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

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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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Life, Love, Friends and Career vs Dementia

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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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