Letter to my children

When I am older and if my health falters

and my mind wanders, my memory fades

always remember how much I love you

that will never change

there may be times when I am angry

and accuse you of things not true

just remember that it is not the real me

it’s the illness talking

and if there comes a time

when I call you by the wrong name

just remember that you are a part of me

and you always will be

 

Our memories matter

I don’t have a great memory and at times it worries me. Will I get Alzheimer’s disease? Watching my mom lose her memory has made me think about how important our memory is and how we go about our lives not thinking about it usually. We all forget names, misplace things, forget appointments or walk into a room and forget what we were going there for. Some forgetfulness happens with aging but Alzheimer’s is not the normal for aging. It is a terrible disease. Sad to watch someone you love struggle to remember things and people, how to do routine tasks and even how to talk or eat.

When I wrote “The Cedar Canoe,” my mom’s dementia was still in the early stages and I was still in denial about it. I wrote and I quote myself: “in the end memories are all we have left, and all we become.” That is what I believed at that time and there is some truth to it; my ancestors are memories to me now. I didn’t even think at that time that my mom would be robbed of her memory.

I have often wished I could forget the horrible things that have happened to me; the night I stood outside my son’s apartment waiting for the forensics people to bring his body out. And there have been many other memories I would like to wipe away. But when I really think about it, those incidents are a part of me and who I am. I am fortunate that I have my memory. I don’t want to forget those people who were part of those incidents. I never want to forget Ryan, the sound of his voice, the feel of his hair, the smell of him. Those are still inside me and I pray they stay there.

They are making great strides in Alzheimer’s and dementia research and are now saying that there may be a cure in a few years down the road or that they will at least be able to prevent it from happening. I hope so.

 

The neighbourhood

It was a back lane that was dirt. The houses not too big or too small of all different shapes and colours. Ours was at one end of the lane, small with white stucco. A larger house was across the street and beside us our neighbours tore down the house and built a larger brick house.

Lots of children lived on the street and on the next one behind us. My best friend lived there. The children on the streets all played together, outside on the street, in our yards and in the bush behind our street where the hydro line stretched out. We also had our squabbles with each other but, anger never lasted long, because we needed each other.

When the girls got together, we skipped double dutch and played hopscotch drawn in the dirt on the road. When boys were included, we rode our bicycles, played hide and seek and cops and robbers or tag. I wasn’t much for road hockey but at times had no choice.

Our dog was never tied up. He followed us wherever we went. He chased and barked at every car that drove by. He fought with every dog that threatened him, even though he was tiny, mostly chihuahua. He loved us.

We made forts in the trees, in the back yard, in the snow or wherever we could. We made roads and drove our toy cars. We made clothes for our barbie dolls. We made our own games with themes and plans. We were all actors in the playhouse. We played until our mothers called for us to come in because it was getting dark.

 

One month at the Lodge

It is still up and down, but the ups are more often than the downs. It is a different part of her journey and mine as well. She still asks me why she is there and when she will be getting out. I tell her the truth now because that seems to pacify her. I tell her that her memory is not good, that she has a disease called alzheimers and the doctor feels she needs to be in the Lodge.

Last Saturday, while I accompanied her to lunch, my husband hung some pictures up on the wall in her room. They are still there. The pictures that we put on the dresser have all been taken down and put away. The clock that was on the dresser was taken down and put away. We will slowly hang more of the pictures, that were hanging in her living room, on her walls.

She is socializing more with the other residents and sits in the lounge. I’ve taken her out for lunch and my cousin has taken her for an outing as well. I’m hoping to take her to church on Sunday. She receives phone calls because her phone is now connected in her room.

I see other family members visiting their loved ones and there is support there between us. We are all going through similar experiences; that helps. When she was at home, at times it felt like there was just her and I locked in a strange dream. I now see a lot of caring people and it is good.

The Silver Grill

It was small; a cafe, a diner called The Silver Grill

there were no tables

two aisles with booths

divided by a half-wall and plastic plants

the jukebox sparkled by the front entrance

the ladies room was down stairs

those stairs were old and sloping

unsure if the building was going to fall over

when you went down those stairs

the food was the best

we stopped there often on our way home from school

on a cold winter’s day for a plate of fries,

a coke and a song or two in the jukebox

the fire that took it away, took away another place from my youth

but the beautiful memories are still here!

The house

This is the house that I grew up in. It is small by today’s standards, just two bedrooms and then one was added in the basement. This house was build by father in 1960, I believe. he was never one for renos or updates. It looks the same today as it did when I was a kid. My father was frugal to say the least. And yes, I take after him in some ways!

We actually didn’t have water and sewer until I was about 12 years old. Before that, mom had to collect snow in the winter and rain water in the summer to use for washing and baths She would also walk to a town well down the street to get water before my dad dug a well in our yard. I think he had to dig three wells in order to get one that had water.  He was obviously not a diviner either.

We had an outhouse by the street at one end of our driveway. Apparently the honey truck came by weekly to empty the outhouses back then but I don’t remember that part. My dad then built a duplex outhouse in the back yard corner that we shared with our neighbour! How weird is that??

I think the happiest moment of my childhood was getting indoor plumbing. That didn’t happen easily either. My dad hated to spend any money so he did finally hook us up to town water but we didn’t have hot water until at some point my older sister’s husband, who worked for hydro hooked us up with a hot water tank. My brother installed a hand held shower gizmo and voila! We could shower! I’ll tell you more about that later.

So many memories in this house: happy, sad, angry and fearful; a life lived. As I spoke to a friend today, we both realized all of the ghosts from the house that are now finding rest in my heart. Dad was able to live in the house until that moment he got sick and the ambuland took him to the hospital. Shirley spent her last month at the house until her cancer forced her to go into the hospital where she later passed. Ryan sat on gramma and grampa’s sofa every day after work until a few days before his death. And of course so many babies were raised in this house!

Mom has moved from the house to a place where she will be safe, cared for and ok. Dad can rest, my sister Shirley can rest, my son Ryan can rest. I can rest.

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Week one at the Lodge

It has been a challenging week! I was told it would be, obviously. Mom does not want to be there and wants to go home. We feel Horrible! I wish she could go home. I wish she could live in her own home. I wish she didn’t have dementia.

Her days are up and down and she is slowly adjusting. She finds it hard to sit and eat with strangers and that will get easier in time as people seem more familiar. Because Red Lake is a small community our Lodge has one floor with residents of all different levels of capabilities and health issues. I think that if we lived in a city, she would be on a floor with other residents of similar health levels. But being in a small town has it’s benefits. The staff are great and a lot of them know the residents because they are from the same community.

She says, “What am I doing here? I’m not crazy like these people!”

We have to sneak in mom’s belongings to her room when she is in the dining room so that she doesn’t notice that we are “moving her”. She gets upset if she sees us bringing her things there. She doesn’t want any of her pictures displayed and puts them away. Slowly, we will hang a picture up here and there.  Everything just appears. This weekend, we are going to try to rearrange her furniture and see if that makes her feel more comfortable, but again, we have to move furniture when she is in the dining room.  There are times when she refuses to eat so we have to wait for the right moments.

She has had visits from friends which she loves and she is always happy to see people. She is angry with me. I am the one who “lied and put her in there”. Sometimes I have to leave her because she is getting so upset with me when I am there.

So week one was difficult and we’re into week two with much of the same.  But at least she is eating, bathing and most importantly, she is safe.