem like she even knew why I was doing it.  I made small talk with her but most of the time it was me asking her questions and her not answering me back.  Many times I had to repeat myself after asking her if she could hear me.  Her hearing seems to be a lot worse.  Mom sounded very tired and weak, like she was ready to fall asleep, even though she had already had her morning nap.  

I kept having to ask her if she was there because she was so quiet.  I bet I said 'Mom' a hundred times.  I said ‘Mom’ because I was continually asking her if she was still there.  I said ‘Mom’ because I know the day will come that I won’t get to say ‘Mom’ to her because she won’t be here anymore, and I like saying 'Mom' because it's more than a word or a name, it's an emotion.  Call me weird, but that's how I feel.  She would quietly and weakly say, “what”, like she didn't even hear what I said, so I would tell her I love her again.   I wanted to make sure if I said I love you enough times, she would hear it and remember.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blog 59: 212% Reduced Risk of Getting Alzheimer's/Dementia?

Since I have the misfortune of having both of my parents fall victim to a brain disease, I have been doing everything I can to try to prevent this from happening to me.   Ever since my dad’s diagnosis of LBD, I have pretty much been doing research into what measures I can take, and my family can take, to try to delay or even prevent this disease from happening to us.  Then when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, I really became concerned, and decided that whatever I was doing before, I needed to step up my game and do even more. 
When doing research, it seems the more I read, the more educated I become, and the more I think about it, and the more I do something about it.  Some of my research concerns me, but then I will also read articles that actually ease my mind.  There can be a hereditary factor, but many times that is not the case.  Often people will get it when there is no family history.  Early-onset dementia is more of a concern as far as the hereditary factor, and that is not the case in my family.  Mostly, I will put the fear out of my mind and not think about it so much…that is, until another article pops up, or I read a blog, or something brings it to my attention again.
I don’t want to get into specifics or quote word for word on what I’ve found through reading a library full of articles, but I will say this.  There’s some pretty good indications that exercising your brain by learning new skills, playing a musical instrument, playing word and board games, reading, writing, and being socially active, etc., can cut your risk of developing dementia by 47%; aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week can lower your risk by 40%; consuming 3-5 cups of coffee a day can reduce risk by 65%; eating fish high in Omega-3’s once a week can reduce risk by 60%; Vitamins C, E, and B-12 can have protective measures against dementia; and since I have high blood pressure (which sucks), I’ve learned that certain blood pressure medications can have a profound effect on delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia (which is good);  also, red wine and dark chocolate can reduce the risk, and that’s awesome for me because I love both; and of course, eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables has shown a significant impact in reducing dementia risk.   
Much has been said about the benefits of organic extra-virgin coconut oil, and I have recently introduced that to my diet.  It has a lot of benefits for the brain, and I love the taste of coconut so how can I go wrong with that?  I have cut way back on sugar and no longer consume anything with aspartame.  It's so bad for you! My new soda of choice is Zevia, which is made with stevia, a natural sweetener.  I bought a Nutribullet, and have been making nutritious antioxidant drinks everyday.  I have a plan for my health and I’m sticking with it. 
I do all of the things listed above because I want to be healthy and be around for a long time.  I am active, I hike regularly, I work out at the gym and do zumba dancing, I have great friends who make me laugh and are fun to be around, my three kids are great and very supportive of me, I volunteer a couple of times a week, I travel, which is something I love to do, I spend time with my little grandchildren who make me feel so special and loved, and I have eliminated the drama in my life, so I have a lot less stress.  I am working on starting a new project and I will tell you all about that at a later time.  It gives me something to look forward to.  The only thing I am missing is my relationship with some of my sisters, and of course, the reality of what is happening to my mom is always on my mind.  I will talk more about what is going on with all of that in an upcoming post.  At least for the time being, I am keeping my chin up and trying to be as positive and hopeful as I can.  I am in a pretty good place right now.  
For those who say ‘phooey’, nothing can stop Alzheimer’s or dementia, I say this… if what I am doing has the possibility of delaying or preventing it, I’m going to do it!  Anyone who is in my shoes would say and do the same thing.
Here’s my conclusion:  I added up all of those percentages above and it puts me at 212% reduced risk of getting Alzheimer's or dementia.  Cool!  True or not, that’s what I’m going with, because it sure beats the alternative. J

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blog 58: My Dad

I haven’t said much about my dad on this blog but I wanted to make this post about him because he was a very special person in my life.  He was my dad, and I loved him very much.

I don’t remember Dad being around much when we were little.   He worked for the government and was retired from the Army.   He was gone in the evenings a lot, and when he was home, he didn’t play with us, as far as I can remember. 

One early memory I have is when I was about six years old.  I went to my friend’s house a couple of houses away to ask her if she could come out and play.  Her dad came to the door and started yelling at me for no reason at all.  I quickly turned around and started running down the sidewalk as he came chasing after me.  My dad was in our front yard and he ran to my rescue.  He got up in the guy’s face and yelled at him, and I peed my pants before I reached the safety of my mom’s arms.  She whisked me into the house and changed my clothes.  I never did learn what that was all about.  My parents didn’t know why that man did that either.

Some of the other memories I have of my dad, when he and my mom were married, are not very good.  He was often grouchy.  Dad was very strict with us girls and we were afraid of getting spanked by him.  The thing is, we were pretty well-behaved kids, we were just kids, and sometimes we would do something he didn’t like and then we’d get it.  Many times if one sister got in trouble, we all got spankings.  We’d have to line up, oldest to youngest, or the other way around, and lay over Dad’s knee for a few swats to the rear end.   I don’t know which was worse, watching all of my sisters scream and cry before me, or being the first, when his hand was the strongest.  I do remember one or two times that he would start laughing…laughing at our kicking legs, our scared faces, us holding our rear ends in preparation for or after the spanking, or laughing at the fact that he couldn’t believe he was doing that, who knows.   

We always sat at the table for meals and we had to eat everything on our plates.  If I didn’t like something, Dad would cut a hunk of fat and put it on my plate and tell me to eat that instead.  There were times I sat at the table for hours, my sisters too.  I learned a few tricks of hiding my vegetables under the chicken skin or under my plate.  If Dad was engrossed in a television program he didn’t inspect my plate and I could get away with it.   I think sometimes my mom would grab the plate and let me get up.   

Dad wasn’t one of those dads that would hold us in his lap and make us feel safe, loved and protected.  None of us would say that we were Daddy’s girl.  I do have one or two pictures of me in Dad’s lap when I was a baby but I don’t remember that.  He did look lovingly at me in those photos and that makes me feel good.  I look at my son and my son-in-law and I see how wonderful they are with their kids, so engaging and playful, and so loving and protective, and how much my grandchildren love to sit on their daddy’s laps. 

The only time I recall sitting in my dad’s lap was after he slapped me across the face and left his hand print because I didn’t know how to light the stove to heat up my sister’s bottle when mom wasn’t home.  Renee was a little baby and she was crying loudly for her bottle.  I was eight years old and didn’t know how to strike a match and start the gas on the stove to light it.   I was scared to death of it, but I tried because I was more scared of my dad.   Dad came in the house from working in the garden and yelled at me because I couldn’t get the job done and his hand came across my face like a lightening bolt.  I remember he held me in the chair after he calmed down and realized what he had done and rubbed my face and kissed my hair and said he was so sorry.  I think he cried but I can’t remember because I was in shock.  My face stung, my eyes stung from crying, and my heart hurt, badly.  It didn’t feel good to be in his lap.  I can never recall that memory without crying.  It was one of the most hurtful times of my childhood.   I wore his handprint on my cheek for the next several days.  That’s why I was afraid of my dad. 

Mom and Dad divorced when I was around eleven or twelve years old.  Mom never talked badly about him, she just said they divorced because he liked to bowl too much.   There was a woman in Dad’s life soon after and we found out years later that she was the reason for the divorce.  Even though Dad wasn’t around much and he was strict, I didn’t want him to leave.  I went through a couple of tough years and my mom even brought me in for counseling.  I used to pretend to my friends that my dad still lived with us.  I used to beg Mom to ask him to come back.  But Dad wasn’t coming back.  While he was on his third tour of duty in Vietnam, he married a Vietnamese woman.  He went on to have two more children, a girl, and finally, a boy.  They were raised differently.  He mellowed out and didn’t spank them.  In fact, he was very lenient with them.  I think he wanted to make up for the way he was with his first five daughters.  

Dad used to pick us up and take us to church on Sundays and then bring us over to our grandmother's house.  He'd sit and watch football and have us all take turns combing his hair.  We'd sometimes play croquet in the backyard and go to Sandy's for lunch.   We didn't really enjoy being there.  His mom, our grandmother, was strict.  She was the opposite of our mom's mom (Grandma), who was very loving and kind.  Though I did love my grandmother, too.   I accepted her the way she was.  

My sister Lynda and I went to live with our dad in Germany, when we were in high school.   My mom thought it’d be a good experience for us and we were only there for a year.  It was then that he had his first daughter with his Vietnamese wife.  Dad was strict with us over there, too.  But the day we left Germany, when it was time to board our flight, Dad grabbed each of us and embraced us in a big bear hug and cried like a baby.  I didn't think he was so sad to see us go, until that happened.  I remember boarding the plane and feeling so sad for Dad.  That was the first time I saw my dad cry.  It was to be the first of many tears.  

After that, as the years went on we didn’t really spend much time together, and he seemed to change in those years.  Dad transformed into a different person, with a soft heart and a gentleness about him.  I think of that song, “The Cat’s In The Cradle,” because that’s kind of the way it was.  He wasn’t around for us when we were growing up and he had time for us now, but we were busy with our families, our kids, and had moved on in our lives without him being a big part of it.

Dad would call and we’d get together on occasion.  We would go bowling and out for pizza, or play croquet in our Grandmother’s backyard.  Sometimes we’d all get together at one of our homes.  He loved fireworks on the 4h of July and would have big cookouts at his house.  I always think of him on the 4th of July.  My sisters and I would joke with him about how he made us eat everything, and we would all laugh about it.   We always talked about our childhood, but always in a light kind of way.  He often cried.  He regretted so much about how he was back then, and the divorce from our mom, that it got to the point where I couldn’t stand to see the pain in his face.  I told Dad that I forgave him and I reassured him that I love him so very much.  It just killed me to see him cry because I know that as bad as I felt about that slap across the face, he felt a million times worse, and I didn’t want him to live the rest of his life with that kind of suffering and regret. I’m so glad I told him I forgave him, and even though I don’t know how much better it made him feel, it really helped me to let go of a lot of the pain I had been carrying.

We had a much better relationship as I got older, and he got older.  I know there were many years of my young adult life that I felt a little jealous of my half sister and brother.  Dad was more loving to them, more involved with them, at least it seemed that way.   They got birthday and Christmas presents and we didn’t.   They weren’t afraid of him like we were.  They had the best years with him. 

Dad would call my sisters and me and want us to go to the family reunions.  He loved those reunions and he would say he wants to show off his daughters.  There were many times I didn’t go because I got busy with my kids, and life in general.  But the times I did go, I really enjoyed it.   Dad made it so obvious to us, and to our relatives, that he was proud of his daughters.  Dad was so happy at the reunions.  He was really a family oriented person, I just didn’t realize it when I was little.  I think the stresses of marrying so young, having five children in a relatively short period of time, was just something he wasn’t ready for and didn't take responsibility for.

My dad was an adventurous person.  He loved traveling and collecting things in his travels.  He read books and was knowledgeable about world affairs and subjects that interested him.  The Cubs and the Bears were his favorite teams.  Someone beating him in trivia?  Forget it.  He was a people person, and loved being with and talking to others.  He was always up for something to do, even when he became ill, he was always willing to get into the car and go somewhere.  He embraced life...he loved life!

Around 2000, we realized something was wrong with our dad.  It turns out he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Disease.  What in the world was Lewy Body, we thought, and how in the world did he get it?  Back then, even some of the health care professionals didn’t know what it was.  It was certainly something new to me.  My sister Lynda and I would go with our half sister to all of Dad’s neurological appointments.  Dad was getting worse.  It broke my heart!  Just when we were getting close and mending our past hurts, he was slipping away from us.  I spent as much time with him as I could.  Lynda did, too.  My other sisters didn’t seem to be as close to him then, but they really didn’t have many memories since Dad moved out when they were so young. 

I made sure my dad knew how much I loved him, and I forgave him.  I wanted him to forgive me too, for not being a bigger part of his life when I was a young adult.  I was hurting so bad to see him suffer.  Was this something that could have been prevented?  Why did he get this disease?  I didn’t understand.  I only saw a good man in front of me.  My dad, my wonderful, amazing, loving dad, was all I saw.  My only dad I would ever have. 

Dad went to a nursing home towards the end.  I put up a small Christmas tree for him.  He still knew me, but he became so weak with pneumonia at the very end that he just layed in his bed with a stare.  I whispered in his ear and I said, “Dad, it’s ok to go.  Don’t be scared.  Go on to Heaven, Dad.  We’ll be together again someday.”  In the middle of that night he was transported to the hospital and the next day he died.  That was December 12, 2005.  All of my dad’s kids were there except for Renee, who lived out of state, Dad’s brothers and his wife, and his ex-wife (my mom), were there when Dad took his final breath.   My brother said a prayer and a preacher came in and prayed, and the nurse administered morphine and pulled the oxygen mask.  Then he was gone. 

I sat with Dad after he passed and talked to him, but I don’t remember the words I spoke.  We would all go to the hallway and sit on the floor and then return to his room one by one to say what we wanted to say.  It was so hard to have him gone, even though his suffering was now over.  There was no more opportunity to learn more from him, to make up for lost time, to hear his voice and his laugh…and to go to family reunions with him.

I know my dad is in Heaven.  He turned his life over to Christ years before he became ill.  He was a changed man, and I’m proud to call him my dad.   I loved him with all the love a daughter can have for her dad, and I miss him so much.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Blog 57: Memories of Nana

About seven years ago all of us girls wrote down our own special memories of our mom, and our children wrote of their wonderful memories of their nana.   We gathered these writings and put them in a book to give to Mom on her birthday.   This was years before Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.   

"When you look into your mother's eyes, you know that is the purest love you can find on this earth."  Mitch Albom 

Mom's 77th birthday is approaching at the end of this month, and I searched my file cabinet to find copies of the letters, because I remembered that time and how special it was.  The ones who could be there, gathered around and laughed and cried as we read our letters to Mom.  

The following were written by my three children... 

From Denise…

“I have many fond memories with Nana.  Some of my best memories come from the times when Nicole and I used to spend the night at her house.  Nana was always so good to us.  I can remember countless times when she’d drive us to go ice-skating or go to the movies, etc.  Oh, and I can’t leave out the yard sales!  We’d drive around for hours going to yard sales.  My items of choice were usually baby clothes that I’d use for my dolls.  And Nana’s negotiation skills were impeccable.  Seems like it didn’t matter if the item was marked $15, if Nana wanted it she’d leave having only spent a nickel.  Remarkable.  And other times we wouldn’t really do anything at all.  We’d just sit at the table and eat macaroni and cheese and talk.  I hope that Nana knows how grateful I am for all that she did for me and Nicole.  I’m sure we could be a handful at times, but we really enjoyed the time we spent not only with each other, but also with her.  Thank you, Nana.  I love you!”

From John…

“Nana is the best Nana anyone could ever ask for.  So many times I sit in my California home and reminisce about all the great times I’ve had hanging out with her, all the while remembering the little things I’ve learned in life by following her lead.   Little things such as the fact that I always have a refrigerator stocked with Coke to offer guests, and the reason I don’t walk around my house eating a sandwich without a plate (we all know how she is about crumbs).  She’s also the reason I blame the squeaks in the floor when I pick up any of those hard-to-find crumbs that slip off the plate and I accidentally toot.  Maybe I should learn to follow her lead a bit more so the next time I’m over at her house I don’t hit my head on the ceiling when I walk down the stairs.  But most of all I think about how she loved to be around the grandchildren; willing to take on me, Brooke, Rose and Michael all at once.  Babysitting Denise and Nicole had to be the biggest handful but I never remember Nana complaining one bit, never yelled at me for a single thing, even if it was completely obvious I was the one who made the mess in the basement.

If you all are wondering why in the world I would leave the great state of Iowa and move to California, blame Nana.  The main reason I moved out here was to get Nana an autograph of one of those ice skaters that she loves so dearly.  Which one was it?  Anyway, I’ll find that person and my duty out here will be complete.  And I’ll be sure to tell Tom Cruise to get a life.  I miss you Nana.  I love you soooo much and my plane rides home are actually enjoyable because not only will I get to see my parents and sisters, but I also get to hang out with you and talk to you as if you’re one of my boys.  I could write so much more about what you have meant to me but Kristi Yamaguchi is paging me and wants to know who the heck Nana is?!?  Take care and I love you lots!”

From Rose...

"So here I am, at my desk, beginning to write my contribution to a book of combined memories of my Nana. 

This will be easy, I thought to myself, when I was asked to come up with one of the fondest memories I have of my grandma.  Quite the opposite of my assumption, I have come to realize how much I was mistaken.  What if I have too many good memories to choose from?  Well, my Nana has provided me with 28 years of memories.

One of my biggest memories of Nana is when I was able to sleep over night at her house.  Usually I stayed the night with Brooke since the two of us always asked to stay over night together.  Brooke and I would typically stay up late in the living room before retiring to bed upstairs for the night.  Nana would always let us stay up later than I could at home so it was quite the treat.  Poor Nana was victim to many dance routines, singing ensembles, and plays since Brooke and I took great pleasure in performing things for anyone who would watch our final routine.  So one day she decided to take us to the mall for a video recording of us singing and performing the song of our choice.  I was extremely nervous to perform in a booth in front of strangers, and on camera.  Brooke and I had to sing first then dance to our recorded voices while pretending to sing.  To make things even more nerve racking, they displayed your performance to people walking by in the mall.  Bless Nana’s heart, she convinced us to do it and told us we were excellent performers.  So we did a routine to Madonna’s song (of course) Material World.  It was so much fun and it turned out to be the perfect gift for our mom’s on Christmas.  I will never forget how much fun I had on that day.

I cannot end with just the one story so I will have to briefly mention a few more memories.  I have to smile when I think back to how important I felt playing ‘Here Comes The Bride” on my tiny little organ when Nana and Grandpa Bill got married.  I had letters taped to my keyboard to help me play the song.  I felt so grown up that day.

Nana carried on her tradition of allowing the grandkids to order two things at a fast food place, just like she did with my mom and aunts.  One time she took a few of us to McDonald’s while we were having a yard sale at my house.  I ordered French fries and a shake for my two things.  I came home and threw up whole French fries while Nana and my mom took turns rubbing my back.  Nana joked and asked if I even chewed the fries before I swallowed.

I should probably write my own book of memories with Nana since I have so many more I would like to share.  Nana has been the closest grandparent that I have had.  She has played a huge role in my life and I look forward to many memories to come."


My mom's family was more important to her than anything else in this world.  It's clear that my mom's legacy of love will live on and on, and she will always lovingly be remembered, and never, ever forgotten.