This has been a hard post to write. I have put it off for a week wondering what to say, how to express it, what to avoid sharing.
As many of you know, we recently visited Barry’s elderly parents in Georgia. We’ve postponed the visit for a little more than two years, mostly because we didn’t want to unwittingly drag covid into their midst. By November we finally felt the trip must happen–covid or no covid–and we boarded an airplane in Marquette to fly via Detroit to Atlanta.
We rented a car–our first rental in many years–and we rural Yoopers navigated through busy traffic to their home near Athens.
How can I say it? Perhaps Charles Dickins had a clue. May I paraphrase him? It was the best of visits, it was the worst of visits.
Barry’s dad said it was the best visit ever. You will now look at these smiling pictures–oh such happy faces–and think–oh so lovely, what a wonderful time, how beautiful that they could spend time together again.
And all of that is true. So very true.
I still smile thinking of the sweetness of the trip, the fun Barry and I had exploring the Botanical Gardens and the tiny zoo filled with balloon Santas, Grinches and Reindeer. How Barry and his brother were able to help his dad with projects. How we all sat on the back patio and munched pretzels while sipping our preferred drinks. How we cheered on the University of Georgia Bulldogs. How we soaked in the faces of our loved ones.
Precious visit indeed, my friends.
But there are always things you may or may not share in a public space. Barry agrees I can share here. His mom suffers from dementia–probably stage 6 or end-stage 7. She struggles to articulate her thoughts, to string together two words. Her vivid multi-dimension world has shrunk from crosswords, family finances and loving grandparent to sitting on the couch (when she’s able) and pointing to nearby objects. She spends more and more time lying in bed.
Does she know us? We don’t really know. She seems comfortable around us. She still calls her husband “Jim” at times. She seems to know Barry and his brother are her sons. And one bright shining moment–when they were assisting her with walker to reach the back patio–she glanced out the window and said, “Oh, look, there’s Kathy out there!”
I suspect it may be one of the last times she knows me.
She was an intelligent loving caring schoolteacher. She showered gifts on her three grandchildren. She was the best mother-in-law a girl might want. She didn’t criticize; rarely offered advice except when asked.
She so welcomed another female into her mostly-male family.
When I look into her eyes I still see the intelligence and love shining there. It just can no longer be expressed and shared in the same way.
Both parents are 89 now–Barry’s mom will turn 90 in March.
His dad takes care of her the best he can, but it’s hard to witness. Because he’s struggling too.
We can offer advice: assisted living, nursing home, in-home help, medical alert buttons.
Believe me, it’s all been on the table so many times.
But they are not ready to change anything–yet.
We worry about a fall. (There have been falls.) About so many things.
We call frequently.
We wonder when a call will come that signals the end of their current situation.
We are so lucky that Barry’s brother and his wife live nearby.
I know several of us with elderly parents suffer the same fate: to try and do the best for them while considering what they want.
That’s about all I have to say. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
The worst because we want the best for them, always.
Who knows if and when we will see them again? We don’t know. But we are very glad we made the trip this month. So very glad indeed.
I’m really sorry about Barry’s mom, Kathy. But I know what it’s like – my mother-in-law suffered the same disease, and it was brutal because she was a light in my life. She and my daughter had an unbreakable bond. The last time she visited our house, she told me that it was very nice to have met me. All the years we spent together in love and laughter had been erased.
I will be praying for Barry’s mom, that she will hold onto herself even as her memories fade, and that the transition will not be too painful for y’all. XOXO
Thanks, Stacy. Gosh, it’s so hard isn’t it? When memories of love and laughter are erased, just like that… So very sad. When lights are snuffed out it can so hard. I am sorry you lost your mother-in-law like that, too. Thank you for the prayers. They are so appreciated. ❤
A maternal aunt of mine suffered the same. She was the sweetest, gentle woman. Looking back I can now realize when it was first starting. She used to call me daily at work, I would roll my eyes. I didn’t notice when these calls started stopping. The first time I really noticed it was at a baby shower for her daughter, and the look on her face, when we went around the room introducing ourselves, it was like she didn’t know her name. She went downhill within a couple of years until my uncle had to put her in a home where she languished for another couple of years before dying.
Jackie, I am so sorry this happened to your aunt. It can be so hard to watch. One of the worst parts is watching them languish before passing on. There is no quality of life there for them anymore. My dad had mild dementia before he died of other causes–never an easy thing.
dearest kathy, i cant say that i knowhow you feel because each of us are so unique in our hearts. i can say that i have walked similar paths a few times and your blog resurfaces my feelings at those times. thank you for your words. sending love and prayers for all of you ❤
Ceora, how nice to hear from you again. I think many of us have walked similar paths like this, and so many different feelings do arise. Appreciating your love and prayers surrounding it all. ❤
Life can be hard. Hugs.
It sure can be, Carol. Thank you so much.
Oh dear Kathy, I’m so very sorry for your family. Reading your heartfelt words stirred up so many memories for me and brought tears to my eyes. My grandmother was afflicted with dementia, too, and it was all my grandfather could do to keep her at home as long as possible. She did eventually have to go to a nursing home. But there were moments of love, joy and even humor… It was especially difficult when she no longer recognized us. What a strong and enduring love Barry’s parents are blessed with! I love the sweet picture of them, facing this part of their journey together. Many blessings and best wishes to them and to your family.
Thank you for that observation about the picture of Barry’s mom and dad. I didn’t really see it that way until you said that. There have been many stories of dementia in my extended family; not an easy thing. So sorry about your grandmother and what happened to her. Thank you for your blessings…so much appreciated…
Beautiful post, Kathy. My dad had dementia for years. It was so sad, and it took a toll on my mother and I. Glad you got to spend time with them while she is still partly herself. Hugs to you and Barry. ❤
Thank you, wsquared. I am sorry that happened with your dad, too. (Mine had a mild case as well before he died.) It was such a bittersweet visit because she will probably not recognize us next time. Sigh…
I understand how difficult this post must have been to write. I’m so glad you made the decision to go to GA and that you had that wonderful visit. I really miss both my in-laws and, like you, feel blessed that they were in my life. Sending love to you and your family this holiday season.
Anna, it was hard to write this, but I am trying to tell more “true” stories, even though it’s hard when you want to protect your loved one’s privacy and integrity. Hopefully this succeeded in sharing in a kind and loving way without adding to many personal details. ((hugs to you as you miss your in-laws))
Sometimes, at lest 40-50 years I believe, I read in a spiritual text about how people with dementia somehow had started on the passing over – making it gradually, very gradually – and that the soul knew exactly what it was doing. It felt like a big comfort reading it at that time, and plausible too, to me at last. I do hope you both will find acceptance and be able to not suffer, at least – maybe it is worse for us than them
The both look adorable.Big hug to you.
I so believe that, Leelah–and their awareness is still there shining light and love. But I do see the human part of them struggling, and that’s hard to see. We had an elderly neighbor get dementia years ago and she cried and cried at what she lost. Another distant relative became angry and violent. That’s the part that softens and makes my heart ache, even though another part realizes the gifts of the soul. xoxo
Oh my gosh, yes, and yes. “The best of times and worst of times.” There’s nothing easy about this — I’ll just say I watched the same situation with my Mom and Dad. I’m so glad you got to see them, and what wonderful memories you gathered to hold close to your heart! Holding all of you in my heart with tears pooling in my eyes.
I am sorry you had the same situation with both of your parents, Judi. That is heart-breaking. We do have so many beautiful memories of our times together (including this trip) but also the heartbreak of seeing the challenges and sometimes feeling inadequate to address them.
Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law’s dementia. That’s such a hard road to go down, for everyone, but especially her and your father-in-law. It’s a lot to be a caregiver, and harder the older you get. I’m glad you were able to get down there.
It’s pretty nice there in winter, those are camilias blooming. I always love to be there in the winter when they’re in bloom, we have some at the lake. It seems so foreign to me to see beautiful flowers in bloom in the middle of winter!
Dawn thank you. We so feel for Barry’s dad as he caretakes her, trying to do his very best. But he has challenges as well. It was a good visit together, and we felt pretty safe in the airports and on the plane. Everyone was masked and well-behaved. Thanks also for identifying the camilias. They were lovely!
Very very well done dear Kathy. Love you. Tears here.
Thanks, Ruth. Love you too. ❤ ❤ ❤
This was a beautiful share, filled with love and respect, Kathy. It is never easy to see our loved ones deteriorate and feel pretty much helpless to do much. I’m so glad you made the trip out there this year… Sending you and yours much love.
I am glad you think so, Dale. That helpless feeling can be so challenging. So glad we made the trip, too. Thank you, and love back to you as well.
Oh, I hear you. And I am glad you did as well!
Oh, Kathy you once again did a perfect job of expressing a very difficult situation, and the roiling combination of feelings and emotions that go along with it. I think this is one of the most heart-wrenching things to see…it is losing a loved one while they are still there in front of you. My Aunt Betty suffered from severe dementia…as had her mother. She’d always dreaded the idea that the end of her life would follow that same path. Her daughter, Mary, told of agonizing visits, when Aunt Betty didn’t know her, or her grandchildren at all. One day, Aunt Betty scratched her nose, and Mary teased, “Oh, Mom, when your nose itches, it means you’re going to kiss a fool.” With a twinkle in her eye, and without skipping a beat, Aunt Betty looked at her grandson, tapped her cheek, and said, “Put ‘er there, kiddo!” Mary said it was tiny moments like that, when her true personality or sense of humor showed through, that kept her going. Best wishes to you and Barry, as you navigate this difficult time!
You expressed this so well, too, Cindy. You had me sad thinking of your Aunt Betty and her dementia–and then laughing at loud when her wit came through so delightfully. It is a difficult time. I have spoken to so many people lately who are in similar straights. So tough to witness and support this time of life.
Alzheimers/Dementia is so horrible to watch. My father-in-law had it and now my dad. He has asked me twice who I am, which is just heartbreaking. I’m sorry all of you are going thru this situation. May the happiest memories outshadow the sad times.
Kim, I didn’t know your dad had dementia, but my mom said she knew. Sorry you have to go through this–especially that he is forgetting you. My dad had mild dementia when he died…it’s tough. Thinking of you all with love.
I/we’ve been through this. You have to weigh their rights to be independent with their needs to be safe. It’s a tricky balance, but at some point you become the parents and they become the children. I know you’ll handle things with tact and care. It’s not easy, but necessary.
Ally Bean, you’ve stated it so succinctly–that tight-rope we kids walk between supporting their independence and their safety. Barry’s father is still strongly advocating and reassuring us that he can handle the caregiving. Hopefully we will know the very moment when to step in and give him more assistance.
I’ve been slow to get around to reading this blog. I wonder – frequently – if this is my own future. There are little glitches and my sons tease me mercilessly about them. The mental indications worry me some because I cherish my ability to think clearly but then, I won’t have the most difficult part in the situation, if it comes to that. HUGS !!
Deb, I kinda wonder about this sometimes myself. My memory has never been great–and age has diminished it even more. You are right that it will be our loved ones that will have to deal with things should we go down the same path. Hugs back.
Feeling for you right now Kathy, dementia is a cruel master. My grandmother and father both had it and now my mother-in-law. It is my biggest fear, I would rather be told I had cancer.
I can only say that I can feel your pain and frustration that there is nothing that you can do to easy the situation, but at least you have had this time together.
Sending hugs and bright blessing to you and yours.
(And seasons greetings)
Seasons Greetings to you, as well, Ms. Tilly. I am sorry you’ve had to experience the challenges of dementia. It is scary thinking we might have to go through this too someday. Hopefully not. ((hugs))
Lovely people your in-laws. You were and are blessed to have them even with the dementia. I don’t know if your mil is taking any meds to slow the memory loss or not. Meds seem to help some people. Also, some meds speed up memory loss. Benadryl, statins, benzos, some diabetic meds, amd some other meds as well, and a diet rich in sugar and fats. Probably too late to bother with these things but my thinking is that you never know. My one huge fear is dementia. I avoid many meds and eat as fat and sugar free is possible. My sis had a stroke (not taking her BP meds). And with about one year later she very rapidly declined menially while in a nursing home. She did not have money to remain at home and I was not physically able to care for her. A stroke hastens onset of dementia due to the TBI from the stroke. It still pains me that my sis could possibly still be alive had she not been so paranoid about seeing a new doc so that she could get a new RX for BP meds.
They are lovely and we ARE blessed to have them in our lives. I have enjoyed my conversations with my mother-in-law and we have laughed together many a day, dementia or no. There are so many details about this that I am not at privilege to share publicly, but your information is all very helpful. Hoping that all our minds remain sharp and not clouded. Blessings, Yvonne.
Kathy, I’m so very sorry to hear this news. The mother of one of my high school friends, too, had dementia and when she got to the point where she didn’t know her, it nearly broke my heart. Wish we would find a cure/preventative for this … and soon. It’s very easy to see how this trip was best of and worst of. I’m glad your in-laws have family around to help with the care-giving. It’s a difficult thing under the best circumstances, but I imagine it’s much worse when the carer is ageing as well. As for those nut-pick-uppers, yes, another friend introduced me to them a couple of years ago — what a fabulous invention! Take care, my friend.
I agree with you, Debbie–a cure or preventitive would be the best thing. There is a new drug, but a lot of people don’t seem to trust it yet. Sigh. On another note, so glad you know about the nut-pick-uppers! Who knew?
I’m glad for all that made this the best of trips Kathy, and sad at the losses that come with ageing. Wishing you all the best for the rest of the holidays and the year to come.
Andrea, thank you so much. It can be so hard feeling those losses. Thank you for your holiday wish–and blessings to you and yours in 2022.
Aww, Kathy, I cried reading this post. Thank you for sharing it. Dementia is such a hard illness to witness… I LOVE the photo at the end… Barry’s mom looks like such an angel. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. Lots of love and hugs to you all.
That is the sweetest thing to say, Reggie. We were worried about them yesterday because their phone went directly to voice mail, so we called Barry’s brother to check up on him. Thankfully, it was just a passing storm that caused problems with the phone and TV. Thanks for reading and your kind words. ❤
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