Dementia Isn’t Who My Mother Was, It Was What She Had

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Today, I was reflecting back on something very nice that my mother had once done for me. Not sure what got me to thinking about it, but in these past months since she passed away from dementia and leukemia, some past memories have been surfacing. She was really a good and decent person even with all of her challenges and struggles that she faced in her lifetime. Even so, it never stopped her from being a good person.

Photos: above, (1) Mom (Eleanor) and me (Lynn) in my first year, (2) Mom (Eleanor) and me (Lynn) in Florida getting cooled off, below, (3) Mom (Eleanor) and me (Lynn) on what looks to be a ferry, (4) Mom strolling me around, (5) Mom posing with me, looking kind of goofy!

Dementia and all the complications and behaviors associated with it, usually happens toward the end of a person’s life…meaning that dementia sufferers are people too, in spite of the disease. They have led mostly normal lives with normal childhoods, have had both good and bad experiences in young adulthood, dating, working, marrying, socializing, the same things that we all have experienced in our own lives. Too often when in the throws of care taking dementia patients, we can forget this, not purposely, but because we get so consumed with having to make decisions for them, sometimes we forget that they also have feelings, likes, dislikes and individual preferences and because now, they have dementia, all that was once your parent, spouse, relative or patient, has faded silently into the background. Some people might not think that their opinion matters anymore, that it’s irrelevant. Then at some point we realize…dementia isn’t who they are, dementia is what they have.

Eleanor_Sarter_Lynn_4Back during a time when I was going through a particularly stressful divorce, I had decided to go back to college into a full time program, which is what I did for 5 years, right along with the young college students that attended at that time. I was very fortunate to be able to do that and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity. Unfortunately, I was living on next to nothing, eating pasta for every meal because there was no money coming in. The husband had not lived up to his legal agreement in helping me while I was in school learning a profession so that I could be self sufficient. For 23 years before, I had been a stay at home mom, raising his children and now it became very important for me to go to school and do it well, which I did when finally graduating with a 4.0 GPA. Looking back on eating all of that pasta, I can now understand why I am a 100 lb. diabetic! It was too many carbohydrates eaten as a daily staple food.

Eleanor_Sarter_Lynn_1It was common knowledge back then that I loved the Beatles and it was at a time when a brand new book came out, a super sized book called Anthology. It was expensive, so I never even considered that I’d ever be able to have a copy. Mom would call me pretty regularly from California, where she lived for many years. She was a great moral support during such a bad time. She couldn’t financially help me as she was on a fixed income herself, but that was ok, the moral support was enough. I happened to mention to her one night about the new Beatles Anthology book that had come out. It wasn’t a long conversation, just said matter of factly. That was the last time that I had spoken about it with her.

The days and weeks passed and before knew it, holiday time rolled again. Usually, I would go to my daughter Kim’s house to spend Christmas afternoon with her and her family, and this year was no exception. While there, Kim brought out a nicely wrapped gift that she said was for me, from my mother. I was surprised because Mom would usually be very low key during the holidays because of her own situation. Upon opening the gift, I realized that she had bought me the Beatles Anthology book. Apparently, she had sent the money to Kim who was able to purchase it for her, a little surprise that they worked together on. I was so touched that she would do that for me because in reality, she couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money…but she found a way. It was just the kind of person that she was. There were so many other times as well over the years where she would manage to show who she was with the kindness in her heart, while struggling with her own problems.

Eleanor_Sarter_Lynn_2Mom was always doing nice little things like that, mostly things that didn’t cost money but things that made people happy. She would love to read the newspaper and would regularly cut out interesting articles from her California paper and send them to me. A few times a week, there would always be an envelope in the mail with interesting articles that she thought I would enjoy. Between the phone support and the envelopes in the mail, I was able to come through my situation feeling pretty confident and good about myself knowing that there was someone in my corner and on my side.

The bottom line is, that dementia or Alzheimer’s couldn’t take that quality away from her. A disease can change your quality of life, effect the way that you act because of the symptoms and it can ultimately take your life in the end, but it can’t steal how people remember you or the person that you were before and how you treated the people in your life. The way you treat people will follow you through life whether it be good or bad. I’m proud to say that my mother was a really good person and that’s how I will remember her always.

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