Reconnecting with Family after Mom Lost Her Battle with Dementia and Acute Leukemia

Maggi_1964 Sam_1971

Photos: (1) Maggi, April 1964, (2) Sam, December 1971 

This past weekend, I had a really nice and long overdue conversation with my first cousin, Maggi. We hadn’t spoken since she and her brother Sam and wife Charlotte had come for a quick dinner as they were passing through on their way back home to the northwest. Since Mom passed away, I’ve been feeling like I would very much like to be connected to the family that remain…all of my cousins. Maggi and her brothers are the last direct family that I know of and they are my first cousins and very much a part of my own history. We had a really nice conversation reconnecting and talking about the family and how Mom lost her battle with dementia and acute leukemia.

As a very young child, I used to spend time at their house while my mother was trying to figure out her life with the separation of my father and dealing with her OCD problem. I remember being there but they are distant memories since I was so young, but I have seen the photos from that time and had often wondered how my life would have turned out if my mother had taken them up on their offer to take me to live with them. Brothers and a sister, in a large family…in a house with a shot at a regular life…although it never happened, I can’t help but wonder, what if.

As kids, they lived up in Muncie and then moved out to Washington’s State, which was almost as far away as they could possibly be and still be in the USA, so we really didn’t get a chance to see each other over the years very much, which was sad. Occasionally, they would come as a family to our grandparent’s house and since I spent most of my free time there, I was able to see and bond with them during those visits. Our grandparent’s house wasn’t very big so us kids got to sleep on a huge quilt on the floor in the living room. I just loved the excitement and the feeling that there were other kids in the family. I am an only child, so life with a single working mother was rather difficult at times…very lonely. After we all would settle in at bedtime, my Aunt Lillian would come in to read us a story. I just loved that part of it, as nobody ever read to me as a kid, so when they came to visit, it was a very big tug at what having a large family would feel like…and I liked it. It’s probably one of the reason’s why I have this very strange love for the old show The Waltons. I still watch it to this day having seen all episodes way too many times, never tiring of them!

Mornings would start early with all of the kids in the house smelling a traditional bacon and eggs breakfast cooking every morning. All I could think of is how different my life was during those visits and I wondered, is this what whole families really do every day? They have cooked breakfasts and eat together at the table? Yes, I loved their visits and always looked forward to the next one as I know our grandparents did.

Lynn_holding_David  At_beach_Ontario_1959

Photo: (3) Mike, Lynn holding David as a baby, (4) David, Maggi, Mike and Lillian, their mother at the beach

There were 4 of them, 3 boys, Michael, David and Sam and Maggi, their only girl. I was close in age with Michael but he was a very quiet and introverted boy, keeping to himself as I remember. David, on the other hand was my buddy. We seemed to have a lot in common and had similar temperaments. Maggi and Sam were born later on as they were the youngest, so most of the time I had spent with them back then during visits was while they were still babies. It wasn’t until many many years later, as adults that we got to know each other and it was worth the wait.

Bottom line, is…the only thing that really really matters in life in the end, is the love of family and good friends.

 Whether you realize that early on or later is not important…as long as you do get it eventually before it’s your time to move on.

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Feeling Like an Adult Orphan After the Last Living Parent is Gone, What Now?

As the days and weeks are passing by after my mother’s death, I have been feeling more and more like an adult orphan. I keep thinking about all that’s happened with Mom and how her absence has affected the household and those of us within it. I know that all of us feel it…and I know that even Tonya the dog feels it, as she is left alone everyday while we are at work and appears to be depressed. With me, I find myself thinking about it over and over, just running through things in my head, re-playing it in my head like a video, hoping that I did everything right by her. I sometimes get stuck on the times when I didn’t have enough patience, but then I think that nobody on the planet could have had patience all the time in those intense situations with a dementia patient when they are at their worst and in the middle of an attack, so I am probably just normal. Then on the other hand, her life was so much better than it would have been if she were in a nursing home, and thinking about that makes me happy and proud. I really do feel, that aside from her obvious problems, that she was happy living in my home and feeling secure that she was surrounded by people who loved her, even in her worst dementia moments. Really, in the end, that’s all any of us want. I was glad that I was able to do that for her. But now what is my status in life…an adult who finds herself an adult orphan after her last living parent is gone.

mom-greenwoodlake  Eleanor_Lillian

The photos above are: (1) Top row, Dad’s friend, Raymond Corso, Mom’s mother and father, Marion Corso, second row, Dad’s friend’s wife, Dad..Edward Brophy, Baby Lynn and Mom…Eleanor Brophy, (2) a young Mom and sister Lillian Sarter, (3) below: Mom, Eleanor Van Meter holding me, with her whole life ahead of her.

Mom-babymeI’ve been reading a recommended book named “The Orphaned Adult” by Alexander Levy, which I am finding very interesting, relating to the very thing that I am going through right now since Mom’s death. I had never really given it any thought before, but that’s exactly how I am feeling, like an orphaned adult. Might sound silly to some, but don’t knock it until you’ve experienced it…think about it. It’s very real and almost everyone will go through it at one time or another, unless of course they die before their parents. Just think about it, this is the first time in your whole entire life that you are here on this planet without absolutely knowing that your creator is here on the planet with you…the one or two people that will always have your best interest at heart. The person or people who have worried about you since the day you were born…unconditionally. I don’t care if you had a good relationship or not, that’s not the point. It’s the knowing that there are only 2 people in the world that can hold that position in your life and somehow, whether you are in touch or not, close or not, living near each other or not, only they can fill that role…and now, suddenly, they are gone. You are here on the planet by yourself and deep down you just know, that you will never be able to count on anyone in the same way that you did your parents. When the last one is gone, it hits home big time, which is where I find myself right now. It’s a lot to think about..huge. It’s also a time where you realize that all the elders in your family are gone and you are the next in line. This is huge…a heavy weight and I feel that anyone that hasn’t gone through it, couldn’t possibly understand the feelings that come with it until they are in this same, very scary place.

I am at the beginning of this new and winding road…journey, not exactly sure where it’s taking me or the feelings that will surface as I travel my own unchartered path, but since it’s all new territory, I am hoping that I will learn from it, love and enjoy looking towards the future along the way.

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Life, Love, Friends and Career vs Dementia

mom-moreyA-2   mom-moreyA-1

Now, reflecting back after Mom’s passing from dementia and leukemia, I had always known, that as she was growing up she wanted a career in the workplace. It was common knowledge and I remember her speaking about her childhood desires many times through the years as I was growing up. Although I can’t recall a lot, I do remember having to call her when I got home from school and her answering the phone with that very deep professional voice “Bozell and Jacobs” that almost sounded melodious. That voice of her answering the phone has been eternally burned into my mind. Bozell and Jacobs was a hi volume, high profile advertising agency where she had worked directly with one of the higher up executives. When her boss, Mr. Hoover, the Chairman of the Board moved on, she interviewed with Teddy Walkowitz, the head attorney in charge of the Rockefeller Family Foundation back at that time. This foundation handled the Rockefeller family fortune and was a very important position for her. As she had always hoped, her career had bloomed into something very professional and was something that she could be proud of.

The above photos: (A) A very young and pretty Mom sitting next to Morey Amsterdam at Bozell & Jacobs Xmas party in either 1958 or 1959, (2) Mom at party with Merv Griffin handing out envelops. He must have just called her name as she raises her hand. Below: (3) The love of Mom’s life, Dwight Van Meter

She held this position for many years to my knowledge. Along the way, I remember her speaking about other positions that she held, ABC, Forbes Magazine and Scientific Applications in CA, until she decided to retire to take care of her very ill husband whom she had met in Manhattan, back in the day. Somehow, she was in with the executives with different companies and met the love of her life, Dwight Van Meter. He became the most important thing in her life and with that she moved into Manhattan, leaving me in Jackson Heights with a girlfriend and her father. They went on to live together and then moving to Encinitas CA where her love of southern California developed. It was there that she worked at Scientific Applications after going through a routine of high security just in order to be hired.


Van, as he was called, was about 20 years older than her and became ill at some point. After collapsing in his driveway, it was determined that he would come home for the remainder of his life, where my mother chose to retire and care for him. His death set forth many years of depression for her, diving even deeper into her OCD disorder. We would have our weekly chats on the phone on Sundays, just as her mother did with her and then as tradition would have it, she also did with me. While on the phone, everything sounded normal with her, always with the professional voice on the phone, but as I came to realize, everything was anything but normal. I didn’t realize how badly her condition had progressed until many years later when I traveled to CA to bring her to live with me six years ago.

Looking back on Mom’s life, yes, it was rather tragic with her OCD since the age of 15, but she had accomplished her most important life goals of being both successful and professional in her career in Manhattan. She had an excellence in everything she did in her professional life and was well liked and proud of her accomplishments…and so was I. She was very smart and sensible. Eleanor Brophy as she was known back then and later becoming Eleanor Van Meter, proved she was to be reckoned with in her lifetime. I am very grateful that she retired before her dementia set it as it would have destroyed all she considered dear in her life.

Her one living friend, Noreen Barsh had been with her since the early days in Manhattan and had been a faithful friend ever since, right until the end. After Mom’s death, Noreen, in several phone conversations from her home in Texas, had told me about how very classy Mom was at work. She told me about how much she was respected at work and how they relied on her. There were so many things about my mother that I hadn’t known before…especially about her professional life. The things that Noreen told me, made me proud of the person my mother was. Noreen is about 6 years younger than my mother and interviewed with Bozell & Jacobs back in the late fifties when Mom hired her. They went on to become great friends for the rest of her life. Noreen called her every weekend and sent her little things in the mail while Mom was living with me. Even though dementia inhibited the conversation, Noreen would just talk and talk to her, talking about the good ole’ days. Life with dementia wasn’t easy. God bless Noreen for that! It made my mother very happy when she called and was sometimes even able to sound normal and join in with the conversation. That is what’s called a lifelong friend!

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Dementia Patients and Who They Leave Behind, the Grieving Process

Mom-babyme     1946-graduate

It’s been a week since Mom passed away of her diseases and the house is feeling very empty. I’ve paid a lot of attention in my earlier posts to the struggles of both the afflicted and the caretaker. Now, I am learning about the dementia patient and who they leave behind, in this case me. It’s been a long week and I am feeling like it will also be a long journey to work through the grieving process.

If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would have had my mother with dementia living with me, I would have laughed at them. Now here I sit after having her in this house for 6 years while taking care of her needs, wondering how I will ever get used to the void she’s left behind. In her older years, she didn’t live a huge life, but she filled a very special space in this house which will be forever missed. Even with Vladimir here, along with all the commotion that surrounds him, the void is obvious, hitting me in the face the minute I walk in at the end of the day.

m0m-b0at-profile   Mom-Tonya

The above photos are of: (1) Mom holding me, (2) Mom’s graduation photo, (3) Mom on a boat on the left looking very young and at peace on the water, (4) Mom and Tonya in August 2014, one month before her death.

We have found Tonya the dog, laying at the end of where her bed had been, leaving me to believe that she is very depressed as well. I put one of my mother’s blankets and a piece of her clothing down for her to lay on until she works her way through it. I rescued Tonya about a year and a half ago and they hit it off nicely. Tonya had grown to love her and my mother loved her back. That in itself was unique since my mother wasn’t a dog person. In the past few years she had forgotten that she had OCD, so having a dog became a non-issue. She loved having company in the house and Tonya used to follow her all over the house during the day while she was still able to walk around. Tonya almost seemed to protect her…knowing her routine and would instinctively know when she was off course.

Mom was cremated yesterday and the process felt very long although is was only 6 days. I will be leaving work early tomorrow to go and pick her up. Even though I am not Russian, it’s Vladimir’s tradition to have a little private ceremony honoring the person on the 9th day, which is tomorrow. We will do that, displaying a few photos and sit to talk about the fun times that we have spent with her. According to tradition, we will do that once again on the 40th day. It is believed that she is still in the house for 40 days before she goes on to her journey.

From my experience, this first week after is filled with sadness and denial…the do you thinks and the I wishes thought pattern going around and around. Along the journey, I sense that there will be a lot of reflection and deep thinking which will bring up a lot of emotion. Let’s see how it progresses.

Hopefully my path will help someone else in their grieving process.

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