Thursday, September 3, 2015

Uncle Howdy

Howard Morgan was a weatherman in Albuquerque for many years.  He drew a smiley face on the sun each time the graphic was used in his weather displays and named it "Thermo."  He was also Uncle Howdy on a children's television show.  He worked in the Albuquerque marked from 1971 until his retirement in 1999.

Earlier this week, Lyn was watching television when she turned to Mom and asked if Mom knew who Howard Morgan was.  Lyn went on to explain "He used to be on this channel and did the weather.  He would draw circles and put faces on them.  Sometimes, he dressed as a clown."  Howard has been off the air for almost 16 years.  His children's show has been off air much longer.

Something triggered a long buried and rarely used neural pathway in her.  Mom says these random, deep memories happen more frequently these days.  Alzheimer's is a strange place.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Grandpa's Sister

In 1979 or 1980, my Grandpa's sister Mary came to visit.  She is deceased which is why I'm using her first name.  I remember her being a petite and lovely person.  His other sister was hard and intimidating.

It was Spring and Lyn was already competing in Special Olympics.  She had done very well and was well on her way towards many ribbons and medals.  We had finished up with competition and had driven down to my grandparents house so Lyn could show them her ribbons.

My grandparents were always supportive and made Lyn feel special over her achievements.  Aunt Mary clearly joined in too.

Mom passed this picture to me while we were there last month and I thought it was very sweet.  Lyn's so happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Passing Plan of Action

If you are dealing with end of life issues, I highly encourage you to sit, think about the situation and outline a plan of action.  Think about what you will need to do when the person you're involved with passes.  Think about what needs to happen and the order in which it needs to happen.  No matter how much you love your person and no matter how much it hurts to think of their pending death, you need to put a plan into place for how you will deal with their death.  You need to do it at a time when you're not feeling high emotions, when you can think and make decisions with as little emotion, particularly guilt, as possible.  Doing so is not a betrayal of them.  You're not hastening their death or wishing them dead now.  You're being honest with yourself that action will need to be taken and you need to be prepared for that action.

Mom and I have these discussions at least once a year if not more.  Sometimes, especially when Lyn is at hand, we may only be able to obliquely refer to them.  When we're in physical proximity, we have been able to carve out an hour or two to discuss the topic.  We discuss the following:

  • Who needs to be called? 
  • What needs to be done?
  • When do we make the first, most important call?
  • Where are the documents?
  • How much time will be needed for me and my family to arrive?  How much advanced warning will we have?
  • Finally, in what order do those things need to happen?
So, here is our plan as it stands today.  We evaluate annually and the following may change.

Mom will not interfere with Lyn's death.  While she will not hasten it, she will take no action to delay it.  Let's be realistic and honest here.  Lyn's got a terminal disease and she's transitioning to the later stages of that disease.  If she were to aspirate on a bite of food and not breathe for a couple of minutes while Mom struggles to clear her breathing, what would the impact of that event be?  Would she ever be able to recover to where she was before?  No.  She can't.  So why torment ourselves with hope that she'd get better?

When Lyn stops breathing, Mom will wait until Lyn is clearly dead and rigor is starting to set in before calling 911.  Why wait?  Why not call immediately?  Simply put, we don't want them to take action to revive her.  They have to.  It is their job.  Our directives can and will be ignored if they arrive on scene and she's got even a flicker of a pulse.  

After the call to 911, Mom will then call the case manager and service coordinator.  Death is an "unexpected or unusual event" which Mom has to report.  

The office of the Medical Investigators will be called by the first responders to come and confirm there is not concern of foul play and that the death was of natural causes.  We will request that no autopsy be done.  What's the point?  We know what's causing her body to fail.

Mom will then start to notify others.  She's not going to call in the middle of the night.  It isn't an emergency or an unexpected event for us despite how the state labels it.  She'll call me and my brother.  I've offered to call others on her behalf.  At this time, she has declined the offer.  It stands and she can change her mind.  She may send a few emails and post it on FaceBook.  I'll update here and on FaceBook as well.  An obituary is already drafted and will be submitted to their local newspaper.  

I'll make travel arrangements for me and my family.  While we may arrive together, I anticipate staying behind to help Mom.  Depending on the situation, if Mom wants me there beforehand, I'll go early.  We don't know if we'll have advance notice of her passing.  Some families do and some do not.

A memorial service will be held in their church.  There will be no open casket and Lyn will not have a lift despite what has been done for previous family members.  Lyn will not be on display.  Lyn will be cremated.  

My grandparents cremains are in niches at a graveyard in Rio Rancho.  Those niches only have enough space for 1 each.  However, there are family plots in a graveyard in town.  I suggested we inquire about the feasibility of interring Lyn's cremains there.  Mom has no intention of keeping Lyn's cremains with her.  

From there, the plans become more fluid.  I can stay and work from Mom's house to help her out as she plans for the next stage of her life.  Perhaps, she'll travel. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Learning a New Recipe

Mom writes:

"I MIGHT be learning a few things.  This morning, I was asked 'Do you know how to make ice tea?'  I told her I did.  'Do you want some?'

Before we left this morning, I put water on to boil.  I knew to turn off the stove when the water boiled and dropped in a couple of teabags.  Then, about 10 am, I poured it into a pitcher and put that into the fridge.  She wasn't sure if she wanted iced tea for dinner but I poured it anyway.

Given time, I can figure out how to cook something."

Mom's tone was amused through this exchange.  Lyn's question was not asking if Mom had the skills or knowledge.  It was how Lyn could piece together her request for the tea.

Mentally, I have the feeling that Lyn is about 6 - 8 years old and this exchange kind of seals it for me.  When Lyn was 11 - 13, she knew how to make iced tea and had helped make it many times.  It was because she forgot to turn off the stove before dropping in the tea bags that our house burnt down.  The trauma of that day had blocked that memory from her but she used to know that the house had burnt.

More than that though, as I watched her interact with my youngest child, I realized his 8 year old brain had clearly exceeded hers.  He tried to share his knowledge with her and tried to get her to share facts with him.  I had seen the same thing happen with my older son.  Fortunately, my younger is less pedantic and more compassionate which allowed for the exchange to happen without feelings getting hurt.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Predicting the Future

I wish I was as skilled as Carnac the Magnificent in predicting the future.

I would hold an envelope to my head and declare "Saliva and thinking tests!"  Upon ripping open the envelope, I would find the question "What may help us identify Alzheimer's before the onset of symptoms."  We'll see if the predictions come true.  I've got reasons to hope.

Saliva test may predict Alzheimer's before symptoms appear

New Study Says Memory and Thinking Tests Could Signal Alzheimer's Up To 18 Years Early

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Momento Mori

Momento mori originally were contemplations on mortality which could be expressed in art, literature and music.  With the advent of photography, the term came to include postmortem portraits.     While delayed in Texas while en route home from visiting Mom and Lyn, I encountered a momento mori in an unexpected location.  I had taken my younger son out to dinner and the restaurant was decorated with random black and white photographs from ages past.  The portrait I spotted was of a set of deceased triplets with a man who I presume is the father of the children.

I asked the waiter if he knew the story behind the portrait.  He didn't know the term and only knew a designer had hung it when the restaurant was being decorated.  I explained the term and pointed out that the children in the picture were deceased.  The poor waiter shuddered but allowed me to quickly take a picture with my cell phone.

Interestingly, Mom had passed me a momento mori just a day or two before this encounter.  She gave me a picture of my Great Grandmother in her casket.  Mom insisted she really didn't need this family treasure any longer.

I've contemplated memento mori before but these two really got me to thinking.  Today, we (or at least I) tend to generalize any keepsake or memento that helps you remember the deceased into the memento mori category.  If we go with this broader definition, then there's quite a bit of momento mori still in use today.  When my Grandfather passed, I asked for his hat so I could keep it as something to remember him by.    His hat serves this purpose to me.

Memorial items have a long tradition, especially jewelry.    You can have memorial jewelry made.  For a time, it was popular to include a lock of the deceased's hair in the jewelry.  Today, you can reserve some of Grandma's cremains to have an artificial diamond made or have her thumb print made into a piece of jewelry.

Memorial boxes have become increasingly popular as well.  Some objects like my Grandfather's hat don't fit nicely into an album of family photos.  The boxes allow you to bring together a small collection of items which all have sentimental significance to help ease the grieving process.  When an infant dies, particularly a new born, many hospitals are now providing the grieving parents with a small box containing a picture of the infant, a beanie, booties and a swaddling blanket.

I've seen aprons and stuffed teddy bears made from a treasured article of clothing such as a man's dress shirt or his favorite flannel shirt.  These items too are made as memento mori.

Slightly different but very closely related is the use of tattoos.  The individual who gets a memorial tattoo is permanently altering their body with reminder of the one they've loved and lost.  The process of designing the tattoo and getting the tattoo as well as the significance of the art helps the individual deal with the grief of their loss.  The tattoos will be discussed many times in the future, allowing memories of the deceased to be recalled and shared with anyone who asks about the tattoo.

When I first started contemplating this post, I initially thought I would declare there would be no momento mori stemming from Lyn's passing whenever that may be.  I can't make that statement.  I've previously written about possibly getting another tattoo which would use the language of flowers to indicate memory and loss.  (I've already got tattoos which represent the members of my household.)  I'll probably keep some personal belonging of Lyn's.  I also have all of my pictures of her though I have no intention of taking a postmortem picture of her.

Memento mori have a place in helping people deal with grief even if we sometimes forget that connection or the meaning of an object.

(Note: This blog was written while Monty Python's _The Meaning of Life_ played in the background.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Not Saying Goodbye

Lyn hates goodbyes.  She refuses to say them to us.  She used to cry when taking us to the airports but would wait until we got out of the car.  It became too hard on her to go to the airport and we stopped taking her.  When we started having to rent a car, we could just drive ourselves and this helped ease our transition out of the house for her.

This year, we noticed that her upset at our pending departure came earlier than previous years.  My family had a staggered departure due to work issues.  My husband had to leave mid-week.  My youngest and I returned on the weekend and my eldest stayed for an extra week.  She cried the day before my husband left.  She cried the day before my youngest and I flew out.  She cried the day before my eldest flew out.

She cries a lot of days.  She cries when she's tired or angry or just confused.  If next year's visit needs a staggered set of departures, would I reconsider to ease the tears?  I don't know.  A year from now is a long time and a lot of change can happen with an Alzheimer's patient in that time.

I hate that we cause her tears but so much does.  We cannot walk on eggshells to prevent it.  As long as we think the visits are good for Mom and or Lyn, we'll continue them.  So, I can't see that we'll stop the visits though it is reality that we'll have to continue to make adjustments as we go.