Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It's Going to be Ok

It's been a very long time since I have written because sometimes life just gets in the way.  I guess this is a catch 22 since I started this blog to help me with the stress of my everyday life, but it seems that stress has been keeping me from writing when writing would have been helping.

The past two months have been rough.  Between work stresses and life stresses, it's been crazy. Recently our family lost a very important person, my dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Barbara. My dad's two sisters have been the glue that held me together since my mom was diagnosed with AD. After losing Aunt Karen two 1/2 years ago, now losing my Aunt Barbara, I feel the strongest Hogan family connections are gone.  I want so much to pick up the phone and call her, but all I can do is talk to her in my head.  It makes me happy at these times to know that my mom has no idea what is going on.  She would be so hurt and upset to know that her sister in law passed away.

To the outside world, losing my aunt seems to be just what happens when people get older.  It didn't matter that she lived in PA.  It didn't matter that she just turned 85.  My aunts both seemed to fill that void in my heart when my mom stopped knowing me. It's a hard thing to describe to anyone who has not been through it. When your own mom doesn't know who you are, it's like getting punched in the stomach.  The feeling makes you want to double over and cry.

This past week when I went to visit my mom, she greeted me with the biggest smile I have ever seen in perhaps years.  She was silly and giggling as she played with blocks.  She must have remembered I liked the color blue because she handed me a blue block and told me it was for me and it was blue! then she laughed and laughed. It's hard to remember a time when she and I laughed so much.  I would bet it has been years....many years before her disease at least.  How ironic that right when I was feeling at my lowest and saddest point, knowing that as I looked at her, she would be missing my aunt if she knew had passed away, she comforted me!  My mom comforted me by making me laugh.

My mom seems happy and content now.  She's in a place in her disease where she doesn't seen to be 'lost' and sad. While I wish that she didn't have this horrible disease, I can at least feel grateful she seems to be ok.

The smile on my mom's face tell me that everything will be ok.  I will be ok.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Finding Joy in the Journey Turns into Gratitude

I tend to read a lot of knitting or happy living blogs.  Last year I read a few where the tendency was to adopt a motto or a mantra for the year with each year being different.  For 2017 I adopted the mantra, "Find Joy in the Journey".  I tried to enjoy every second and I took a million pictures of real life moments.  I didn't stage them and I didn't edit them. I made Facebook Albums with them and shared them so family could see them but mostly so I could go back and look at them.  There were a few pictures with my mom but not as many as there should have been.  This coming year I will take more with my mom when I visit her.  I am thinking of making an album of just the visits when I visit her and try to take selfies of the two of us!  Here's a start from my mom's family Christmas party at her facility on 12/02/17!  She was confused by the phone and what I was doing with the camera on the phone.
This was also the first time that I got to see her in her new chair that she seems to really like.  I was both happy and sad. It was sad to see her in this new chair because it means another transition deeper into this terrible disease.  However, I am happy because she seems to be doing much better since she received this chair.  She is even eating more again.  There is still no rhyme or reason to how she will respond when I visit her.  There never will be.  For now, I am just finding joy whenever I can visit with her and finding gratitude for everyone who takes care of her.  She is after all my mom and I love her and want her to be happy and safe.  I also can't thank her enough for everything she has done for me. At the same time, I know she wants me to be happy and safe too and she thanks me for all I am doing for her.
I have chosen Gratitude for 2018 for many reasons.  This past year, I spent many times both sad and angry with the fact that I am now her sole connection with her past.  No one visits her but me and at first I found that difficult.  I was also angry many days when I realized that I am the only one who goes to see my mom. There are still a few people who will ask me about her but not many. After all, there isn't much to say.  It isn't like she just needs time to get well from what she has....she isn't going to get better.  It's a tough thing when someone says, "How is your mom?".  As long as she is taken care of, then she is good or as good as she can be. 

I am learning myself that there isn't an easy answer for that question so maybe it is hard to ask. I debated on even writing about it at all because I do not want to hurt any feelings.  However, I started this blog to be real, to be honest, to help anyone else going through this, and to help heal myself for how much this hurts to go through.  I have come to the realization that she would want everyone to remember her as she was, not as she is now.  Everyone deals with things in different ways. The memories that she has left in her families hearts will definitely remain etched  there without her family having to see her slipping away.  

When searching for my mantra for 2018, I discovered Gratitude was perfect because it covers the past, today, and the future.  It made me realize that I am thankful for the fact that my mom's grandchildren will always remember their "Ma" as she was and not as she is now.  Her "son in law" will remember her as she was and not as she is now. The extended family will also remember her as she was and not as she is now.  And with gratitude I can say that I am ok with all of this. 

Life is a journey and everyone needs to find their joy without forgetting to be grateful for everything.  The message on this sign my daughter took a picture of a few weeks ago has resonated with me.  What a perfect end for this year of joy as I move into gratitude.  Good things happen.  Love is real. We will be okay. 

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thankful For Small Moments

It's been a rough fall this year with many new demands at school.  Not only has it been taking so much of my time to accomplish so little with my students but it has taken away from spending quantity time with my loved ones.  I've begun to set the retirement clock in my head and am actually wondering if I can hang on until my goal date.  Truth be told, I love teaching and I love working with my students.  I consider my students my own children for the year.  However, this year, the joy that I once felt seems to be gone.  Too many demands on teachers' time that have nothing to do with actually teaching.  These demands are more hoops for us to jump through because someone is saying jump!  They do not make me a better teacher, nor do they help my students.

One thing that I can be though is a good daughter to my mom.  Three weeks ago, we were blessed with the most exciting news parents can receive.  Our oldest son asked his girlfriend of six years to marry him.   It made my heart so happy.  We think she is wonderful for him and we love her already as our own.  I took this exciting news with me to visit my mom.  I shared it with the nurses and the aides.  I wanted to tell everyone I saw.

As I sat down with my mom, I knew I was going to tell her.  However, I never expected her to actually have a small conversation with me about it.  Her words were few but they definitely meant she understood.....at least for that moment!  She put her head on my forehead and smiled.  She also let me put my head on her shoulder.  I took a short video of us and I will treasure it for the rest of my days....

There are days when she doesn't want me to touch her or hug her.  This was a good day where she welcomed my hugs and she actually seemed to 'mother' me back!  I will take any moment I can with my mom.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Two Posts in October is Sad but the Story of my Chaotic Life Right Now

I bought a pomegranate.  Yes, I bought a pomegranate.  I was in the store and walked by the display.  My first thoughts were of my mom.  My mom would always buy me a pomegranate.  When I was a little girl, spending money on one was a very big deal. Long before they were considered healthy, they were a huge treat for me.  I would spend hours pulling it apart to suck on the little seeds inside.  Everything I touched would turn red!  I bought a pomegranate because my mother can no longer buy one for me!

The month of October was not a great month for me.  Between dealing with a questionable rash my mom developed  and ultimately a change of doctors for her, I also had to deal with added stresses at work causing a tremendous amount of changes.

Ironically I do not like change.  However, my mom has been changing before my eyes every day I visit.  Gone is the vibrant, smiling, dancing, woman I called my mom. Every once in a while she will give me a smile but it is like with a baby.  I don't know if she is smiling at me, because of me, or smiling due to other reasons.

November is now upon us and winter is around the corner.  Pomegranates are in season.  Just looking at my pomegranate brings back all of my wonderful memories of my mom buying them for me.  How lucky was I that my mom would spend so much money on one for me every November.

I bought a pomegranate.  I am not sure if I will cut it and eat it. I might just look at it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

58 Years Ago

My mom and dad on their Wedding Day 10/24/1959
My original post had the wrong date!  My mom got married in 1959, not 1958! Silly me! I blame it on stress!

For weeks I planned to write a wonderful piece about my mom and dad on their wedding day. Due to the fact that I have to work and right now work is unbelievably stressful and crazy with so much to do all of the time, I will at least get the pictures posted with a short story.  After all, I started this journal to help me with the chaos and stress in my life as I take care of my mom.  I can't let this day go by without acknowledging how special it is.

This is my mom and my dad on the morning they got married.  My Godfather was my dad's best man.  All I remember is I called him Papa Chet. I know he got me a big stuffed bunny once but that is all I can remember about him. I have no idea who my mom's maid of honor was and now I cannot ask her. My mom and dad didn't get to have a fancy wedding with a reception.  They were lucky that the priest married them in the church at all.  The story is that my dad had to sign a paper saying he would raise me Catholic in order to get married in the church.  My mom's big celebration after her wedding going out to breakfast.  This always made me sad.

From the time I was a little girl, I always felt badly that my mom didn't get to have a fancy wedding.  I think that is why she tried to make sure my wedding was spectacular and she did do that!  The only real argument I had with my mom over wedding plans, I had to call upon my dad to solve. My mom booked a Polka Band for my reception and when I found out, I ran crying to my dad.  Why would she think I would want a Polka Band?  My dad pointed out that maybe my mom had always wanted a Polka Band for her own wedding reception. Being Daddy's Little Girl, (or Monkey as he called me), there was no Polka Band at my reception!

My mom never complained about the fact she didn't have a wedding.  In fact, she was always planning parties and events for other people. I was so happy when I got the opportunity to surprise my mom when I threw my parents a big 25th Anniversary Surprise Party, complete with a caterer and a Polka Band.  I made sure she got to have a cake similar to a wedding cake and I hired a photographer to take pictures.  They got to dance first and cut the cake just like it was a wedding reception. Family and friends came from all over and helped us to celebrate. The couple even 'second honeymooned' in Niagara Falls!

Today I just know my dad is looking down from Heaven and keeping an eye on my mom.  I also know that either he or my Aunt Karen paid a visit to me the other day while I was on the phone discussing the need now for a chair alarm for my mom's safety.  While I was on the phone with the nurse, I was fighting back tears because I knew that this is another step toward my mom losing all mobility.  I looked out my door and there was the most beautiful red cardinal on my porch railing.  It really was looking inside my door right at me. I turned to get David's attention, while listening to the nurse. The cardinal moved to a shrub but stayed long enough for David to witness it too.  He went quickly to get his camera but it left just as he was ready to take a picture.  We haven't seen it since.......but I am sure we will see it again probably when I need it the most.

(I don't have time to proof read it as I should right now.  I just want to post it for now and then I will come back as soon as I can.  Please excuse any typos etc.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Canned Beans in Nooks and Crannies

My mom had OCD before there was even a name for it.  When I was younger I thought it was the most annoying behavior and as I grew up I adopted the opposite way of living. Well, not actually the complete opposite because that would make me a hoarder of everything with no place to walk in my own home.  I became less concerned with every single owner's manual, store receipt, beautifully ironed everything, cabinets that had their own map of their layout, etc. 
There was a file file cabinet in my mom's 'office' where she even filed every upc code from every package of any type of food she purchased.  She even kept candy wrappers because you never knew when Hershey would office a special prize if you had enough of them to send in.  The thing is, my mom knew where everything was and when asked for something she was able to produce it immediately. 
Aunt Karen and me! 1961
I never adopted this habit and I am sure my own kids can attest to it. Perhaps it was because we tend to want to be the opposite of our parents when we first begin our adult lives.  Perhaps it was because my mom did everything and I never learned how to clean a house or wash a load of laundry before I got married. I could keep wondering this forever.  

One of the earlier signs that something just wasn't right with my mom's brain was when my Aunt Karen came to visit one summer day.  Karen noticed that my mom had moved some things in her house, which was not my mom.  I don't remember what she was looking for, but she stumbled upon cans of kidney beans in almost every cabinet, night stand, end table, and closet she opened.  Knowing my mom's obsession with 'everything in its place', she immediately called me out of concern.  When she teasingly asked my mom about them, my mom shrugged and said she didn't know how they got there but then just went about her day as if there weren't 48 cans of beans spread throughout her house.
My mom March 2003

Yesterday I went to get a can of beans for my soup.  I searched everywhere where canned beans should be.  Hmmmm...I found a can of kidney beans in the closet of Nora's room.  Hmmmmmm.....makes me think I should write this one down, just in case!   

Friday, September 29, 2017

Never Take It Personally

The purpose of this post was to write a disclaimer to all my family and friends. Please do not take anything I write personally.  I have been trying to filter my feelings so I don't hurt anyone else's.  However, the thing about words on paper that are written and not spoke orally is that sometimes, as I teach my students, the tone in which you hear the words in your head is not the way in which I say them in my head as I write them.  So please, do not take anything I say personally.

Speaking of taking things personally..........

The first thing you learn as a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's Disease is that you are not suppose to take their abnormal behavior to heart.  This means that no matter how many times the patient tells you that she has not seen you in ages, your son stole money from her, you never ever visit or help out, don't take it personally.  These are signs that something is definitely amiss. Before my mom's diagnosis, she would often call me and tell me all about the things that her grandchildren did wrong at her house.
My mom and dad's dream house!  Built in 1977 
They didn't have the towels up properly on the towel rack.  They went to visit but left a huge mess for her to clean up.  They were borrowing things and never returning the.  The biggest red flag of all was when my mom called to tell me that my son had taken her vacuum and brought it out to the woods and now she could not find it.  Ironically, my mom at that time, only had a central vac and had no other vacuum. In later years we did buy her a regular upright vacuum but that had nothing to do with the one she thought was somewhere out in the woods.  Needless to say, it was frustrating. My mom would offer to let my daughter borrow her car to get to school as long as she (my mom) had the car back to go bowling on Friday nights.  No sooner would my daughter be out of the driveway, my mom would be calling me and asking me when her car was going to be returned. This became increasingly frustrated to me.

I guess the actual 'straw that broke the camel's back' or the thing that pushed me to say something is definitely wrong or we are going to have to move was the day she drove to my house and told me that my kids could not swim in her pool anymore because they left wet towels in her laundry.  The thing was, if you knew my mom, she was a fanatic about perfectly hung up towels and in now way were you to hang a towel on the fence.  It was rainy and windy that day.  The towels needed to be washed.  My son did put them in the laundry but my mom was not happy.  I remember that day clearly.  She came to my house.  Yelled at me about the kids and I had to calmly say to her that from that point forward, both me and my kids would not be going over to her house any more.  Something seemed to register with her and she looked at me and then started to cry.  At that moment, we both knew something was wrong, really really wrong.  I also knew that she didn't want to hurt her grandchildren!

My mom sat down.  I made coffee us both coffee. Together we made a plan. We called her doctor and made an appointment that we could both go to together.
Dave (6), Dan (5 months), and Jess (3) at Ma's in her kitchen

I knew with my brain that my mom was not acting like this to hurt us.  I knew she loved us and we were her world.  However, my heart was broken to think my children were going to think their grandmother didn't like them and thought they were being mean to her.

For a long, long time, I worried about how my children would be effected by events such as this. Unfortunately, my mom didn't have anything that could be fixed with pills or surgery.  She had a disease that she would not overcome. I can only hope that they remember all of the wonderful times that their "Ma" was devoted to them unconditionally because, after all, she was the best grandma that she knew how to be!