Tag Archive | family

Christmas Trip, Part 2: Ritual and Tradition

Every other year, all through my childhood, we spent Christmas in Ohio with my mom’s family. (On alternate years, my dad had to take his turn as the on-call anesthesiologist.) I looked forward to those family Christmases so much, I think I started counting the days in September. The big family tradition was a Christmas Eve potluck, the whole clan coming together at my Uncle Fritz and Aunt Ellen’s house. I fondly recall my cousin Betty’s delicious pies and singing Christmas carols all together and Uncle Fritz dressing up as Santa to hand out the presents. I remember, as my generation grew up and started having kids, how crowded that little house became — tables laid end to end from the kitchen all the way to the front porch — and how full of love and laughter it always was. I remember falling asleep on Christmas Eve next to my cousin Susan, with her brother camped out on the floor beside the bed so my parents could have his room. “Shhhhh!” he would say. “Did you hear that? It sounded like sleighbells!”

Until this year I hadn’t been back to Ohio at the holidays for over two decades. The torch has been passed to the next generation, and my cousin Frank and his wife are now the hosts for Christmas Eve. Over the years the exchanging of gifts has evolved into its own ritual. Everyone brings one gift and they are passed around the circle as my cousin Robby reads The Night Before Christmas. It was fun to see him in that role, to watch him be Uncle Rob to a whole new generation of cousins.

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After the story and the gift exchange came the carol singing, which has always been my favorite part of Christmas Eve. Songbooks were handed around and, as I heard my family’s voices raised together in song, I realized just how much I had missed being a part of that. I got a lump in my throat when, on a lyric about Mary with the babe in her arms, my eye fell on my cousin with her toddler daughter sleeping on her lap.

I think my favorite moment all night, though, was when the group skipped “O Christmas Tree.” My cousin Shellyn, sitting next to me, tried to insist that we sing it but wasn’t being heard… so I just started belting out “O Christmas Tree.” Shellyn and her sisters joined in, and we drowned out the other song until everybody was singing “O Christmas Tree.” For a few moments I was a teenager again, instigating with my cousins.

Mom loves the singing, too, and she loved seeing the whole family at once. And Betty’s pies are as good as ever!

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Me, Mom, and my Aunt Alice – Christmas Eve

 

I’m a big one for rituals and traditions, always have been. It makes me melancholy to consider that my particular branch of our family tree ends with me, that there is no next generation to whom I can hand down the boxes of my mom’s old family photos or into the toe of whose Christmas stockings I can place the traditional tangerine. But my cousins on Mom’s side are keeping the family tree healthy and I think our traditions are in good hands.

Christmas Trip, Part 1

Mom and I are in Ohio, staying with her sister for the next week. We arrived late Saturday night after a long travel day: flight from Burbank to Phoenix, rushing through PHX with a wheelchair attendant to just make our 3.5-hour flight to Cleveland, then a 90-minute drive in my cousin’s car. Mom was perky the whole way, unconcerned about the tight connection or the turbulence for the first hour of the second flight, chatting happily with her nephew as we drove. I was dead on my feet exhausted as I helped her brush her teeth and get into her pajamas, and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Yesterday I woke up before my body or brain were ready to function, worried about Mom waking up in an unfamiliar room and not knowing how to find the bathroom or her clean Depends. To my surprise, she was already up and sitting in an easy chair by the Christmas tree, working a crossword puzzle, completely comfortable. As I helped her get dressed, I asked if it had been disconcerting waking up in a strange room. She shrugged that off and told me “I’ve stayed in this room lots of times. It’s very familiar.”2015-12-20 14.35.57

We had a busy Sunday with lots of family dropping in and out all afternoon – drank too many cups of coffee and ate too many sweets – and Mom enjoyed every minute of it.

For the second night in a row, I slept as if sedated and had to drag myself out of bed to get Mom up. Being alert to her every need all day long takes it out of me. We were having cereal and coffee in the dining room when she looked at me and asked “Whose house is this?” I told her we are at Alice’s house and today is December 21, and she smiled happily. “It’s almost Christmas!”

Her feet were very swollen yesterday, likely from the long flights, so this morning I checked with her nurse and gave her a full 20 mg Lasix tablet instead of her usual half. She also had some digestive distress, which wasn’t fun for either of us since she didn’t make it to the bathroom on time. Luckily we have easy access to a washer and dryer. And nothing got messy that couldn’t be easily cleaned. I count that as a win. Also, thankfully, it passed quickly and she was soon feeling better. I’m also counting it as a win that I’ve remembered all four of her daily medication dosages on time for three days now. Better put reminders on my calendar in case I just jinxed myself by saying that.

I went out to run some errands with my aunt this afternoon and picked up some diabetic socks for Mom. Hopefully those will help with the swelling. I also picked up a bottle of Tylenol and a back pain patch for myself. I seem to have strained a muscle in my lower back, probably from bending over to roll a suitcase through the airport after the extendable handle came apart. It hurts to bend down or sit too long, and I feel like we’re quite the pair of frail old ladies right now… and all of this gives me a new level of respect for all the family caregivers out there who are coping with their own health challenges while caring for an elderly parent.

But it’s worth every minute of stress and aggravation, every twinge of aching muscles, to see her so happy and content here. And we haven’t even gotten to Christmas yet!

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Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

It was three years ago this week that I started this journey with my mom, as Facebook helpfully reminded me – calling up in its Memories section those angst-ridden first posts about her car accident, the fear of a possible stroke, the irrefutable discovery of dementia symptoms. I remember how scared I was for her, how helpless I felt being far away, how much I worried about making the right choices on her behalf. I didn’t feel up to this new level of responsibility that had been thrust on me overnight.

Two years ago, Mom was recovering after another hospitalization and I didn’t know if she’d be out of skilled nursing in time to spend Thanksgiving with me. She entered my apartment in a wheelchair, my friend having thrown out his back helping me haul her and the chair up the seven or so steps into my building, spent much of the visit sleeping and only ate a few bites of the turkey dinner. I thought I’d have to move into an accessible building if I were ever to bring her to visit me again. When I drove her back to the assisted living hotel the next day, we found the roof leaking and she had to be moved into another room – and I fretted and stressed about leaving her there alone.

How thankful I am that this year she could climb the steps on her own (with me at her side, of course, holding her steady) and had the energy to enjoy a lively Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, even after a relatively late night at the Thanksgiving Eve service at her church. She ate heartily and said many times how much she enjoyed herself, though she did retreat to the sofa with a crossword puzzle as the evening wore on. (One of the advantages of old age, I suppose, is you don’t have to pretend to be engaged in a conversation that isn’t holding your interest. You can just go do something else!)

And I am thankful for my friends, who make a point to spend time talking to her and treat her kindly and don’t laugh when she talks or sings to herself while working her puzzles.

We got off to a shaky start today because she said she didn’t need to visit the bathroom and I didn’t insist, and then she had an accident. She seems so much like her old self these days, I sometimes forget just how much help she still needs. But I got her cleaned up and dressed in fresh clothes, and  after we had pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast she insisted on helping me with the dishes. Then she took a nap on the couch while I got some work done on my computer.

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When I took her home this afternoon, it was to a place that has truly become her Home, a place I am thankful for every single day. Life is good, and we are truly blessed, both of us. So thankful.

 

 

 

No News Is Good News

It’s been very quiet on this blog because there’s been nothing significant to report, and for that I am grateful. Mom is still feeling good, getting around well with her walker, enjoying the company at the care home.

She spent a couple days with me at Thanksgiving and a couple days with me at Christmas. We attended the early Christmas Eve service at her church, drove around looking at Christmas lights and then had a quiet dinner together at my place. Christmas Day we slept late, had brunch with a friend, then opened our stockings. She watched holiday movies on TV while I cooked our Christmas dinner, and after that we opened the presents around my little tree.

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In short, it was a perfectly normal holiday. At the start of 2014, I would hardly have dared to hope that such a thing would be possible again. Quiet and low-key as it was, every minute was a treasure.

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, as I look to the year ahead, I realize that I need to take advantage of the “break” her current state of wellbeing affords me and focus on my own health and career while I can.

So it may continue to be a bit quiet here, but no news is good news.

So Thankful!

After doing the grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, I stopped by the care home to see Mom for a few minutes. I gave back her watch, which I’ve had for over a month now because I kept forgetting to take it in to get the battery replaced, and she was very happy to have it back. Holding her hand, I noticed how long her fingernails are and that there was dirt under a couple of them. As I was leaving, I mentioned this to the head caregiver, who said she will clip and file Mom’s nails tomorrow.

After kissing Mom goodbye and telling her I’ll see her tomorrow for church, I went out the front door… and I literally skipped to my car, like a little kid.

Can I tell you how awesome it is to leave Mom’s place feeling like SKIPPING?! I nearly always left her last place feeling like crying.

Thursday she had a follow-up with the kidney specialist, and the owner of the care home brought her to the appointment. I met them at the doctor’s office, and it was so encouraging to see Mom smiling and joking with the owner and the caregiver who had accompanied them. The doctor ordered some more labs, and the caregivers volunteered to take her down the street to the lab to get it done right then, so that I could go back to work. When we said goodbye, I hugged and kissed Mom and told her I would see her Sunday. She was perfectly happy to go with the caregivers, who she always refers to as “my friends” because she can’t remember their names. She may not know their names, but they have become her family. And they are fast becoming my family as well.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for many things. I am thankful that Mom is healthy enough and strong enough to climb the stairs into my apartment building to share the holiday with me. I am thankful she lives in a home that is truly a HOME, not an institutional setting. I am thankful for family — both the family we were born into and the family we have found, or who found us.

By the light of a silvery moon

Driving home from work this evening, I saw the full moon and remembered…

While playing Scrabble one night with some cousins on the Ohio visit, Mom kept humming a tune she had stuck in her head. None of us could identify what the song was, though it sounded vaguely familiar, but Mom couldn’t stop humming it. To get it out of her head, my cousin Pinky started singing that old Doris Day song By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Mom chimed in, then Rob and I did too… and although it didn’t *quite* replace the whole family singing around a campfire at the Memorial Day picnic, it’s still one of my favorite little moments from the trip.

Last week I was driving Mom home after taking her out for dinner when she started humming in the car and, again, we couldn’t identify the song from the few bars that were stuck in her head. So I started humming By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and on the fourth line we both started to sing the lyrics — “Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June. Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams…” — coming in together perfectly in sync, almost as if we’d been practicing. We couldn’t remember the verse, so we just sang the chorus a second time and pulled into her driveway laughing.

We used to sing in the car together all the time when I was a girl, especially on road trips but sometimes even while just driving across town. I’m thinking we ought to revive that tradition while she still remembers the old songs.

Lucky

We are so very lucky, my mom and me. The family visit was everything either of us could have hoped for. Things went smoothly with all three flights – no delays, no major airport hassles, no lost luggage. Mom did just great with all of it, even waking up ridiculously early to catch our flight out of Denver.

We had wonderful quality time with too many family members to list, including some who we hadn’t been able to see on our last couple of visits. We broke bread together. We spent hours looking through boxes of old family photos (as far back as her grandparents) and sharing memories. We played Scrabble. We paid a visit to the cemetery where several generations of family are buried; holding my arm, since the ground is too uneven to push a walker, Mom walked through the cemetery to visit all of the family headstones. We saw beautiful fall colors, and I took lots of pictures for her digital picture frame.

Here’s Mom resting at the grave of her parents.

Mom at Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a favorite of the family shots, a kiss from her grandson.

Josh and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you” was the refrain that echoed through this visit. I do believe that every single family member told her that they love her before they said goodbye. I think we were all (except for Mom) very conscious that this may be the last visit. I’m so glad that everyone got a chance to hug her and tell her that they love her, but I’m not dwelling on the “last visit” part. She may surprise us all! She is already, at 86, the longest-living member of her immediate family. And she’s showing no signs of being ready to quit!

Those relatives who saw her last spring all commented on how much better she seems now, and it truly is remarkable. Six months ago, she was going back to bed every chance she got, dozing the days away. Now she’s staying awake and alert all day and well into the evening, as long as she gets a nap around midday. She’s physically stronger and able to walk further without tiring, and her memory has definitely improved. Six months ago, she couldn’t keep track of where we were going for the space of a ten-minute car trip. She would ask me repeatedly where she lived or talk about visiting an apartment that doesn’t exist. As soon as something was out of sight, it was out of mind. But for the entire ten-day trip, she not only remembered that she lives in California now (and not Arizona) but was also able to answer in detail when asked about the home where she lives. Everyone cautioned me that once cognitive function is lost, it will never return – so this is an unlooked for, unexpected blessing.

Catching up on the dementia caregivers message board, I realize anew just how lucky I am that my mom’s personality is thus far mostly unchanged, despite her dementia. She’s not angry or paranoid or delusional. She’s not regressing to childlike behavior. She still knows all of us and retains the emotional connection of the relationships even if she’s lost some of the specific memories. Her essential nature is the same as it has always been – kind and loving and easygoing. For this, and for the gift of a loving family, I am truly grateful.