Wednesday, March 25, 2015

alzheimer's. a portrait of my grandmother.

If you know me, even just a little bit, you know how important my family is to me. (really important, actually.) You'd also probably know a little bit about my grandma's Alzheimer's Disease, but you probably wouldn't know much about the long process that has gotten her to the point that she is in today. I don't talk about it often, because there aren't a lot of words that really express how I feel about it. (which is weird, because I'm pretty good with words.. and I'll talk about almost any topic all day long.) The Alzheimer's, though, not so much. It has been a pretty long road and has been pretty tough for her and for everybody in my family, but her especially. I can't imagine going from working in the medical field, working in a nursing home, with patients who have Alzheimer's, working in the nursing home that her mother died from Alzheimer's in, to learning that she had the same thing.
So, I'll start from the beginning. I was a pretty lucky kid, growing up. My parents were young when I was born, which meant that I got to have young grandparents. (I'm actually pretty sure that being the oldest grandchild on both sides is the best place to be, chronologically.) Nana M. is the youngest of my grandparents, at 41 years older than me. (I'm 28 now, meaning she's 69. Her 70th birthday is on March 31st!) Anyways, young grandparents meant that I got to have pretty active and close relationships with all four of them. I still have a pretty close relationship with them all, which is really important to me and something that I cherish. Even luckier for me, since my mom went to school while I was young, my brother and I had a lot of time with Nana, while she babysat us. We spent a lot of time going to the library together, playing whiffle ball in the backyard, and swimming in her swimming pool. I have really wonderful memories with her. I remember "helping" her with her gardening, which she was really proud of and put a lot of work into. I specifically remember learning about growing strawberries and about sunflowers. I remember the massive sunflowers that always ended up so much taller than I was. My hometown always had a program in the schools in which kids would grow plants (vegetables and flowers) and then everyone would bring in their best plants and they would be judged. Most of the time, either my brother or I would end up getting a first place gourd or sunflower (I'm telling you, the sunflowers were awesome) and we would move on to the "city" competition, which was held down by the zoo. Honestly, all that we did was help Nana plant the seeds in her garden and she did the rest. That's pretty important.

One really cool thing about her is that she was there each time that I met one of my younger siblings for the first time.

As I, and my siblings, got a little bit older, my grandparents took us all out for a special evening each year. They would, generally, take my brothers to see the Fort Wayne Wizards, a local minor league baseball team, play. They would take me to see a play or a musical each year. As much as I love baseball, I definitely thought that I had the better end of the deal. (and I'll still argue that.) I got the alone time with them and I got to dress up and see a musical or a play with them every year. My favorite out of the many is still "The Sound of Music." I was probably in middle school when we went to see that one and, afterwards, we went back to Nana and Papa's house and I was on cloud nine. I loved the show so much. Nana and I watched the movie version that night. It must have been 2 or 3 am when I went to sleep that night. (she fell asleep on the couch.) I'll never forget how much I loved that show... and I've seen, and loved, many shows (both with and without my grandparents). The Sound of Music just happens to be my favorite musical and it also is part of one of my favorite memories.

Sidenote: The fact that this month has been the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music is not lost on me and, honestly, means a lot to me.

As I got older, I spent more time with my friends and less time with my grandparents. I think that happens to everybody. Through high school, then college, I grew and changed a lot. We still went to our yearly shows and hung out on holidays and for everybody's birthdays. We watched as Nana got sillier over the years. She had her first stroke at 51, back in 1997, which kind of got the ball rolling for memory loss and her current Alzheimer's diagnosis. In the beginning, she seemed like she was just goofy. She had always dyed her hair red, but the red got brighter than before. She started to say things that didn't make complete sense, because she had trouble finding her words sometimes. I remember one day, maybe Easter or somebody's birthday, we were having lunch at my family's house, and my grandma began to talk about how she had green onion ice cream at home. If I recall correctly, she was referring to mint flavored ice cream, because that is what we had at our house. It was just things like that, things that everyone accepted as her beginning stages of Alzheimer's, but was a little bit lighthearted. We could smile about those things.

When I went to college in 2005, I remember that Nana wrote me a few letters. That was something that I cherished then and is something that I still cherish today. I remember her writing and mailing letters to her sisters when I was young, which might be part of the reason that I enjoy sending and receiving letters so much now. I have friends in many states who receive mail from me, which is so important... Anyhow, by going to college, I was a little bit further away from home. During the five years that I was in college, Nana retired from work and got a little bit more sick. She still knew who I was and came to my graduation in 2010. She definitely had Alzheimer's then and had lost many important memories, but still knew the important people in her life. In 2010, I finished college and headed to Orlando, Florida. Her most rapid decline came during the four years that I lived in Florida. I missed a lot of it, only seeing her a few times a year when I would come home to visit. Over the past four years, she went from conversational, yet pretty confused, to having a fairly limited vocabulary. She went from recognizing friends and family members (and recalling most names.. she did refer to one of my brothers as "the skinny one" at one point.) to not recognizing people anymore. When I came home for my younger brother's graduation party in 2011, we played "keep away" with a Frisbee at my mom's house. Nana was good at throwing and catching the Frisbee. She was however, pretty bad at understanding the concept of keeping the Frisbee away from the person in the middle. She's throw it right to whoever was standing in front of her. That was a pretty good example of where she was, mentally, at that point. Later that fall, she participated in a four mile race, while my mom, cousin, and I ran a half marathon, and my sister, other cousin, aunt, and uncle ran a 5k. At that race, I remember having conversations with her and knowing that she knew who I was, but I could tell that she was not 100% sure about what she was doing that day. Today, her vocabulary is "yes", "no", "ouch"... and some other words. When I went to visit her today, she said, "oh geez" when she spilled some water on herself, and said, "let's go to bed."

 She moved into a nursing home about a year and a half ago. My grandpa tried to take care of her for as long as he could and did his best for many years. At some point, it becomes so difficult, nearly impossible, to take care of someone with Alzheimer's. It's a constant 24 hour a day, 7 days a week job. I know that it was tough on him, the decision to move her.. and I know that it was also hard on my mom and uncle. It isn't easy, but sometimes, it is necessary.

Now that I am living in Indiana again, I get to go visit her. It's hard that I missed her losing so much of everything. It makes me sad to think about all of the moments that I missed. I do wish that I could have had more time with her when she had more memories, when she was more conversational. I am extremely thankful that I had good times with her. I'm also grateful that I can take time out of my days to go visit her and spend time with her. I don't think she knows me anymore. I know that she doesn't know my name now. She does sit and talk to me, sometimes about complete nonsense, but I'm okay with that.
One thing that about her that I do talk about a lot when I talk about Nana M. is her affinity for story telling. I'd often ask her to get out her photo albums (which were organized by year) and show me pictures. During that process, she would tell me stories about her childhood, her adolescence, and about my mom's (well, and my uncle's) childhood. I'm so thankful for those stories.. and, well, I always have been. I was very young when I decided that I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder and write stories about my life. I thought that someone, someday, would want to read my stories and be interested in my life, the same way that I loved the Little House books as a kid. I think that a part of that was because of the story telling. I loved hearing Nana's stories as much as I loved reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Stories are so important. That's why I've decided to write a book about my grandmother. (but that's a work in progress.)

Last week, Nana fell and broke her hip in the nursing home. She had surgery and spent a few days in the hospital. I spent one night with her and I'm glad that I did. (minus the no sleep.. hospitals are loud & weird.) It was good to have that time and I was glad to be able to be there with her. She did a lot for me as a child and I am glad to do something for her.

My favorite thing? That she still has joy. She smiles and she laughs.. and that's the most important thing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

seven thoughts: a reflection

So, I'm trying to write more.. publicly. I want to start to write a regular wrap up to my week, maybe on Sunday nights, after my long work weekends. Anyways, that's the goal.

Here we go...
Seven things from my week.
(edition one.)

1. Work was pretty crazy this week. I'm not sure what it was.. could have been the full moon, could have been daylight savings time, or maybe, it could be just one of those things. One fun thing about being busy is that the time goes by much more quickly. I work long shifts on the weekends, so it's nice to have that time go by a little bit more quickly. I have been exhausted coming home, though. Pros and cons, I guess.

My current job, in hospital registration, is the opposite from everything I have ever done before... and honestly, especially different than the different positions that I held in Florida. (espeeeecially when I worked for Walt Disney World.) It's been quite an adjustment, but I'm getting the hang of it... slowly, maybe. It is definitely a process.

(and it's nothing like Grey's Anatomy.)

2. I got to spend some time with a lot of my family this week, which was awesome. I saw each of my cousins in a week, which is pretty rare, considering that we are all busy all of the time.

On Tuesday, two of my cousins, a friend of mine, and I went to the batting cages. We had a great time and spent a lot of money hitting softballs for a while. I played softball for many years, through my senior year of high school, my friend, Latefa, played senior year of high school, also, and my cousins played a little baseball/softball when they were younger, but not for a while.

(though Rayanna played a season a couple of years ago)

Anyways, I don't get to see Rayanna and Riley as often as I would like, because they are very busy with activities and school. (Riley plays football, is very involved in Boy Scouts, and always has something going on, while Rayanna is pretty involved in her Roller Derby and as crew for her school's show choir.) I used to get to see them all of the time, but that doesn't happen as often as I'd like anymore, so I cherish the moments that I have. I'm the oldest grandchild/cousin on both sides of my family, so it has been fun to watch everybody grow up, even from a distance, while I lived in Florida.

We had so much fun at the batting cages. Afterwards, we dropped Riley off, and Rayanna, Latefa, and I went to the mall for a little bit. We got our browse on. It was a fun evening.

3. Yesterday, I went to my Uncle Keith and Aunt Brandi's house for my cousin Jared's birthday. I don't get to see them as often as I see my dad's side of the family, just because that's how it works out. I was late, because I had to work, but thankfully, I got to leave work a little bit early, because I worked extra on Monday.

There's something hilarious about my family, both sides, for sure. I laughed so hard last night, about the silliest things. It was fantastic, and well needed.

There was also cake and ice cream... and macaroni and cheese. (and sending text messages of awful candid pictures of my aunt to her. so funny.) Although, the ongoing prank war seems to have settled down a little bit. That's disappointing. My Aunt Brandi's birthday is in about a month, so we'll see what fun things happen then.

Doesn't get much better than that.

4. I also got to have some Wyatt and Emmett time this week. They are the babies of the family, my youngest cousins, and they're wild. Wyatt is two, almost three, and a pistol. I think he's getting more energy every time that I see him. Emmett is six months and learning to crawl. He's getting himself a little personality, which is fantastic.

One of the hardest things when I lived in Florida was that I didn't get to be there to meet Wyatt when he was born. I remember being at work, at Disney World, feeling pretty defeated that I missed out. (my brother also graduated from college that weekend, so it was a double whammy. I felt like a crappy cousin/sister) In fact, I didn't even get to meet him in person, outside of Skype,
until that October, when he was four months old. I missed so many milestones with him, which was tough, because I've always been close with my family. I love all of my cousins, and I have a special relationship with them. I love kids, maybe as much as they love me. It has been nice to have these past few months with these two, because I didn't get that time with Wyatt when he was a baby. I love that I get that time now. (I also love that Wyatt wanted to hang out with me specifically to take selfies.)

It was really special that I was in town when Emmett was born. I was in Indiana for a friend's wedding and he happened to be born that week, just a few days before I went back to Florida. I got to meet him in the hospital and hold him as an infant. That was awesome.

Anyways I had some time with those two peanuts this week, which was great. They are wearing me out, but I'm just appreciating the time that I have. They won't be small forever and, chances are, I won't be in Indiana forever.

...but those faces.

5. I went to see "Still Alice" with my mom and my sister on Wednesday. "Still Alice" is my favorite book. That's a big deal, because I've never committed to a favorite book or movie (or musician/band/song/anything) until this one came out. It's about a woman's battle with Early Onset Alzheimer's, which is an important story, and one that I hold really close to me. My Nana M has been in the same fight for a long time, and now lives in a nursing home, so, obviously, I have a lot of feelings about Alzheimer's...

"Still Alice" is such a beautiful book and I recommend it to anybody, everybody. It's beautiful, but haunting and real. I'm not going to sit here and praise my favorite book all day, but yeah, I recommend it. (also, all of Lisa Genova's books. Read them.)

The movie was good. It felt short, and a part of me wanted more, but I had to separate the book from the movie, because that's how all book to movie adaptations are. It was raw and emotional, though.. and in some ways, tough to watch, just knowing how personal the story was to my family. My mom wasn't going to go see it, because the story is a little too close to home. I'm glad that she did, though. It was good to go see a movie with her and with my sister. I think that it was especially important that we saw this movie together, because Alzheimer's is so real to all of us. I'm glad we all went.

6. I've been hitting the gym pretty hard for the last month, but I especially pushed myself this week. I tried some things that I haven't tried since I worked out with Mark, my personal trainer in Florida.

For instance, on Friday, I did legs. On my legs days, I've only been using weight machines and done nothing with free weights. At all. I'm pretty self conscious about certain things and one of those things is going into the real weight room, where the real weight machines, the free weights, the TRX ropes, and all of the "real" things exist. I know how to use all of it, I gained so much knowledge from my years working out with Mark, but I've never done it by myself. On Friday, I did, though.

I did some kettleball squats and some weighted lunges, even dead lifts. It's a pretty big deal and I'm pretty proud of myself for all of it. (although, I'm VERY sore.. sore and whiny. I'm not that sorry for that part.)

Anyhow, that was a pretty big deal for me, and I'm happy for myself. I just need to get my nutrition on point.

7. One of my favorite quotes. (not by myself.)

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

happy birthday dad: memories of my father.

Today is my dad's birthday. I feel like writing "would be" his birthday, but that isn't true. It is his birthday, even more than seventeen years after he died. That hasn't changed... that won't change. It's an annual event, one that I always remember, because I know dates, I remember them, I don't forget them. It's a part of who I am.

I was ten when he died, almost eleven, at the end of August 1997. I think that when a person loses a parent as a child, everything changes. I know that, in my personal situation, I still had many supportive family members, I was fortunate enough to maintain an extremely close relationship with my dad's parents and his brothers, I got to see them all frequently. I went to a children's grief group for over a year. I went to counseling off and on through college.

It still left a hole in me. Maybe that's because my dad's death was so unexpected, or maybe it's because I was so young when he died. It could be a mix of both, or maybe other things. Maybe I will never know. I think that it's okay if I don't. I have grown enough to know that, as much as I miss my dad and wish that he had been here for my big milestones, I know that I have become who I am because of the things that I have been through in my life. I've grown and changed, become a stronger person because of it.

Anyways, this isn't about me. I want to share some stories about my dad, because, I am insanely grateful for the almost eleven years that I did have with him, because he was an involved father, because he was there... and a lot of kids don't even get that for the short time that I did.

So, here I go... memories of my dad:
  • One Christmas, maybe the last one, probably the last one, but I can't guarantee that, I stayed up all night wrapping gifts with him. We talked and I wrapped my brother's gifts, while he wrapped mine. It was a fun and something that I won't forget.
  • Cody, my dad, and I used to play games all of the time. A few of our favorites were Connect Four, Monopoly, and Don't Wake Daddy. Sometimes, when we played Don't Wake Daddy, we each played with two characters, so we each took two turns. We all had nicknames for our second character, an alter ego. My dad's was "Butch the evil twin."
  • My dad introduced my to LeAnn Rimes, who was my first favorite singer. I was young. I connected to the fact that she was also very young.
  • We used to play several different sports together, often involving my grandma. We played basketball a lot, the four of us. I remember laughing about the "Nana Waddle" together.
  • One day, I was really mad at my dad for some reason, and I was sitting on my grandma's front porch. My dad came and sat next to me.. and a bird pooped on his leg. It was hilarious. I couldn't be angry anymore.
  • My brother and I used to run from the kitchen to the living room at my grandparents' house, while my dad and uncle would shoot nerf guns at us. They called it "target practice."
  • We would spend a lot of time at the lake, swimming, fishing, tubing. Those were such awesome days.
  • My dad was a scuba diver. He used to go on trips to the Bahamas with my grandpa.. I remember dreaming about the day when I would become scuba certified. I still dream about it. Hopefully, I will get it done within the next year.
  • I remember when I was learning to dive in my swimming class. I was so excited that I was practicing at the lake. Everybody else was inside eating and playing games. I remember my dad coming out to watch and I told him that I was going to be an Olympic diver one day. He pretended to believe me. (haha, I'm a dreamer.)
  • One Christmas, he bought Cody and me a Super Nintendo. It was our first video game console and we loved it. We'd play basketball, football, Mario, Donkey Kong... I still have the console and some of the games. (obviously, my brother also got some games.)
  • When Cody and I would argue, he would make us sit on the couch and hold hands until we could get along again... then, he bought us both boxing gloves and would tell us to "duke it out."
  • I remember the cherry tree that he had in the backyard. It was awesome for climbing.

The following is part of a conversation that I recorded on my talk girl, when I thought that I was going to be a big time news reporter:
me: hello, I'm here. in Indiana. to say 'who won this game'?
dad: the raiders.
me: are you the coach of the raiders?
dad: yes.
me: did you know you were going to win in the beginning?
dad: in the beginning, we was getting the shit kicked out of us.
me: oh. so you thought you were going lose?
dad: yeah, I thought I was going to lose, it was like 28-9.
me: oh my gosh, it must have been a HUGE comeback.
dad: yeah, I took my players into the locker room and then whipped each one of their asses individually.
me: with the paddle with holes in it?
dad: yes.
me: okay. well, the other coach doesn't really want to talk. (my dad cracks up.) so goodbye.
So, today is my dad's birthday. Sure, it's sad, and it's hard, and I miss him...
At the same time, I'm thankful for the time that I had. Some kids don't get that many years with their dads. Some kids get no time, or some kids don't have a dad who wants to be in their lives at all. I did. That's everything.
Happy birthday Dad.
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