Can an Alzheimer’s Patient Choose When Their Time is Up…I Believe My Mother Did

Eleanor Brophy-wedding  Eleanor-Lillian

It’s mid July, with a very hot summer Sunday upon us. Can hardly believe that we are almost halfway through the summer already. We patiently wait for summer through the long winter months with its miserable weather, which seems to be a lifetime, only to see summer fleeting right under our nose.

For those of us who are working a Monday through Friday schedule, the weekends are especially important to us and I am no exception. Weekends are sacred, even though no major, monumental or earth shattering events take place in my life. I am happy with status quo as long as status quo is peaceful, happy and healthy. What else can I ask for? What is left really other than winning the lottery! First you should be happy and healthy, as being wealthy can’t do that for you. Lord knows, it could help, but it won’t fix everything. Since my mother Eleanor passed away last September, it’s been a year of unfolding, adjusting and finding a new normal. Since she was a very private person, I discover new things about her and the situation every time that I look into her papers and journals.

Having said all of that, I was home yesterday with a mostly cloudy day and a little time on my hands. I decided to go through the mountains of papers and things on my table so that I could organize and file papers away where they belong. I came across an over sized manilla mailing envelope that my mother had sent to me years earlier, which I had set aside to look at again when time allowed. Back then, my cousin Sam’s wife Charlotte was doing a family tree of my mother’s side of the family and also of Sam’s father’s side of the family. She had learned a lot in her research that I had also wondered about. In the illustration of the tree, Charlotte had written notes and questions for my mother to answer since she was the only one left from that generation in our family who could possibly shed light on her questions. Back then, she showed no signs of Alzheimer’s disease so she was able to fill in a lot of blanks.

Some of the questions that Charlotte asked were about names such as Jessie, was it a male or female in this instance, or marriage dates and deaths. She had no way of knowing our side of the family because Sam’s mother had died years ago of Leukemia and his father had eventually remarried, which forced our side of the family to a distance of cross-country. New wives are never comfortable with the previous, especially where children are concerned, right or wrong, it’s a fact. Needless to say all of us kids and cousins were cheated of a connected family relationship, which was probably more my loss than theirs, mainly because I was an only child in a broken household, in desperate need of a large family connection.

Mom-Van_1979 Mom_Van_xmasMom wrote notes on the side of the family tree that Charlotte sent and as I read through it, all seemed normal and interesting, until I came across something that still has me scratching my head, even today. Years ago, back in 1970, Mom married a man named Dwight Van Meter, an advertising executive and photographer, 20 years her senior, living in New York City, whom she met through one of her own prestigious jobs. She wasn’t one to fall in love easily, but she fell hopelessly in love with Van, as he was known, and in 1970, they married. Then, in 1985 when Van passed away after care-taking him at home, she went into mourning until her own death.

She was living in NYC at the time of her marriage and I was off living the hippie experience on Long Island. She was very private about her life and it wasn’t until afterwards, did I learn of her marriage to Van. It was okay, I didn’t mind at all, I was very happy for her and her new life, while I myself being wild and crazy in my own life, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing that I’ve ever done if the truth be told. But it was what it was, and today, in hindsight, it still was what it was and I accept that. What I am trying to say is that, I never really made a mental note of the date they got married. I was way too involved in living my own life at the time as most 21-year-old kids tend to do.

Photos: top: (1) Mom and her sister Lillian on a wedding day, (2) Mom and Lillian young and pretty with the rest of their lives ahead of them,
(3 + 4) Mom and Van, the love of her life, (5) Mom’s pin that she wore on her clothing everyday while living with me. She came to me with this pin. Even though she eventually didn’t remember, she always had to have to pin on. Love is deeper than Alzheimer’s disease.

Van buttonIt wasn’t until yesterday, when I was looking at the notes written in my mother’s handwriting, that I had a HUGE, COLOSSAL, GOOSE BUMP WOW MOMENT. My mother and Van got married on September 28th, 1970. My mother passed away with her diseases of Alzheimer’s/dementia and Leukemia on September 28th 2014…exactly to the date, 44 years. What are the odds of that happening…I mean, what’s the chance that she would have died on that exact day? I am a firm believer in the “there are no coincidences” mentality. She spent the last 29 years mourning Van’s death and writing powerful and emotionally written journals about her deep grief. Before her diseases set in, she made me promise that I would scatter her ashes in the exact place where she had spread Van’s ashes, and I have a lot of maps and instructions that she had sent to me through the years outlining her wishes on that subject. Of course, I promised and will honor her wishes when finances allow. But think about it…coincidence? I don’t think so…I believe in my heart of hearts, that even in her state of mind, that she chose the day she would die and that he came for her on new journey. I truly believe that they are together again, finally, without the indignity of the diseases and pain that they suffered in the end. A true love story.

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July 4th, Another First for the Daughter of a Dementia Patient


Today is the 4th of July, Independence Day for our country, a time to reflect and celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 declaring our independence from Great Britain while at the same time announcing to the world that we are our own sovereign nation, pledging to our own flag. My Mother was a loyal and proud American, loved to talk politics, voted without fail every year until the day she forgot what voting was, believed in the American Dream and was grateful to have been born in this country. With that said, today, this first year since my mother’s passing, with yet another first upon me….and there have been many so far this year. I believe that everyone must go through these feelings during that first year after a loved one passes, but I never really thought about that until it directly effected me personally. I mean really, how was I to know about the “first syndrome” until crossing that bridge for myself?

Alzheimer’s disease and it’s associated assorted dementia related diseases are a nightmare for our population worldwide with the numbers of effected people and their families rising daily. Although they are making advances in the medical field for these diseases, it doesn’t help those that are or were effected yesterday or today. Yesterday’s sufferers have left a black void in the hearts of their families and today’s sufferer’s are watching the train coming down the track without even realizing it. It’s just a matter of time before their today becomes their family’s yesterday, leaving them to think about all the “firsts” that will occur during their first year after their loved one dies.

Photos: above: (1) My Mother, Eleanor Van Meter/Sarter at various ages, sporting her Kennedy-like teeth…I always loved her smile, below: (2) Mom, young at the beach, one of my favorites, (3) Mom even younger at the beach, probably Coney Island…quite possibly on July 4th!

beach Mom_bch_102x102What does a person think about on the “first” holidays that occur during that “first” year? Well, for me, it’s all about reflecting back to that holiday the year before, which sometimes, there is no recollection of what we were doing that particular day. I know that I was home because that is where my Mother was and I was not working. Chances are we bar-b-qued, which Mom always liked…but what did we bar-b-que? Who the heck knows…point is, when we are care taking, many times, we take for granted every day that passes in just trying to get through, not really cherishing what is right there in front of you. You are struggling to do the best job that you can while trying to earn a living, manage a household and all the chores associated, all the time enduring the stressful existence that you find yourself in with a loved one suffering from dementia. Although we know exactly in our heads, what the outcome will be down the line, it’s incomprehensible to submit or subscribe to the idea that someday, your loved one will be taken by this life sucking disease of dementia. I guess it’s what’s called denial…ending with the rude reality in the grande finale’…leaving us with a whole lot of “firsts” and non-ending reflections from the past to digest. Did we do a good job in care taking, did we embrace the little things that occurred daily, did we tell them that we loved them enough, did they even know that we loved them… a lot of burden to carry around everyday.

In my case, I am starting the 10th month into my “first year” journey. Not many holidays left to reflect on, yet I know in my heart, that when the first anniversary comes around, my brain won’t magically shut off. If I know human nature…and myself, I will go on to reflect my Mother’s existence on this earth shared with the memories that I carry around, both in childhood and as an adult. I’ll try not to dwell or lament on whether I feel that I did a good job of care taking, or not so much, because in the end, we all do the very best that we can considering the circumstances that we are dealing with. I’ll look back and think about the things that she liked to do, her accomplishments in life and the footprint that she left me with. Really, that’s all we can do.

On this July 4th, give the person you are care taking a big hug…trust me, you will thank yourself later.
Happy Independence Day Mom!

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