Watching active people lose vitality & memory is so heartbreaking. My parents, Bill & Mary Beth have become mere shells of who they used to be. They have forgotten so much of what they did, where they went and who they knew. It is difficult to balance what they are like now with the people I knew growing up. The aging process is nothing if not cruel and it is definitely an unforgiving nemesis to one's cherished memories. Recently I started talking to them about their life experiences to stimulate their memories.. They also have created new memories while they live the remainder of their lives with us.
I was born in 1958, so my age of awareness is somewhere around 2-3 years old. I think being at my maternal grandparents' house in Athens when my grandmother died is possibly my earliest memory. I remember standing in the living room a midst dozens of people and I asked my sister where Nanny was and Kristie, being her forthright self said, "She's dead!" I would have been 3 years & 4 months old. Another memory from earlier that year is getting an umbrella stuck in my mouth.. I'm not kidding. Remember the J-shaped umbrella handles? I got this bright idea to stick in my mouth and it got lodged in the area directly behind my bottom teeth! Having no background in geometry, biology, physics or common sense, I was flummoxed as to how to free myself. There I was standing on our screened-in porch with this contraption stuck in my mouth, arms flailing and crying! At some point I got outside to where my mother stood talking to a neighbor. She turned to see me walking toward her with this umbrella handle stuck in my mouth and the opposite end trailing between my legs because it was longer than I was tall. My flailing arms stretched out and crying I looked at her unable to speak. She said, "Oh, good lord!" and reached down to extricate the handle from my now very sore mouth. That was 51 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the pain I felt when the hard plastic dug into my skin inside my mouth.
Most memories are not that clear or detailed. With the passage of time they become blurred and forgotten. It is worse with dementia. Thankfully neither one of my parents have signs of any dementia. I don't know if they appreciate that, but I do. I am able to talk to them about different aspects of their lives and lately I have written them down for posterity. My mother doesn't understand why. I try to explain that everyone has a story, but no one thinks their own stories are interesting because they know the story inside and out. When someone else hears those stories its with fresh ears and it is interesting. My parents have 88 and 87 years worth of memories. When I was growing up they were always on the go. They attended church activities during the week, symphonies, concerts, plays, movies, cocktail parties and fund-raisers. During the 60's my father scuba dived with my brother Bill and had a strong interest in HAM radio, as well as Toastmasters. In the 70's my mother learned how to play tennis and played on a team. In the 80's my father bought his first pair of walking shoes and they both started walking for exercise. They also traveled extensively in the 80's and 90's. Both of my parents were larger than life to me growing up. My dad could fix anything and my mom was always doing for others. They started slowing down only in the past 8 years, but even after spending the majority of the year in the hospital in 2004, my dad climbed up onto the roof of the garage in Ohio to clean the gutters! Even though he knew his fixer-upper days were over he still wanted to contribute. The purpose of me talking about the things they did is so they feel a sense of accomplishment with their lives. Feeling like one mattered in this world can make the difference in how one views the experience.
The lack of mobility taints my parents' view of their lives, too. The first year here in 2009, they went with us to the Dunwoody 4th of July parade. No walkers or wheelchairs, just a cane for my dad. Mary Beth resisted using any assistance until this last year. She was told to use a walker. She didn't use it much and chose to leave it at home when she had a doctor's appointment this past February. As she left the office she attempted to step down off the curb and fell breaking her shoulder. Ironically, for 6 weeks she had to be transported by wheelchair. She continued to be pushed by my dad months later. Only after being accused of getting lazy did she finally agree to use the walker, but only on occasion. When he isn't pushing the wheelchair my dad uses a walker upstairs and a cane downstairs. He has become much too shaky & unstable to move about without some type of assistance. He gets easily frustrated when he cannot do the simplest of tasks. That is one reason he started sleeping in his clothes, less work than wearing pajamas. I had considered putting his computer in their bedroom, but then I realized that going downstairs to his office is one thing he can still do. As long as it is not dangerous, he should keep doing it. My mother stopped doing stairs last year. She does continue doing artwork to a lesser extent than she used to. It has become difficult, though and as a result frustrating.
Bill & Mary Beth were both only children, so when they married they wanted a large family. They had 4 children and subsequently, 8 grandchildren. Two of them are mine and they live here in the same house. The ability to see their first 2 grandchildren become young adults is an experience that I know my parents enjoy. Something they do here that they couldn't do in Ohio is to sit on a deck and watch hummingbirds. We also have a plethora of wild animals in our yard. Chipmunks, possums, hawks, owls and lizards have been seen in our backyard. Our front yard has seen a fair share of deer coming and going, a site never experienced in Ohio. We also have crepe myrtle trees, gardenias, azaleas, magnolias and irises that delight my mother to no end every spring and summer. My parents also enjoy our cat, Buffy. Buffy has taken to my dad quite a bit. I have witnessed her coming into a room, survey the occupants and go directly to her grandpa. She sits on him with a look of pure love on her face. I know he loves her because he will sit still for hours while she sleeps in his arms or on his lap. Another experience new to my parents being here is going to Dairy Queen every Sunday afternoon. It started pretty soon after they moved here after they found out there was a DQ near-by. The day I knew my mom was getting better from her broken shoulder was when she said she wanted DQ. Getting into the garage and into the car was taxing, but she persevered and I knew she was going to be okay.
Having Bill & Mary Beth here has been an experience that I will not likely ever forget. It is harder and more rewarding than I ever imagined. I get told by people who hear what I'm doing that I have earned the entrance to Heaven, but I don't care if I have or not. I'm doing this because of who they've been to me. It is my goal that their last years are memorable. After all, don't they deserve that much?