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Happy Birthday Mother

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 1 comment

Happy Birthday Mother

Today would have been my mother’s 97th birthday. I wonder if, in her right mind, she would have wanted to live that long. There have been so many changes in the world. She wouldn’t recognize it. But then, with the last years of her life being seen through Alzheimer’s, she wouldn’t have recognized me. One of the things about today’s world is the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease. There is still no cure. Research continues, and new medications change the outlook, but not the outcome. One thing that remains the same is the toll this disease takes on caregivers. Caring for a loved one, a spouse, a family member, or a friend is difficult at best, heartbreaking at worst. But still, there are moments of humor. I remember laughing with my mother over silly things. It didn’t matter what we laughed at, it was just the idea of hearing her laugh that made life worthwhile. My mother had a good sense of humor. She would have found the humor in some of the things about her life under the influence of Alzheimer’s. She could laugh at herself. But more importantly, we could laugh together. Near the end, when communication is difficult, laughing is a nice relief. I would hope that, with groups like The Alzheimer’s Association, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Foundation, and other charities, a cure will be coming soon. Whenever that happens, my mother will be pleased. Caring for her taught me that I wasn’t alone. I found a caregiver support group. I cannot speak too highly about that group. Some of the lessons I learned within that group will stay with me forever. I learned things that help me in dealing with all people, not just those affected by Alzheimer’s. I have said that I would have my mother back in a heartbeat, but not to the life she had. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s would be a nice birthday gift for her. It will happen someday, but not today. Today is for fond remembrances of my mother. Happy Birthday Mother, missing you daily, loving you...

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Catching Hope

Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

Catching Hope

I have a dream catcher in my office. I love the beauty of it, but I’m not sure of the success rate. I believe in dreams, and encourage others to dream. Sometimes, instead of dreaming just hoping for things is the best I can do. One of the things I hope for is a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. I know that when a cure is found, it won’t affect my mother. I see how far medical science has come. The advancement in the treatment of any number of diseases is impressive. However, if you or someone you love is the one affected, medical science is not moving fast enough. Scientific research dealing with Alzheimer’s is, of course, ongoing. The Alzheimer’s Association website (Alzheimer’s.org) keeps track of new medical testing and clinical trials of new medication. There are now TV commercials in prime time about new medications. But, again, if you are in the middle of it, nothing is moving fast enough. Almost everyone knows someone with cancer or has lost someone to cancer. Alzheimer’s disease is quickly becoming very commonplace. In a recent Ask Amy column, (Los Angeles Times, Friday, March 6, 2015) Amy Dickinson responded to a readers question by saying, in part, “An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s; by midcentury that number is expected to triple.” The number of people with Alzheimer’s is one thing, the number of caregivers is another. The cost of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, either in a facility or at home, with professional caregivers or family and friends, is outrageous. I don’t have the figures, but the financial amount is in the millions. Then there is the emotional toll, on everyone. Everyone that is but perhaps the one who has Alzheimer’s. At a certain point, my mother was not aware of having any medical issues. That was good news for me, she didn’t feel angry at the world, or at me. I know some people with Alzheimer’s who have a great deal of anger directed at anyone or anything. They know something is wrong with them, but haven’t any idea as to what it is. I was very lucky with my mother. She was, most often, very nice. She had her moments of anger, but those passed quickly. She was easy to be around, considering she didn’t always know me, or who I was to her. But those are the moments you have when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. There is no dream catcher that can handle that for you. Right now, the only thing I can do is hope. I hope those dear friends I have that are dealing with a loved one who is suffering can find the strength to go on. I hope, if they need me, I am able of offer what I can, be it time, errand-running, or just an ear to listen. And of course, I hope for a cure. Right now, the world has a lot of ills. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s won’t made the world perfect, but it will be better. I can only...

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Could It Be?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

Could It Be?

I was speaking with an acquaintance the other day and he asked me if I had any family knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease. I said I did, and asked him what his connection with Alzheimer’s was. He said that he had been diagnosed with dementia, but he didn’t have Alzheimer’s. He asked what the difference was between dementia and Alzheimer’s. I replied that I didn’t know but, at some point, the difference doesn’t matter. One of the things I find interesting about this conversation, and similar conversations, is that people want to be clear, they DON’T have Alzheimer’s disease. Is it the word that scares them? Is it the idea that they might have something for which there is no cure? Is dementia an easier word to say, or hear? There is a movie out, starring Julianne Moore, called Still Alice. It is based on a book by Lisa Genova. It deals with a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. On the Alzheimer’s Association website, www.alz.org, I found an article about early-onset Alzheimer’s by Fredrick Kunkle. In the article, he states that “Early-onset Alzheimer’s is the rarest form of the disease.” The article goes on, “Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects about 200,000 Americans who become symptomatic before 65 according to Maria C. Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s association’s chief science officer.” The article also states that “More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, most 65 or older.” The idea of being afflicted by this disease, or any form of dementia, is a frightening thought. However, sometimes simply aging causes forgetfulness. It is not always sign of doom. It is important to be aware of your own personal health, and any health-related issues. As we age, we should all be on a first-name basis with our doctors. Not to be annoying, just to be aware. It is also equally important to keep a watchful eye on aging parents, friends, and relatives. Everyone needs someone who is paying attention, someone who will notice out-of-place behavior, and do something positive about it. Caring for someone in and of itself, doesn’t make you a caregiver, but if that someone has a serious health issue, you could easily become a caregiver. It seems like awareness of any type of Alzheimer’s or dementia is important. With knowledge there is hope. Back to the conversation with my acquaintance. We mentioned how, at this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. There is however, medication that will slow the progression of the disease. Research is continuing all the time, as is fund raising. But there is hope. With more people knowing about Alzheimer’s and the toll it takes on not only the person affected, but their caregivers, be they family or medical personnel, progress will continue. There was no cure for Alzheimer’s disease in my mother’s lifetime. How I wish there had been. But as science and research move forward, there will be a cure. Until that time, we all need to be aware, and to care. There is always...

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Simple Moments

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

Simple Moments

I read the obituary column. Some people may think this is odd. I found my name in there once. It was many years ago, and I was feeling quite well that day. I was shocked and surprised to see MY name listed. The only other thing listed there was the name of the memorial park where services were held. I have been told I am a procrastinator. Well, I’ll think more about that later, but it was a while before I could follow up on my namesake who had passed. By the time I did get to the memorial park, I found that this other Elaine Martin had been cremated and her ashes scattered. That meant there was no stone or marker I could visit to find out more about who she was, how old, place in a family, anything. I recently read the obituary for Lowell Steward, a decorated Tuskegee Airman. A few years ago, I was going on vacation with three friends. We were flying out of Los Angeles International Airport. We were waiting for the elevator to go up to the boarding area when a distinguished African-American man in a wheelchair, with his caregiver, approached the elevator. Being in a “We’re-going-on-vacation” jovial mood, we struck up a conversation with the two men. We learned the gentleman in the wheelchair was a Tuskegee Airman. They were traveling to a reunion ceremony. The elevator ride wasn’t that long, but we had a nice chat. When we all got off the elevator, we thanked him for his service and wished them well. All four of us commented on how neat it had been to speak with a Tuskegee Airman. I had heard of them and all they went through, but to actually meet one, well, we were impressed. There are so many things that pass through our lives. So many things that slip through our hands. Like, perhaps, our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. It is important to learn to be in the moment, to see what is in front of us now. No matter the time of year, people slipping away from us is always difficult. My mother passed just before Thanksgiving, and that holiday has been forever changed for me. However, there is still joy to be found, and shared. We would bring gifts to my mother for Christmas, and watch her joy in opening them. The Assistance League in our area gives gifts to the residents in the facility where my mother was, so she had lots of presents to open. She didn’t remember who gave her what, but in that moment, for that moment, she was happy. If you are a caregiver, take a deep breath and look for the joy in the moment. If you know of a caregiver, who may very well be a little stressed, offer some relief time if possible. There is joy in moments, and moments may be all we have. Hold on to that thought, at least for the...

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Sad Goodbyes

Posted by on Jan 23, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

Sad Goodbyes

I’ve lost two important people in my life recently. Al Martinez died on Monday, January 12, 2015. He had been a columnist for the Los Angeles Times for many years. He wrote several books, and I met him on more than one occasion at his book signings. At that time he also read from his books, and he had such a way with words. In 2012, the Huntington Library had an exhibit titled “Al Martinez: Bard of L.A.” The dictionary defines “bard” as “an exalted national poet.” He was that and more. He was my literary hero. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. He was warm, witty, and very human. He taught writing, and believing I could learn much from him, I gave serious thought to enrolling in his class. It was held in Topanga Canyon, and the time and distance were deciding factors against my pursuing it. I wonder how it would have been. I know I would have had a fear of disappointing him somehow, but the joy of learning from him would have been wonderful. He shared his gift with the world, and, at least in my corner of the world, his death is a great loss. His words live on, in columns I have saved, and in copies of his books that I treasure. Our words stay around, long after we aren’t here to read them to others. Then, on January 18th, I lost a writer friend. Marv Rotor was a fellow member of the Golden Pen Writers Guild. Marv was a retired engineer, and he loved science fiction. I have his book The Three Circle Charm on my bookshelf, and I treasure it, and the memory of him. He was also a member of a barbershop quartet. His group performed at different community functions and sang at local hospitals and convalescent homes. On Valentine’s Day one year, he and his group came to the facility where my mother lived. Marv knew my mother was there, and on one of their songs, Marv sang directly to her. She was thrilled. Marv secured a place in my heart for his kindness and loving nature. Another member of the Golden Pen Writers Guild, Barb Gassner, recently lost her brother-in-law to illness. She wrote something for her sister to help her cope with the loss. This was written for her sister, but it is also for anyone who has lost a loved one. Here, with her permission, is what she wrote:   The Healing Heart   The heart cannot be hurried When healing from a loss – Precious is the timing Of this fine line to cross.     Loved ones are not forgotten They live forever in your heart Recalling memories helps the healing – Each one a smile imparts.   Sadness is your constant comrade – For broken pieces still remain Missing and unfinished – The heart sings a sad refrain.   Day by day you’ll feel a difference As you journey down the road – Honoring life in all its wonder And all the good it has bestowed.   It’s the wonder of tomorrow Bringing hope to you each night Keeping those no longer with you Held within your heart so tight.   No need to hurry in your healing Honoring...

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A Time For Giving

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

A Time For Giving

Giving doesn’t come naturally to some people. Having a generous spirit doesn’t either. I was lucky. Both my parents were givers. They did a lot of community service. Not that community service required by law, but the kind that came from a generous soul. I remember holiday dinners where either one of my parents would invite someone they knew to join us for dinner, someone who would otherwise be alone. My mother used to drive friends to doctor’s appointments, and she was always helping at the church bazaar, in whatever church she belonged to. When she returned to California to live, I went with her to all her doctor appointments. She had a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat. On one appointment with her cardiologist, she asked him if, after she was gone, someone else could use her pacemaker. He assured her that the pacemaker was hers, and hers alone. It was the giving spirit I remember from that particular doctor visit. Even as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed, she still thought of others. Of course, sometimes her thought process didn’t include even herself, but that’s another story. When I was a kid, there was a fire in a school in Chicago, Illinois. I sent a dollar to the fire department in Chicago to help the kids that had been affected by the tragedy. For my efforts, I got a reply from a member of the Chicago Fire Department, thanking me and telling me what a nice thing I did. I still have that letter. I mention this because I’d like to think I learned, from my parents, about giving to others. Of course, years later, I became a caregiver for my mother. That never struck me as something odd to do, it was simply the way life is. I cared for her because she was my mother and I loved her. It isn’t a matter of giving, it is what you do. Caregivers often don’t think what they do is unusual, or out of the ordinary. But caring for someone else is not something everyone can do. I have a dear friend who is a hospice volunteer. I greatly admire that, I’m not sure I could do it. But again it is that giving spirit, that generous soul at work. As we enter into a new year, one of the wishes for myself is to take more opportunities to give to others. I know how to give, I sometimes don’t find the time. But giving is growing, it’s becoming a better person. Giving to others takes you outside of yourself, and into a brighter world. I know that with this new year will come new joy. I also know I will be bringing some of the old sadness with me, especially when it comes to missing my mother. But sadness can be balanced out. There is more joy and love in the world. We simply have to open our hearts, and our minds to it....

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The Gift of Caring

Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

The Gift of Caring

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a Christmas party in my home. The people who attended were long-time friends who gather every year at the holidays. Since this group of special friends falls into a similar age bracket as I do, some of them are dealing with aging parents. Some of those aging parents are dealing with cognitive issues. Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia issues are becoming all too commonplace. But as those issues increase, so do the number on caregivers, many of whom are family members. As anyone who has been there can attest, caregiving takes a toll of the caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association has a Caregiver Stress Check available on their website at Alzheimer’s.org/care. The point is, the caregiver must take care of themselves. I am someone who believes in support groups. I have found a wonderful group and continue to attend the weekly meetings. There are other sources of support: information on line; therapy; sharing the care with other family members, or places that offer day care. What is important for the caregiver is knowing that you are not alone. If you are a caregiver, or know of one, you might be familiar with some of the issues of the care recipient. There are suggested ways of speaking with someone with a form of dementia. Getting them ready for medical appointments can be a real challenge. Then there are meals and other “activities of daily living.” At some point, pretty much anything becomes a possible problem, or at least a challenge. One thing that is important to remember, for the caregiver, is take care of yourself. You will be of no use to the person you are caring for if you are not at the top of your game, or at least close to the top. There is a reason flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask first – before you put an oxygen mask on someone else. Your local senior center might know of someone who will come in for a few hours and stay with your care recipient. If you are in a position to hire some full or part time help, think seriously about doing that. As it was a joy to see old friends at my party, so it is important for the caregiver to maintain friendships. You will find, as a caregiver, some people don’t understand. They don’t seem to understand about caregiving, or why you give up what you do for the person you are caring for. Find people who do understand, people who can support you. In this holiday season, I wish all caregivers time off. I wish them a chance to step away from caregiving, and take some time for themselves. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. It is a gift you give someone you love. But you must remember to love yourself, and to not sacrifice yourself in this...

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Giving Thanks

Posted by on Nov 26, 2014 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

Giving Thanks

It will be Thanksgiving soon, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say “Thank you” to some special people. I want to thank my mother first off. She is no longer here for me to thank in person, but she will always be with me. I began this journey simply as a daughter. Once she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my role changed. She lived in three different care facilities as her illness progressed. I also became more involved in her care. I visited as often as I could, and we had a good relationship. When I first began to deal with her illness, I was lost. I had no idea how to deal with this new world she found herself in. That’s when I found support. I have said that support groups aren’t for everyone. I found one that saved my life, and I believe, contributed to hers. Judy Harris leads a Caregiver Support Group in my area, and I am very grateful for Judy. The people in the group offered strength and support which continues to this day. I would like to thank each and every one of them, for helping me, in their own way. This is not a journey to take alone. I would also like to thank members of my family. Not all of them understood what was happening, but I got support from them anyway. In fact, I probably was one of those who didn’t understand what was happening. I had never dealt with Alzheimer’s, and now it was happening to someone I loved. It was a learning process, and I am still learning. I hope I am learning how to help those just starting their journey, the start is perhaps the hardest part. I have found several people who have dealt with a loved one stricken with Alzheimer’s. Just having someone who has gone through the same thing, or is now going through the same thing, can be life-changing. That may seem like a strong choice of words, but again, if you’ve been there it seems right. I know people have different sources of inner strength. Perhaps it comes from a higher power, or just a strong core. Whatever the source, I am grateful for the strength I found to help my mother. I would like to think I helped her have a better ending to her life. She passed a few days before Thanksgiving. That first Thanksgiving after that was very difficult. It has gotten easier, but her memory remains strong, especially at this time. If you’re dealing with the care of someone with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, I wish you well. I hope you have someone to talk to, someone who supports your decisions and choices. Be it a support group, a spouse or relative, or a dear friend, I hope you know you are not alone. We need to help each other. I also want to thank the readers of this blog. I hope that there is helpful information here for you as you allow me to share my journey with you. My mother helped me, and I will always love her. For that, I am very thankful....

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A Simple Exchange

Posted by on Nov 16, 2014 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

A Simple Exchange

We are approaching that important time of year when gift exchanges happen. I know that gifts are given throughout the year for birthdays, graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and so on. But Christmas gifts are special, and hopefully, so are the people that we give gifts to. We are also approaching the anniversary of my mother’s passing. My thoughts are often with my mother, especially at this time of year. She loved the holidays. In fact, in her mind Christmas was always right around the corner and gifts had to be purchased. Near the end of her life, gifts for her became very practical: new clothes, some flowers to brighten her room, a small blanket to throw over her legs. One of the things I miss most about her was the exchange of memories. Judy Harris, the leader of my support group, has said of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, “You can’t share memories with the people you made them with.” With someone with dementia, most exchanges become one-sided. You are sometimes not even able to share your feelings. I remember on occasion, standing outside my mother’s room, sobbing. But it was important to enter with a smile, not my visible heartbreak. Judy Harris has also said that all grief is connected. You think of someone’s passing and you are reminded of another passing, and another, and so on. It is all connected. But grief also brings up sweet memories too. It is those sweet memories I am trying to focus on. I’ll let you know when that works. I still go through all the memories, good and bad, sweet and not so sweet. But all the memories make up the whole picture, and it is that picture we keep sacred. After a time, the colors of the good memories become brighter and the unpleasant memories fade. We are a product of our upbringing, be it good or bad. We get to a place in our lives where we take responsibility for ourselves. Part of us is also our memories, those things we chose to keep and remember. I will always have memories of my mother. Like the time in New England when she got the car stuck in a snow bank and had to call the volunteer fire department to get the car out. Or the time she and my father gave me the Christmas gift I couldn’t live without – an easel. It should be noted that I really have no artistic talent, but that year, that Christmas, it didn’t matter. I have been able, over the years, to exchange most bad childhood memories for good ones. I hope to, at some point, exchange the unpleasant memories of the last years of her life with good ones. I trust time and the universe to handle that. I also have a wonderful support system. I have, in my corner, those people who allow me to share memories of my mother, good and bad. My mother taught me about giving, and I hope I gave her some happiness and peace. I know I gave her love, and I know she knew that. I know, too, that she gave me love, as best she could, and I wouldn’t exchange that for the...

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I Can’t Reach You Any More

Posted by on Nov 8, 2014 in Too Many Doors | 0 comments

I Can’t Reach You Any More

As my mother progressed in her illness, our conversations became shorter and shorter. I believe she knew I was someone important to her, but she didn’t always know just who I was. One day when I visited her, she complimented my on my manners. I thanked her and said that my mother taught me about manners. She smiled and said “She did a good job.” I knew that for that day, for that visit, she had no idea she was the person who taught me about manners. My mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye. but in the later years of her life, we were very close. I was able to visit her often, and we could always laugh about something. Her sense of humor stayed with her, even though she may not have been sure of the joke. I called her “Mother,” her choice. She disliked the name Mom and so we went from Mommy to Mother. When I would go in her room, I always said “Hi Mother” and she would reply. You could tell however, those days when Mother was just a word to her. Those days when there was no connection to the name, or to me. As I said, I think she knew I was someone important to her, but she didn’t know always that I was one of her daughters. Sometimes I was one of her sisters, she had five of them and even my grandmother got confused about which one was which. Sometimes I felt my mother really couldn’t place me anywhere, but I was a nice person and she seemed to enjoy my company. I always had a connection to her. It was clear on my end, but her confusion was also clear. Sometimes I wanted desperately to talk to my mother, but that was not to be. So I would visit with her, and we would talk about people she had seen recently. Most often, those people were dead, but she enjoyed seeing them, and sharing their news. Once, my mother fell out of bed and broke her wrist. She had to have surgery to repair the break, and I went to visit her in the hospital. Due to the surgery, her medications had been stopped and she was hallucinating. She was staring at the ceiling in her hospital room, and my attempts at conversation fell on deaf ears. She was at a party, and kept greeting guests as they arrived at her home. Finally, I gave up on conversation, and just offered to get the arriving guests drinks. This pleased her, and I could just speak up once in a while as she entertained. Finding a balance in dealing with Alzheimer’s isn’t easy. It requires patience. I will admit to not always having said patience, but I tried. What I never got used to though, was not having my mother to talk to. I managed, and I knew she was doing her best with what she had in her mind. As Judy Harris says about dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s “Grief is your constant companion.” You have to grieve about losing that person you no longer have. Hopefully, the replacement person is someone pleasant and easy to love. I had that. However, you still have to grieve...

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