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Speaking in Cursive

Walking through this extraordinary life.

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Dementia

My Mom, Nancy with the laughing face.

I have been planning to write this for a while now. Trying to find the words . My mom has been placed on hospice, at her memory care facility. While we all knew that eventually this would be the outcome, you are never prepared. Mom may have lost the ability to remember us, or walk, or feed herself , but she is so much more. She will die from complications of dementia, but she LIVED a life worth remembering. A life filled with love and sacrifice, and generosity. The life God had planned so perfectly for her.

I have often wrote of how stubborn my father was, but in many ways, my mother had him beat in that department.She was stubborn in all the right ways. She was the middle child, a tomboy with braided pigtails. She was often sick in her youth and it steeled her to be tough. She was mischievous and impish. She loved to tell me the story of how when she was little she would help out at her father and uncles barbershop. One hot day, they needed her to fill up their water spray bottles for haircuts. She had to walk outside repeatedly to the water pump to fill them up. She grew frustrated and decided to just spit into them instead. If she put her mind to something, it got done. One way or another.

Nancy Joyce Day was movie star beautiful. I know that is how my dad noticed her. Porcelain skin, with bluish green eyes that would change color depending on her outfit. Beautiful brunette hair with just enough wave to make it behave. She was trim and stylish. All of these stayed the same. After 6 kids, she still could turn heads. She was so pretty, but she never knew it, or acted like she did. She was naturally beautiful, but loved to enhance it with her Mary Kay make up. I remember watching her apply her lipstick, the left upper, then right upper lip, then smacking them together with the bottom. She didn’t spend more than 5 minutes getting ready, but it would look perfect. The same with her hair. She is the reason I chose the career I did. The way she would allow me to play with her hair, brush it, curl it, and put make up on her, when I was little. Mom kept up her beauty routine into her 80’s. Only stopping when she was placed into memory care.

Mom, became a mother at a young age. Things were not easy for my parents and their new family, but this began the life God had planned for her. To be a Mother, caregiver, a Grandmother. There is not a doubt in my mind, this was what God created her to be. When you think of what a Mother is and should be, she was All of them. And it came completely natural to her. Holding a baby, rocking them to sleep. Caring for a sick child all night long, sacrificing her own health and sleep. The absolute unselfishness mom showed everyday is unmatched. She always put her husband , children and grandchildren first. Always.

There is that scene in the movie A Christmas Story, where the mom had made dinner and she has dished everyone up and is about to sit down and eat, when they start asking for more food. Without skipping a beat she gets up and adds more food to all their plates as the narrator says ” My mother hasn’t had a hot meal in 15 yrs.” That. Was. My. Mother. I can remember, watching her clean off the table after we had all finished our meals, and she would take bites off of our plates, or from the serving spoons. That was how she ate, standing up, after we had our fill. She was the type of mother who would give you the last piece of anything, even if she hadn’t eaten a bite herself. I can remember, as a child, late at night, hearing my mom in the kitchen. Back then, peanut butter jars had a metal lid. Every night my mom would sneak into the kitchen after everyone was asleep,starving I am sure, and get into the jar. Somehow, she Always dropped the lid, and I could hear it hitting the floor and spinning. My sister’s and I would giggle. Funny how I find myself in the kitchen in the middle of the night now. When my dads health required dietary changes, she learned all she could to cook his food the way the Doctor’s wanted. Never complaining.She did what she had to do to keep him healthy as long as she could. She did it too.

We may not have had the biggest house, or the best clothes, but we never went without. Mom always kept a clean house, and clean kids. She couldn’t let us go running around looking like ” ragamuffins” as she would say. She stayed home to raise us, (and her grandchildren and most of the neighborhood too.) Coming home from school you knew there would be cookies or a cake freshly baked and dinner cooking in the oven. My mom spent most of her time in the kitchen. I am sure she wasn’t always thrilled about it, but she never made us feel that. She showed her love for her family through her acts of service to us. And there were so many of them.

When my dad became disabled, and could no longer work, mom started watching neighborhood kids to help make ends meet. A lot of the kids would get dropped off early in the morning and stay until supper time. It didn’t take long until the local grade school called and asked mom if she could take some before and after school kids. So the house was always filled with kids. Babies, school age, boys or girls it didn’t matter. My mom helped raise so many children. Including her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am pretty sure if you are reading this, you, your child or someone you know was loved on by my mother.

I don’t remember a time when we needed her that she wasn’t there. So many times, last minute things for school were needed, and somehow, she made it happen. She was the mom on the street who knew how to make the garters for homecoming. So she would make them for whoever asked. She sewed costumes for plays, and programs, and weddings and pageants. Sometimes, with only 24 hrs notice. She was Allerton Avenue’s beautician. When word got out she could give permanent waves, most of the girls, and some men, quickly were getting a very unique perm from mom. We like to joke that as she was rolling the hair up in the perm rods, if a clump of hair wouldn’t go the way she wanted, she just cut it off. She wouldn’t let that stop her.

She had an amazing way with words and phrases that most of us use today. She pronounced wash with an r , as in, warsh. “Go warsh your face”, or “you better get warshed up for school.” Crayon, was pronounced Crin , as in “Do not leave your Crin’s all over the floor!” She had phrases and terms that were unique and sometimes salty. When we would get wild, she would refer to us as a “Whirling dervish .” If we were naughty she would tell us she would ” bring one up from the floor” to get us to settle down. If we were arguing, we were told we “couldn’t pair off” . When we refused to clean our rooms, she threatened to “pitch” all our things. To express her astonishment she would say “Jumpin Jehoshaphat!”, which took me until adulthood to realize it was a real phrase from the bible. Some things she would say were heavily seasoned with salt and sass. A favorite was “tighter than dicks hatband” . This phrase could be used in many situations. The same could be said for “Balls on a blue goose”. Some are so salty and sassy that I can not print them. Just know they were as colorful and as funny as she was!

Mom was always there to help, at a moments notice. Most of her adult children at one time or another, moved back home. For a multitude of reasons and different lengths of time. For myself, it was because I was on bed rest with a twin pregnancy, and had two toddler sons. We had moved an hour north and my husband had to work. So, I moved back in, with my two older sons, very pregnant. Mom knew she would be doing Everything for me and my kids. She was 60 years old at the time. She bathed my kids, made all their meals, helped potty train the younger one And took care of other grandchildren. She also took care of me , as I sat on the couch, she brought me my food, washed my clothes, wrangled my sons, read to them, tucked them in at night. Then when my dad would go to bed, mom and I would put on a game and she would make me a hot fudge sundae. With walnuts. Every night. Mom helped me eat for 3.This went on for 4 months. My mother, ensuring her baby would have two more healthy babies.

My mother loved sports. Any kind, and every Wisconsin team. They were her team, her guys. My mom would watch sports in what we called “the back room” after dad had gone to bed, at 7 p.m. Usually the volume on mute, so as not to wake him. Sometimes, she would get a little carried away, and a bit of a sailor mouth would emerge. Win or lose. The excitement would get the better of her and she would be up jumping up and down, fists in the air! There was always a game on. Whatever sports season it was, that was her favorite. One time my husband and I had taken her to the hospital to visit my dad. In the elevator was a very tall young man. Without skipping a beat she looked up at him and asked ” Do you play basketball?” She was as feisty as they come. Granny was spry! She would’ve absolutely loved the Bucks Championship season.

My mom spent over 40 plus years of her 66 year marriage being my dads caregiver. Suffering from multiple conditions, my mom had to be all things to him a lot of the time. When he got his kidney transplant after years of dialysis, mom lovingly nurtured him back to reasonable health. In charge of a multitude of anti rejections meds, she carefully filled his pillbox, she kept records of appointments and lab work. All the while, continuing to watch her grandchildren and others. She kept up with the house and the yard. Never missing a beat.

Her puppies meant everything to her. Everything. Spoiled isn’t a strong enough word. She would prepare chicken breast meat to add to their bowls. She would sleep on the couch at night with them because that is what they wanted. They had bows and ribbons in their hair and scarves around their necks. She was heartbroken when they died, but always had room to love one more. Shelter dogs, pure- breds, little or big. It didn’t matter. She had Dachsund’s and Westies, and German Shepherd’s and mutts. And she loved all her grandpuppies too, often watching them for all of us.

My mom wasn’t boastful or “braggadocious”as she would say. She was tough as nails when things got hard. She was courageous when most would run. But she never shouted it from the rooftops, all the sacrificing she had done. She was quiet about all she did.She relied on her faith. I know was blessed by her and her prayer chain from church. She would make cakes to be delivered to homeless shelters through church. She volunteered for many things throughout the years. Room mother, Girl Scout Leader, seamstress for the plays. Her whole life was built around doing for others. How blessed am I to have watched it modeled so perfectly.

Mom was young at heart with an old soul. She had an unmistakable laugh that filled a room.A sharp sense of humor and a love for life. She had a little shimmy dance she would do when she ate some ice cream. She loved to show you her tap dancing moves. She loved her pool and going down the giant slide into it. She could do yoga better than people 40 yrs her junior. She bowled until she turned 81. She loved going to lunch with her friends or to the Fireside with her daughters. She was always grateful. Even during the absolute most difficult days of her life. She found joy in the absolute ordinary. There is such beauty in that.

Looking back at my childhood now, I am sure she was tired, and hungry and absolutely overwhelmed. But she Never let on to that. My favorite memories with my mom, are when I became a mom myself. If I needed her, when I didn’t know how to stop my baby from crying, she would drive over and sit with me, even late at night. We would take daily 3 mile walks, pushing strollers full of babies, solving all the worlds problems while we did it. I loved watching her with the grandchildren, my kids and my siblings. The absolute pride she had for All of them was unmatched.They made her laugh like I have never heard before. They gave her joy like a kid on Christmas morning. Watching my mom, be a mom and grandmother shaped who I became as a mother. My mother, lead by example. Show compassion, to everyone, even those who don’t show you the same. Sit with the lonely, feed the hungry,help the sick. Put other’s needs and wants before your own. This was her everyday. All day.

My mom gave everything she had to everyone. All the time. Even though she did everything right to stay healthy, dementia found her. And while it stole her memories, it didn’t steal who she was and IS at her core. A caregiver. A nurturer. A gentle sensitive soul with a spark inside. Many of you have seen pictures of her with Romeo, the stuffed animal, a German Shepherd, I got her almost 2 years ago now. For some reason, of all the dogs my mom had over the years, Tina, a German Shepherd from 50 years ago was the one she remembered. Mom would often tell stories of how protective Tina was over all of us, like a mother herself. Clearly, mom related to Tina. My mom may not know her children or grandchildren anymore,but she Knew she was to comfort Romeo. To rock him gently, and pat his back. To sing to him, and cover him with a blanket when he was cold. The person God made my mother never left. She is still there.

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My mother was and will always be my best friend. I could talk to her about anything.I confided in her about everything. I called her everyday. We could talk for an hour or five minutes. It didn’t matter. What I would give to call her now, to hear her say “Hi Mare.”. I have it in my heart though. For the past 2 years I video chatted with her once a week with the help of the activity director at her memory care facility. While our conversations were much different, with me doing most of the talking,it still filled my heart and soul. I recorded most of them, for the days to come, when I know I will need to hear her voice and see her face. Because I simply can not imagine a world without her in it. So I won’t let there be.

I don’t want my mom to only be remembered for the fact that she no longer could. She was and is so much more than that. She was and is a bright, beautiful, funny and compassionate person who had a laugh like no other. Spunky and feisty and one of a kind. We are blessed to have her as our mother.

Lately, I have been picturing my dad calling her home, saying “Ma, I’m hungry, what’s for dinner?” And my mom responding ” I’ll be there soon Richard.” What an amazing feast that will be. Maybe she will even get to eat a hot meal.

A Mother’s Hands

Lately, I have been fixated on my Mother’s hands.

Hands that held countless children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, neighbors and friends. Gently rocking them to sleep. Comforting them in sickness. Guiding them in their lives. Wiping tears away in sadness.

Hands that cared for my father through decades of illness. Preparing special foods for him. Cleaning and wrapping his wounds. Organizing his medicine and appointments.

Hands that took care of a home for over 66 years. Cleaning after 6 children, then their children, and their children. Cooking 3 square meals a day 7 days a week. Washing ,ironing and folding clothes for her family. Baking cookies and cakes.

Hands that sewed, and mended and darned. Making garters for homecoming, and costumes for plays, and flower girl dresses. Creating curtains and bedspreads and baby blankets for her family.

Hands that combed and brushed her 5 daughters hair. Learned how to give perms to them and their friends. Kept them from looking like “ragamuffins”.

Hands that cheered for her children in their activities. That rooted for her teams, The Packers, The Brewers, The Bucks and The Badgers.

Hands that disciplined. That grabbed our hands from crossing the road into traffic. Protected us from danger.

Hands that prayed. That took communion. Called others on her prayer chain from church to tell them who to pray for, or to ask for prayer for those she loved.

My mother doesn’t remember any of these things anymore. My last visit with her, she didn’t recognize me or my husband. I showed her a picture of myself with her and my dad, sitting next to her,she couldn’t recognize me in the picture either. But I am convinced while her head doesn’t remember, her hands do. Now, as she holds her beloved “Romeo” and rocks him like one of her babies, she takes her hands and pats him gently, speaking to him lovingly, and somehow I know he understands. He too feels all the love in my mother’s hands.

Bone for bone we are the same.

Bones get tired and can’t carry their own weight.

Mom don’t you worry, I will do the remembering.

Mom and Romeo.

I Miss You As Long As You Are.

It happened today. I know it won’t be the last time,and eventually there will be no going back from it. My mom didn’t recognize me on our weekly video call. She stared blankly at me when I said “Hi Mom.” I waited for the awareness to come to her eyes. It didn’t. The activity director, Jen, lovingly told her “It’s Mary.” Slowly I could see her coming back to me. But those few moments were and are heartbreaking.

Mom has been in a memory care facility for dementia for 2 years. With 1 year being during this pandemic. So the majority of my time with her is via video phone calls. While her recognition and memory of other relatives has faded, for the most part she has been able to remember her children. Until recently, I have noticed her mixing us up or thinking my brother is my father. So today was hard. But I knew it was coming eventually. When we talk, mom will fixate on one thing or time frame. With me it is 3 different events in my life between 25 and 35 years ago. When I was Jr Miss in 1987, when I took state boards to become a hairdresser, and when I had my twins. These 3 themes are on replay and repeat. But I do not care. I am happy to go back there with her. I sent her a photo of me with my Jr Miss sash on from 1987, and she has misplaced it( because I moved it from where she had it and now she can’t find it.) so every phone call, she asks about it. “Weren’t you “….. and her voice trails off, as I fill in the blanks, “Jr Miss” I say. And she is transported back there. The light comes back in her eyes. Or when she asks “didn’t you cut my hair?” I know she is referring to being my model for State boards. When we are chatting and one of her friends enters the area she will say “this is my daughter, she had twins.” These must be moments, memories embedded in her brain about me. I know she has these moments with my siblings too. We will meet her wherever she is. For as long as we can. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

There is this horrible meme that floats around Facebook, that people share thinking it is funny. You know the one…” Keep it up mom or I will put in Shady Pines Nursing home”…. or something along those lines. Listen, I am Not easily offended. I have all sons. But, when I see people so carelessly throwing that around it feels like a knife in the heart. Because when you are actually faced with that decision, there is absolutely Nothing funny about it. It tears you and your siblings apart. When the Dr. says ” Your mom can not come home anymore.” trust me, no one is laughing. I have already had this talk with my sons. That when that time comes, if it does, that I understand. That the mom I am now is telling them, it is ok, that I know how hard that decision is, but that I know it is made in love. The mom I will be then may yell at them, and cry and not understand, but the mom I am now does. And people will make comments not meaning to hurt, like, “I won’t ever do that,” or ” My mom will just stay with me.” Trust me, easier said than done. My siblings and I tried for years to keep my parents in their home. We did everything we could. And it killed us to have to sell their home, and place them in a facility. You don’t ever get over it or forgive yourself. I want my sons to know they have no reason to ever feel it. Furthermore, we have been absolutely Blessed with mom’s memory facility and team of caregivers. They have had to be her family this past year. They have stepped up gone above and beyond what their job description is. We are forever grateful to each one of them.

When we were about to hang up I said to mom ” I miss you mom.” She turned her head and looked off into the distance and quietly said, ” I think I miss you as long as you are.” I know it is a jumbled up sentence, that may not make sense, but to me, it has two meanings. I knew she was trying to tell me that she misses me a lot. That it has been a long time since we have all been together. I knew what she meant. But for me, that one sentence, “I miss you as long as you are.” summed up all I have felt since she has been living with dementia. I miss my mom, who she was, what she was, what we did together. I miss my daily phone calls to her, my visits with her at home. I remember after having my oldest son, I would walk over to her house, with him in a stroller. My mom and I would walk 3 miles everyday, and talk and solve all the worlds problems.I miss that. I miss going to lunch with her and my sisters, or going to plays, or baking cookies. You see, I have been slowly, grieving my mom for 2 years. It is a long goodbye. One day, maybe soon, she won’t remember me at all, or what I meant to her. But I will remember her. I will miss you as long as you are, Mom, and even after that.

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