Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Evelyn Frances--born 95 years ago

Mother would have turned 95 today if she were still living.  
My mother and I with my sister-in-law and her two daughters

March 12, 1919, is a date I will never forget.  I filled it into forms so many times while handling her medical care and business.

She lived a full life: childhood in a little mining town in Colorado, college in Boulder in 1936-37, two years in Denver earning her RN at Children's Hospital, service as a Navy nurse in World War II, marriage, raising four children, teaching public health nursing at a two-year college and at the University of Maryland, enjoying 14 grandchildren, volunteer work in retirement, and finally residence on the memory care floor of Sunrise Assisted Living.

She didn't like the limitations of old age.  Her fiercely independent spirit chafed against having someone else dispense her medications and tell her when to go to bed or show up at meals.

In 2005 she even tried to push her walker down a stairway and out into a busy street so she would be hit by a truck.  Of course it didn't work, but the event was her attempt to die without further indignities.

She lived on four more years, a time that included wearing Depends, being showered by caregivers, and having her Depends changed at night by men she didn't know with skins of brown and black.

Pneumonia was what finally took her father's life when he was aged.  In 1976 she had said that nurses called this illness "the angel of mercy" because it gave a swift and gentle exit to a person who was ready to die.

She was not so lucky, however.  Her life ended by starvation and dehydration.  

There came a time when her throat muscles no longer knew how to swallow because of the damage done to her brain by the plaque deposits of Alzheimer's Disease.  Her children decided not to start a feeding tube of pureed food into her stomach.  We felt that her quality of life had deteriorated far enough without doing that.

On her birthday in 2008 I took her to lunch at Carrow's Restaurant near my house.  She ordered fried shrimp, which she could not eat.  Mashed potatoes and applesauce went down well.  She drank milk.  

She wanted rhubarb pie, a food rarely found on a restaurant menu today.  Her grandmother had made that pie, and she had occasionally stewed rhubarb for us.

Today the amaryllids are blooming at my front door, as they were five years ago during her last month of life and in the week of her memorial service.  

It's like the poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" by Walt Whitman, remembering the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Every year the perennials return in full bloom, reminding survivors of the one they lost in a previous spring.

We are mortal, but the little flowers live on.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Laugh or Cry!

You can either laugh or cry about Alzheimer's.

I laughed all the way through Nebraska, the 2013 comedy about an older man trying to collect his prize after he receives a letter telling him in large, bold print that he has won a million dollars.

Of course, he is told that there's an "if" in small print, but he still believes he is a winner.

I went through this with my mother when she got repeated mailings from Reader's Digest Sweepstakes telling her that she was a winner.

Just like the son in Nebraska, I tried to convince Mom that she was still a few stages away from winning a big jackpot, but she persisted in thinking her doorbell was going to ring and she was going to fly to Plainsville, New York, to claim her prize.

She had her suitcase packed and would call me to discuss which outfit she should wear when the big day came.  

Bruce Dern does an excellent job of playing the confused but lovable old man, Woody.

Will Forte from Saturday Night Live portrayed Woody's younger son David, a salesman of audio/video electronics, who finally decides to drive his father to Lincoln, Nebraska, to let him walk into the magazine office and discover he has not won.

The roadtrip with his father is hilarious, from the losing-false-teeth episode to peeing on the side of the road to visiting Mt. Rushmore.  I've done so many of those trips with my mother that it was fun to see the humor captured on the big screen.

Reacting to his father's antics, David's emotions range from frustration to grim persistence to moments of sheer love.  I was with him 100%: been there, done that.

Director Alexander Payne also did a great job presenting the dysfunctional family around these two: David's mother, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  If you liked the crazy but true-to-life family in The Descendants, also directed by Payne, you'll love these folks.  

Some people don't like this film.  Its subject is too scary.  After all, if your parent has Alzheimer's, you have a good chance of getting it too.

But hey, the situations that arise are genuinely funny.  It's your choice, to laugh or cry.

I choose to embrace our common destiny and laugh.  

As Rashi said, "Accept with simplicity whatever comes to you."

(This quotation appears at the beginning of another funny/sad film, A Serious Man, directed by the Coen brothers in 2009.),0,240582.story#axzz2usnDdKTc