Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s all about family spending time together around a meal. I was raised with family dinners and am sometimes fighting to maintain them in my own household. Now that we are usually down to three, we usually only set the dinner table on Sunday.
This is the first holiday without a parent for me. My husband and I talked through how this might be our smallest Thanksgiving with just the four of us around the table. Last year his parent’s were visiting. The year before I brought mom over to the house. We counted back through the years. For nearly two decades, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our house and my parent’s joined us.
It was just five years ago that we realized how unsafe it was that my parent’s were still driving. When mom and dad had not shown up when expected, we started to call their home and their mobile. Eventually, we get a call from a gentleman two neighborhoods over who said my parents were on their way. When they don’t show up, we wait another 45 minutes until I get a call from my dad from a pay phone. They are now about 15 miles away and have no idea where they are. I tell him to stay and I drive to them so they can find their way to my house.
Two-hours later than we were planning on eating, we finally sit down to enjoy the meal. However, I was so upset and worried, that I could barely eat. My parent’s are agitated after being so lost and are really unsure about what happened. Not a word about it is mentioned at the table. How I don’t miss those uncomfortable days one bit.
How I do miss having my parents join us for Thanksgiving. A time to relax with loved ones around a great meal to share our appreciation for each other.
Many have shared with me how the holidays the first year are the most difficult. I didn’t notice it as much with dad because I was so worried about mom dealing with those holidays. Now I clearly recognized the void.
I am most thankful that I had such wonderful parents and had the opportunity to help them lead a life with dignity until the end. I will spend my time with a hanky and mourn their loss. But I will work to count all the blessings we have and enjoy the time with my husband and kids. Thankful.
As I look at the room around me, I see my parents are here with us. The room is filled with furniture from their home, pictures my mom framed or painted, or things I bought with them at one of the many auctions we went to together. Blessed.
Christmas is a sacred family holiday to me so I headed out to visit my mom late this morning. Because of her wheelchair, bringing her to our house filled with stairs isn’t an option. I wanted to deliver some presents and see if I could get her interested in doing jigsaw puzzles again. She was asleep for the first hour but finally awoke and was hungry. She skipped the turkey and mashed potatoes and went right for the cake.
After eating , she opened up her gifts and was appreciative of the new pajama’s, sweater and pants. After the gifts we sat and worked on a puzzle for a while. I had already set it up and turned over all the pieces and organized clusters of colors. She dove right in and finished up the border. After about an hour, she asked if she could put her head down.
After she gets in bed she tells me “Thank you for making me feel human.” Sometimes I forget how important the emotions are to someone in a moderate stage of dementia. Today, we just hung out. She’s different on every visit, but today, the gift of a nice visit was mine. Received.
To get ready to trim our tree, we unpacked the ornaments and table decorations and I was unexpectedly reminded of the loss of my father. The grief is much softer now, but arrives at the most unexpected moments. Two years ago at Christmas, my Dad added funny notes to my nutcracker candles. I cried when I opened them last Christmas because I had already forgotten about his notes. Last year was the first Christmas without him. I’m wondering as I pull them out this year if I can shellac the notes in place so they will now be a permanent fixture to our holiday decorations.
Holidays are always a challenge and my memories are filled with sad and funny stories–some I shared–and others I didn’t dare mention. We have had some doozies. At first, I’m surprised that I can’t find a post about the year I had to go find my parents who got lost driving to my house–something they had done hundreds of times. I realize that this happened a few months before I started blogging about my journey (it was November 2011). When they didn’t arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, we were worried. My husband worked to save the meal from ruin while I just worried. An hour after they were to arrive I get a call from someone telling me my parents are on their way. They were lost in his neighborhood and he redirected them toward our house.
An hour later, my parents call me from a pay phone and give me their address so I can come get them. They were 20 miles away and scared. I have them follow me home and no one mentions them being late. I don’t bother to ask why they didn’t have the cell-phone with them, my Dad just never got the habit of carrying a phone around with him. I knew it was another alarming signal that they should be changing their lifestyle that they would soon forget. This happened at least seven months before their licenses were revoked. It’s scary to realize how many people, including themselves they jeopardized driving. There are many sudden decisions that need to be made behind the wheel.
Two years after this happened and my parents were required to move into Assisted Living and we were packing up my parent’s apartment, I found a bill for over $2,500 in repairs for my Mom’s car. I didn’t press my Mom when she told me she no longer wanted to drive a few years earlier. This bill made it clear that something pretty major had occurred and they got the car repaired without breathing a word of it to any of their children.
Dementia changes not just the person it afflicts, but all of the loved ones they are surrounded by. As hard as this journey has been, I’m thankful for all that my parent’s have given me, and all that this journey has taught me. The nutcrackers will forever remind me and be a treasured holiday decoration. Changed.
I feel guilty as we are rolling into Christmas. When my Mom suddenly failed last month and we were advised that we should move her into hospice, I was thinking this would be my first Christmas without a parent. I was both sad and relieved by that idea.
My Moms quality of life is beyond low. She seems constantly agitated and bewildered by the events around her. She still does not understand how she ended up in wheelchair. She never seems to be comfortable. She’s also entirely dependent on someone else to help her do everything, which she bristles about. All I can do is make sure she is as comfortable as we can make her and advocate for her wishes.
Because I didn’t think she would be here, I didn’t order the little Christmas tree for her room she treasured last year. I hurt walking down the hallway filled with wreaths to arrive at her empty door. I fixed that on my next visit and we made a new wreath in the shape of a star for her door together.
The holidays are always difficult. There are new places and faces and a lot of activity. You strive to uphold the cheer of the family gathering, but often find you are managing around embarrassing moments.
My one bit of advice is to simplify activities and enjoy the time and connections you can make with those you love the most. Consider writing them down. My guilt dissipates as I reread my posts knowing I’m doing the best I can. Wished.
When I appeared on the Dr. Oz show, I got to meet Dr. Cynthia Greene. Both Dr. Oz and Dr. Green encouraged me by explaining that dementia is more from lifestyle than it is from heredity. Having two parents with dementia (multi-infarct and Alzheimer’s) along with two grandmothers with dementia made me feel like I was doomed to repeat history.
Dr. Green founded Total Brain Health that offers brain fitness toolkits for senior care, healthcare and fitness settings.She also is the author of Your Best Brain Everthat was named a “2013 Top Guide to Life After 50” by The Wall Street Journal.
Each year Total Brain Health creates a gift guide of items that foster brain health. The MemoryBanc Register is a life preparedness tool that is best done when you are in good health. It helps:
couples coordinate their financial and household details,
single adults provide a road map to those that would step in to help if they needed it and
parents record the location of key documents, accounts and assets along with their personal wishes.
As a gift, it not only is a simple solution to help someone get organized, but it also conveys to the individual that in the event they should ever need help, you’d be honored to help. Honored.
* I continue to recommend you work with an estate lawyer to determine which legal tools you need. In my opinion, the most important document everyone over the age of 18 should have in place is a Durable Power of Attorney.