Holiday Magic While Thinking of My Demented Mom

Freda_eleanor_lillian     Eleanor_Lillian_dance

It’s December 28, 2014, a few days after the first Christmas without my Mom, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting, thinking and reflecting. Looking through papers and things of hers, if only to feel closer to her during the holidays…especially this holiday.

So, yesterday, the Saturday after Xmas, I’ve finished my errands outside of the house, I’m home and had decided to straighten up things that have been on my list for a long time. Cleaning up stacks of paperwork that have been begging to be organized and filed for ages, put away the wrapping paper, bows, tissue paper and ribbons, clean the birds, wash the dog, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom…all those things that you really must do, but really don’t want to do, uh-huh!

So, as I am going along, one thing leads to another and I made the decision to bring my mother’s end table into my bedroom. I had bought it for her when she first decided to come live with me and I liked it very much. Now of course, it just reminds me of her when I look at it. It needs to be refinished as she had ruined the surface during her OCD days, but I will do that in the springtime. I brought the table into my room and started making a few changes, cleaning around, moving things from here to there. It was kind of nice, a quiet time in my weekend, almost like getting myself re-grounded after a hard year. As a kid, I had always felt like a new person after moving the furniture around in my bedroom, which is what yesterday was feeling like to me. Some people need to go out and spend money…I move furniture!

As I was going through the motions, I came across a box of jewelry that Mom had sent to me before she moved here. It wasn’t expensive jewelry, mostly costume from the 60’s & 70’s, but I had remembered some it from when I was younger. I had looked through it back when she had sent it, but didn’t pay much attention, which seems to be my MO. I always feel funny in a situation like that. I know darn well she sent those things to me because she was thinking of death and dying as older people eventually do…but I don’t feel the right to it until later, afterwards, so I ignore it. Well, yesterday, I paid more attention, looking at each piece carefully. I came across many little pieces that I remember her wearing to her job and a few things that I didn’t remember.

Then, there was one thing that stood out, a very tarnished silver ID bracelet with her name on it. Instantly, it brought me back to a story that she told me a few years ago, when she still had a memory and could articulate it, before the dementia had taken over her mind. As the story goes…when her and her sister Lillian were just kids, a new Pastor came to their church, St. Andrews. Apparently Lillian had quite a crush on this good-looking Pastor, but it was just a schoolgirl crush and maybe the pastor knew about it or maybe not. We’ll never know the answer to that.

One Sunday, after Sunday school, the Pastor gave my mother a little ID bracelet and poor Lillian was so hurt by it. She felt awful and so did my Mother. Mom didn’t have a crush on the Pastor, she was 5 years younger than her sister and probably wasn’t interested in any boys at that point. Lillian eventually got over it, grew up, got married and had 4 beautiful children…so what was meant to be, indeed happened.

ID_bracelet Photos Above: (1) Eleanor Sarter and Sister Lillian with Freda, her Aunt, (2) Lillian and Eleanor, Right: (3) ID Bracelet from Pastor.

Getting back to the ID bracelet, the instant that I saw it, read her given name on it, the story that she had told me a few years earlier came flooding back to me. I wished that I could have made the connection before now and was able to show her. I’m sure that she didn’t even remember that she had sent it to me in the first place. Sometimes I think that she leads me to find things to make a connection to it’s meaning…from wherever she is…not so far-fetched. Stranger things have happened, which is another story for another time as this was not the first time this has happened since she left us.


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Holidays, Mom and Thoughts on “As a Man Thinketh”

Eleanor-Xmas   Lillian-Bruno-Sarter

Photos: (1) Xmas day & dinner at my Grandparent’s house. Mom, her Father (also with dementia) and Lynn…a lot of clashing fabrics going on there, (2) My Grandparents, Mom’s Parents on Christmas day modeling a few gifts! I’m sure my grandmother was mortified. Below: As a Man Thinketh

During these “Holi-days”, I’ve been thinking of my Mom, Eleanor Sarter, Brophy, Van Meter, whose physical presence is missing, but her huge footprint has been left behind for me to observe, feel and ponder. She loved poetry of all kinds and had many books that she used to look at over and over throughout the years, while marking the pages of some of her favorites. There was a book called “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen, that she particularly loved. Years ago, before computers, she had typed up this one passage from the book that she obviously found great comfort in. She made hundreds of copies and shared them with everyone. I have many of them in my papers throughout the years and I had found numerous copies tucked away in her papers as well, after she passed away. It reads as follows:


As you think, you travel; as you love, you attract. You are today where your thoughts have brought you, and you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you. You cannot escape the result of your thoughts, but you can endure and learn, accept and be glad. You will realize the visions (not the idle wish) of your heart, be it base or beautiful, or a mixture of both, for you will always gravitate toward that which you, secretly, most love. Into your hands will be placed the exact result of your thoughts; you will receive that which you earn; no more, no less. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.

James Allen

as a man thinkth

I’ve looked at it over the years and even put a copy up on my refrigerator…but I wonder if I ever really, truly read it as thoroughly as I have since her death. Of course I read it, but did I understand it from a deeper level? I’m not so sure. She was a very deep and pensive person in her day and loved to get involved in passages like this one by James Allen. When I read it now, I realize that I must take responsibility for where I am in life today, because it’s true that our thoughts lead us to where we are today. Our thoughts can be our greatest success or our worst failures in life. We often go through life not realizing that our thoughts can mold us into who we are or intend to be and lead us to the right way or the wrong way….so then who do we have to blame for a bad circumstance in life…yep, ourselves. Maybe if we picked our thoughts more carefully and intentionally, we could all be in a circumstance that could be embraced.

James Allen says that we will always gravitate towards the things that we most love which many of us never really pay attention to. We pick our college courses, career paths and jobs and then find ourselves in situations that are absolute drudgery, just to put a roof over our heads. We resent our alarm clocks that wake us up in the morning on Mondays, only to pray for Friday to come quickly. That’s a terrible way to go through life. We are wishing our lives away. Then, when we are on our personal time, we do what we love to do…or we get stuck doing what we must do in order to be ready to go back to work on Monday…therefore, the phrase Rat Race. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we could all go through our lives consciously, wide awake, choosing how we spend our time, whether it be making a living or personal time or hobby. Using our thoughts to mold our lives into that wonderful place where we could both enjoy and support ourselves at the same time. As the saying goes…do what you love to do and the money will follow… but as we all know, it doesn’t always go that way. Some people have had it figured out from an early age…and some of us are slow…like myself!

Mom obviously saw herself somewhere in this passage and I try to think of exactly what she was thinking, with regards to herself. She had a very hard life with her OCD disorder from the age of 15, so it is my guess that she dreamed on how she could create a better life, or circumstance for herself with her thoughts. She was a good person with very good and pure thoughts, never being mean to anyone in her life…so why was her circumstances so difficult? Obvioulsy, in her late years, her thoughts were disintegrating rapidly from dementia, and she was quite aware of it, making her very sad. But, I wonder, was she able to use this passage to her advantage before her dementia took hold? I’d like to think that it gave her peace to think it was possible.

Thinking of you Mom, on this first Christmas day without you here. Merry Christmas wherever you are!

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First Holiday Season After Mom’s Departure. Dementia and Leukemia Suck!


Mom_xmas_2013            tree

Photos: (1) Mom opening her gifts, Xmas 2013, (2) Our Skinny Little Xmas Tree,
Below: (3) Mom at Xmas Time in California during Better Times.

Holiday time is upon us and it will be the first Christmas since Mom’s death. Still hard to believe, but it’s the first Christmas that she won’t be around…in California or here with me…feels a little strange. I guess the first holiday, things always feel strange and definitely commands thought.

As I put up the little tree last weekend, immediately, thoughts go back to last year when Mom actually helped me to decorate the tree, which was unusual. Since she came to live with me, she seemed childlike at Christmastime and even though she didn’t have any want-lists, she seemed excited the same way everyone feels this time of year. The season seems to bring out warm feelings in everyone and she was no exception, even with her state of mind and the depth of her dementia. I’d give her an ornament and say….ok, find a nice spot on the tree for this one. She would look around and after carefully thinking it over, then put it in a good place. She’d stand there looking at everything just being happy with the day and the excitement in the air.


When Mom lived by herself in California, I’m sure she must have felt the holiday spirit since she would always send a gift and cards filled with love and holiday spirit. But I know in my heart that she didn’t have a tree or decorations around the house. I don’t think it was because she wasn’t feeling it….I think it was more associated with the OCD disorder that she suffered with which was crippling to her.  And, for all I know, the dementia was probably slowly creeping in giving her a slanted way of handling things. Coming to live with me is really the best thing that happened to her since she lost her husband Dwight Van Meter. Even with the dementia marching on, I believe that she started to enjoy life a little more than before knowing that she had no worries with her caregiving. We live somewhat normally, well, as normal as you can these days…but it was good for her to be around people to pull her out of her comfort zone.

This time of year, we should think of the people, like my mother, who have disorders, diseases and circumstances that prevent them from enjoying life and the warmth of the season. Today’s world has become very commercial and because of that, sometimes remembering the spirit of the season is forgotten and these people who are just a little bit different, are lost in the shuffle. It’s not about the biggest and most expensive gift you can get….its a celebration and the warmth and opening of hearts on this important day for Christians. Because Mom lived during the depression, she as all the people back then, got back to basics knowing that there was joy in the season in just being with family, together in a warm home, with a holiday dinner, being grateful for what they had. I wonder how the elderly people in nursing homes are feeling, those who don’t have the luxury of being with their caregivers and family members during the holidays?

Today, I am thinking about the elderly who have nobody during this holiday season!


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