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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Easter Sunday, Dementia, Mom and Memories of Her Sister Lillian

mom-sister_1929mom-sister2_1942It’s Easter Sunday, the sun is out, temps a bit cool, but it’s a happy, positive and upbeat day! The house is quiet and peaceful, just the way I like it and Mom started her day, on a bad note. She apparently got up in the middle of the night after having a little accident and took some of her night clothes off…so she woke up a little wet and cold. No matter, I got the situation under control and we were off to a better start. Got her breakfast, the Sunday newspaper and we sat together reading and eating. You never know what to expect with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Photos: (1) Mom and Lillian as young ladies, (2) Lillian and Mom considerably younger, (3) Below, Mom and Lillian again, very young, probably 1929.

This afternoon, Mom is wandering around the house appearing to have a good ole’ day and I am sitting here thinking about Lillian, her big sister. Mom spends a lot of time talking about her older sister who she worshiped, as they were very close as they were growing up. Lillian passed away very early on of Leukemia, leaving 4 small children and a husband. They lived on the other side of the United States in the state of Washington, so we didn’t get to see her before she left us. Back then it was a big deal to fly across the country, especially for my grandparents who never ate out, let alone get on a plane to fly cross-country. I know that my grandmother had always felt somewhat guilty for Lillian’s Leukemia, even though she had absolutely nothing to do with it. Never-the-less, she couldn’t shake that feeling.

Lillian was a kind and gentle woman who was not only very intelligent but was lucky enough to have gone to college as well. She had always wanted to be a mother and was blessed with 4 beautiful children, Michael, David, Maggie and Mom-Lil_brookynSam, my cousins. I don’t have any siblings, so these first cousins are close to my heart. Matter of fact, there was a time that I almost became a part of their clan when Lillian and Bob wanted me to permanently come live with them when my mother’s OCD was out of control. Mom actually never wanted to be married with kids as Lillian had. She had only wanted a career in Manhattan which she had accomplished, it was her dream. I was really only holding her back when I think about it now…but she was a trooper. I never actually knew that fact as a child, so she hid it well. I’ve always wondered how my life would have been different if that had happened? I suspect, I would have been more educated, had more people skills, have made better choices in my life and would have had a male role model in Uncle Bob not to mention a very present mother figure. But that’s all hindsight now…we only have the here and now. Everything happens for a reason.

As a child, I remember Lillian and her family coming to visit my grandparent’s house, which is where I was most of the time while growing up. It wasn’t a big house but we always found room for the McCracken clan when they came to visit. To my delight, we kids would camp out on the floor on a big quilt in the living room. Aunt Lillian would come in and read to us…I thought it was amazing. Nobody had ever read to me when I was a kid…just Aunt Lillian, in her very soft, expressive and compassionate voice. You couldn’t help but love her. She was living her purpose, on her life’s course and obviously was very happy doing what she loved to do. And her kids loved her so much…they were lucky to have her and I believe they knew it. To me, they seemed to have a great life, great parents, brothers and sister…what could be better? Who was to know how things would change so drastically in the future with the passing of their Mom. It would be a life changer for their family.

From what I can remember, Lillian took after her father, my grandfather, who by the way, had dementia in his later years. She seemed to have more of him than my mother did actually, but that’s only my personal observations and opinion. I often wonder, had she of lived, would she be in the middle of this dementia curse as my mother is? We will never know. We only have the wonderful memories of Lillian and although Leukemia took her, she was spared the torture of dementia.

When I had originally written this post a year ago, I didn’t know that my mother with dementia would be gone by now. I thought for sure that I could get her to 90 years old…a milestone for our family, but it was not to be. Out of left field, she was diagnosed with Leukemia of all things, like her sister. As if having dementia and Parkinson’s wasn’t enough…she developed Leukemia. She was gone less than 2 months later. What are the chances that sisters would both have Leukemia? Hematologist told me that they both were probably exposed to something as children. Could my grandmother have known something, or suspected something, therefore feeling guilty all those years? I guess that I will never know the answer. She’s with her sister Lillian now, running around with the angels…waiting to welcome us someday.

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