Saying Goodbye to Papa “J”

March 30th, 2011

   When my sister-in-law called to share Papa “J” wanted us to visit him, we knew it was time. It was time for my husband and I to take our kids to spend some precious moments with him, moments he may never recall. You see, Papa “J” is in the grips of a mentally, emotionally and physically debilitating disease that overcomes even the fiercest men and women, notably including one of our nation’s former Presidents, Ronald Reagan. Alzheimer’s disease is heartbreaking for it’s victims and the families they often don’t even recognize as time goes by. 
     We knew for a while that Papa “J” was becoming more and more forgetful and seemingly lost. His wife, my childrens’ grandma who past away over a year ago, helped by often reminding him of his fleeting thoughts. While his long term memory remains in tact, his short-term memory fails him. Before our visit, we hadn’t experienced first-hand the impact this has on his daily routine and in the scheme of his entire livelihood.
      We were ill-prepared and unsure what to expect upon arrival. Great start when we were greeted by Papa “J” waiting for us outside his home. There he was sitting with his cane in hand–he wears braces on both legs as a result of having a dual operation for prostate cancer and several herniated discs. He became immobilized and lost feeling in parts of both legs so the braces were added for stabilization.
     “HEY, you guys are finally here; Let’s go to the local seafood restaurant for dinner,” chanted Papa “J.”  He was the picture of health–for an 81 year old that is. And our dog, who we brought on her first long distance trip, fell instantly in love with this man with the cane. He reciprocated barking back and teasing her with his “walking stick.”
     Once we got settled in, we happily drove to the restaurant, and I recall thinking, “maybe some of our fears resulting from incidents involving Papa “J”s  memory loss could be allayed for awhile given his seemingly confident, cogent and relaxed demeanor.” He didn’t seem like the man who paid disreputable landscape contractors thousands of dollars for work they never did because they lied to him-knowing he is easy prey for a good con. Nor did he seem like the man who, a few months earlier, drove to Georgia to visit my sister-in-law, arrived at her home, then immediately left and drove the entire way back home because he forgot why, what, and where he was supposed to be? These incidents had prompted us to contact the police and served as a wake-up call to how lost Papa “J” often is.
      Now, he didn’t seem lost at all. I listened as he explained to my husband where the restaurant was and about all the different activities in the area. He shared lots about his past with my kids and was able to recall so much of his history.
     Once inside the restaurant, the situation changed. Papa “J” asked us several times where we were. At first, my children giggled because they thought he was kidding. Once we told him where we were, he responded the same way he would the next week we spent with him–each time he didn’t know what was going on, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I thought.”
     And so began the realization and understanding that although it appears that Papa “Js” long-term memory is in tact, his short-term memory is not, and at times is worse than others. Worst of all, I can see his fear and sadness, and occasionally, the anger, each time he’s unable to recollect who, what or where we are.
     Each day he’d awake spirited like a little kid, asking what we were going to do, followed by what we wanted to eat for dinner. These same questions were repeatedly asked throughout the day–as were many other inquiries he continued to echo. At times, he even forgot my children’s names.
     We had to throw out much of the expired food in the refrigerator and buy many daily items he didn’t have, including laundry detergent. Surprisingly, his extra refrigerator in the garage housed about 200 frozen prepared meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which he eats on a daily basis–when he remembers to eat.   
     Yet, this once World War II Vet, fondly remembers times with his wife–and even guided us to her gravesite to visit, two hours away. We spent several joyous moments laughing at silly things in life including mimicking our dog. We shopped and went out to dinner often and watched a few movies with him. Although he shared he loves to go on walks, when we went with him, he could only walk down one block before having to sit down. I could see how disappointed he was–this former long-distance track star! As always, I joked with him about eating more fiber to get his legs moving next time, and we giggled : )
     When it was time to leave, it was difficult. He asked if we could stay, maybe come back in a week or so. We all knew that our next visit would be to move him out of this home he loves to an assisited living facility, closer to family. Watching our parents, grow old, is so very “hard to do.”


Last Year’s Best Christmas Present: Part 1

December 8th, 2010

This is a re-post of a lost entry! Many parents shared how special it’s been to welcome a pet into their family. Here’s our story–Part 1..

Our boys, now 14 and 12, started asking Santa for a dog since they were toddlers. And yes, so many years ago that they began asking us–since they (for some strange reason) started believing my husband and I became  “Mr. & Mrs. Claus.” I continue to tell my boys I believe in Santa’s magic–and they better believe in it too, or else they will receive  the infamous stocking filled with coal, the booby prize my parents threatened my brothers, sisters and I with for dissing Santa.

Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a severe allergy to dogs, so that limited our selection as well as our intent to “rescue” a dog from an animal shelter because there’s a long wait for what’s labeled “hypoallergenic” breeds. Plus, our lives for many years became so chaotic,  running from school and sports activities while managing my husband’s full-time career with juggling my profession. I often felt as if I was “missing” some sort of parenting gene because I just couldn’t handle so many tasks and do them WELL. So, once our family adjusted our lifestyle and our boys became pre-teens, my husband and I began entertaining this dog idea. When we told other parents about our wishes, we received tons of advice on where to buy our puppy, what type of dog to buy, and, of course, I, as the MOM, was barraged by warnings of how much of the responsibility would become mine: “It’s like having another baby, you’ll see,” was echoed often. Still, I am the type of person and mother who likes to find out things for herself. A new addition to our family seemed “right,” so two Christmases ago we started our search, and, as is often the case in life, I began meeting people to guide me. Most influential was a pet store owner who also did dog rescue. She educated me about different breeds and dog care, and I could sense immediately that she truly LOVED animals; the pets were not caged in her store. Instead, they roamed freely and  were grouped with each other for sleeping in comfortable areas. Also, I met another mom dropping her child off at school. She had an adorable dog sitting in the passenger’s seat. When I asked her where she purchased the white furry puppy, she shared her wonderful experience at the pet store I’m referring to. Ready to buy that “puppy in the window,” we took a few trips to this pet store and others with our kids to get a sense of which dogs they were drawn to from the list of breeds that were allergy friendly. At first, our boys only wanted a white dog called a Havanese, which we couldn’t find. Then they started loving a few Yorkies we held. I really liked some of the puppies, but I have to admit, I am a romantic in the true sense of the word. I told my husband I wanted the dog to “pick us” and we would pick her (him). I can’t explain what I was expecting; it would sort of be as if we were drawn to each other immediately. That didn’t happen for me or for my husband the first Christmas we went without the kids–who we wanted to surprise desperately. I know the boys would have loved almost any dog they received, but it had to be a family affair.

That Christmas, our boys were very excited by the gifts we bought for them to compensate as much as we could for not getting them the puppy. Still, something was missing! We promised them they would– one day–have a family dog. Fast forward (it comes that quickly anyway) to last Christmas. After a few trips to the pet stores again with little success, I urged my husband to take me to my favorite pet store one more time, the week before Christmas. I just had that feeling, mother’s instinct, Santa’s magic….that we would find our dog. I shared my feelings with my husband who gave me that look he always shares when he thinks I’m being unrealistic.

I literally took a deep breath as I looked into the store’s front window where a group of puppies were huddled together sleeping. All of them were black except one who had reddish, auburn hair with blond highlights (the same as mine with no gray)LOL. My mouth was agape and my heart was racing with excitement. I looked at my husband who was so smitten wearing a smile wider than the “Joker.” I warned him to “wipe that grin off your face, so the price doesn’t go up.” We gathered our composure and entered the store. That pet smell was everywhere, and I immediately became congested. Calm and cool, I waved to the store owner, who recognized my familiar face and thinks I am there for yet another one of my non-purchasing visits. Ahhh, she doesn’t know this one is different.  I calmly walked over the the window to look at the new arrivals. MY little puppy dashed over to me so fast that she spilled the water dish. The store owner called out, “That’s Red! We just got her yesterday.” And I said to myself, “She’s not ‘Red,” She’s MINE!


MommyBest Blog: What’s my intent?

November 30th, 2010

As I’m sure is the case with most writers, especially if they have published books and/or “write for a living,” they have little time to do what they love best: WRITE for themselves–and hopefully, to informally speak to their audience! My writer’s voice has been lost among stacks of files I have created in an effort to sort, what’s been for me, a wave of technological mayhem from e-books to social media venues and the rules of engagement for each. For someone who is still learning the magical appts (oops, I think it’s apts or apps?) that her cell phone is capable of, I truly feel as if I’m under water gasping for breath from HTML, to links, to RSS –okay that’s enough,…I’m already hyperventillating–or is it hyperlinking LOL. (I used to think LOL meant lots of love).

So, for me, back to basics. This MommyBest Blog will be a way for me and all of you to share our experiences growing as a mom and as a human being, always evolving and learning life lessons. My first book, MommyBest: 13 Inspirational Lessons Derek & Dylan’s Mom (and maybe yours) Never Learned in School…Book 1 is a combination of heartfelt motherhood stories along with the lessons I learned. Unique to my book are “Reader Reflection” pages which allow moms to share their own notes to save or later use as a springboard in creating their own mommy memoir to share with their children. In this way, I will use the MommyBest Blog as a stepping stone to develop longer prose, possibly for my MommyBest…Book 2…I invite all of you to share your insights, triumphs and struggles on your journey to becoming your MommyBest or in encouraging someone else to….Maybe we could be neighbors in spirit. And maybe, just maybe, I could borrow a cup of sugar or at least share a cup of coffee as we chat together on here : )Donna