The First Anniversary. Today is the Last of the Firsts


Today is the first anniversary since my mother, Eleanor Van Meter passed away from a combination of diseases including Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Leukemia. September 28, 2014 marked the beginning a year filled with firsts. The first Halloween, the first daylight savings time, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Mom’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, etc. I’m sitting here on September 28th, a year later in 2015, reflecting on what this year has meant to me.

I didn’t exactly know what to expect during the first year, but I can see that at least a year is needed to come to terms with a death of a parent. Because the year after a death will always be significant while dealing with of all the firsts, it’s probably the hardest year you will ever go through. The fact that it’s a parent, compounds the intensity even further. I don’t care if parent and child got along well, or didn’t get along well, if they were best friends or estranged or indifferent, the effects of losing a parent are unique, because your parents are the reason you are here on this earth. There’s never been a time since you were born that they haven’t been on this earth, until they pass away. Again, it doesn’t matter if you saw them everyday or once in a year, it’s a powerful event for the child/adult to process and come to terms with. For me, this past year was a time to create a new normal.

Photos: (1) above: Mom, young and full of hopes and dreams, (2) below: Mom (Eleanor) and big sister Lillian, (3) Mom and Lynn (me) in my room at her mother’s house. Contrary to this photo, dolls were not my thing, but it was a gift from my father….soooooo, (4) Mom, a few weeks before her death.

Eleanor-LillianMom had a combination of a good life and tragic, all rolled into one. When I look at her childhood photos, I see a happy, normal little blonde haired girl who obviously looked up to and adored her big sister Lillian. That feeling had reflected in our many talks over the years. As she matured into a young adult, she somehow started showing symptoms of what we now know to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It was that disorder that was to become the tragic part of her life. She had said that she was sick a lot when she was young, causing her to miss a lot of school events that were important to her. She thought a possible reason for the OCD was in her determination to avoid germs at any cost. She also once mentioned that a bout of strep throat could have been the cause of the disorder, but I suspect we’ll never know the real reason. What I do know, is that this disorder had caused her 2 marriages and a lot of lost joy in life that could have been. OCD held her hostage in a solitary world which finally left her communicating through phone conversations as she got older.

During her working years, which was also something that she aspired to do since childhood, was a success. She had prestigious positions over the years and was able to hide her OCD while at work. For that, I am grateful, because working in Manhattan was probably her biggest childhood dream fulfilled. Through her working years, she met Dwight Van Meter, her second husband and the love of her life. He was 20 years older than her but it was so obvious that it was a relationship that was made in heaven. He passed away in 1985 and she spend the rest of her life mourning him. Strangely, they were married on September 28th, the same date that she died. Coincidence? I don’t think so. They are together again.

Eleanor VanMeter_Lynn BrophyMy mother was a really good, kind and decent person throughout her life. She raised me the best she could with the challenges that she faced everyday, and with the help of her mother, my grandmother, I became the person that I am today. I can say that I was quite a handful, but in the end, it all worked out well. She worked a lot and I was very much on my own, but it was through her and her mother’s family traditions and morals, that I was able to pull through in tact.

By the time she came to live with me all those years later, she was quite a bit older, very frail, set in her ways and showing the signs of dementia. I didn’t realize at first but after awhile, it became obvious…and even then I didn’t know what was down the road. Dementia/Alzheimer’s disease is an awful thief in the night, stealing your memories and dignity without a concern of the chaos it causes within the brain of the person it’s destroying. While she was here for over the course of 6 years, we were able to have nice conversations, dinners together, watch tv shows, get-togethers with neighbors her age, go shopping…in short, we were able to resolve and make peace with each other in the last years of her life. Not that it all was good times with the challenges of the progression of the dementia, but the good is what I choose to remember.

mom-now1On this day, September 28th, 2014, things were happening all over the world:

  • George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice.
  • Volcano in Japan erupted with 30 feared dead.
  • Baseball season comes to an end.
  • Kenyan man Dennis Kimetto sets marathon world record.
  • Air France Pilots end strike after 14 days.
  • Brigitte Bardot turns 80. Ben E. King and Hilary Duff have birthdays.
  • Eleanor Van Meter, my mother, got her wings.

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Contemplating Life After Being A Caretaker

mom_beach3 It’s been almost 11 months since I lost my mother, Eleanor Van Meter to Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and out of absolutely nowhere, ambushed by Leukemia which ultimately took her in the end. In the aftermath, today I find myself contemplating life. It’s not that I’ve never thought about it before, but now, it feels much more complex than when I was younger. Maybe because now, for the first time, I am on this earth with no parents. It’s a new world knowing that the people who created you, are for the first time in your life, not there anymore. Years ago, I had the “There’s just got to be more than this” mentality. Now, some of the things that I wonder about is the purpose of life, why are we here, am I on the right path for my purpose. And if not, how do I find the answers to those questions? Do any of us ever know?

Photos: above, (1) Mom young and full of promise, at the beach on a summer day, below, (2) Lynn, me, contemplating life at an early age, of course with a crayon in hand, (3-7) 5 senses signs that hung in Mom’s room in her last years.

I am home today on a vacation day from work and I am feeling both melancholy and nostalgic. Three day weekends in the summer can be a beautiful thing. Gives you time to enjoy the weather and catch up with your personal life after being tied to a desk in a cubicle, in a room with no windows for 40 hours a week, in addition to commuting 2 hours a day to and from work. Some people live for that life, but I am not one of those people. I feel and know that it is slowly stealing my heart and soul, minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day. I know in my heart of hearts that I was born for so much more…but there I am again, back asking myself the same age old question, “What is my purpose in life?” Who the heck am I and what am I supposed to be doing with this earth life?

lynn4The Dalai Lama once said this about what surprises him most:

“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” 

I’ve raised children, gone to school, maintained a home, had lots of animals and dogs, lived a creative life during those years….then went on to college full time (with college kids) and then to work where I remain today. In my younger years, I had friends, socialized and enjoyed music and doing band photography, but it’s not what I dream about anymore. My thoughts go straight to doing what I love doing, whatever that is, something that will sustain me at the same time. You have to do what you love and the money will follow, least that’s what I’ve been told. There are so many opportunities and yet, there are no opportunities for me, it seems. Is that why they call it a “Rat Race”? No beginning, no end, just around and around, chasing after money to pay your bills, never leaving any time to truly explore your potential in life.

SeeWent to the doctor this morning with Vladimir so that I could speak with his doctor. He has some health issues and since he doesn’t communicate all that well, figured that I’d better go since it’s a new doctor for him and not everyone understands his Renglish (Russian accent). After that, I drove over to the farm stand to deliver some home grown organic vegetables from Vladimir’s garden. Next, stopped by Barnes and Noble where I sat and read for awhile, always very calming and something that I love to do but never seem to have the time to do it. Last stop was the supermarket to pick up a few things. While in the car driving over to Stop & Shop, I had the windows open, a beautifully sunny day, not a hint of humidity or wind. The smell in the air was filled with summer, the birds chirping away, bees flying around and all I could think of was how wonderful it was to feel like a human being on this glorious day off. I felt alive and euphoric, and actually stopped to acknowledge it, not an often occurrence. I became anxious to finish my errands and go home so that I could tackle some of the things that I have had on my “to do” list. Like this post for one thing, and lining myself up to start a new portrait, which I haven’t done in quite some time. I’ve allowed myself to become rusty in doing the very things that have always made me who I am, being creative person. I have projects and ideas on my list for too long now, starting with making Rag Dolls, and to create 3-D objects, while learning to use a new computer program, writing and illustrating a children’s book, which I had originally planned to do with my mother. Mom was such a good writer and we spoke about this for a few years before she became sick. I’ve wanted to update my graphic freelance website to a cleaner look and start a website and Facebook page for Vladimir’s business, but none of it has come to light because there simply isn’t enough time in the day/week while working a full time job. Maybe when I was 20 years old, I could have accomplished these goals and dreams, but at this age, there’s just not enough energy at the end of the work day and on weekends, it’s all about getting ready for the dreaded work week. It’s a real and lingering dilemma, an American disease in order to have the American Dream, which no longer exists, unless of course, you are wealthy.

Taste  Hear  feel

While care taking my mother during her last years, I had hung in her room, small signs that I had originally found from an old AARP mailing. Each read “SMELL“, “SEE“, “HEAR“, “FEEL” and “TASTE“. I thought it would be a good message for her, to see the 5 senses of life hanging clearly on her wall when she woke up in the morning. It was a positive message to start her day and something that I didn’t want her to ever forget, even in the midst of her mental decline. As long as you are aware and can appreciate the 5 senses, you know you are alive to enjoy and be grateful forSmell another day. It means that there is always hope! It may sound crazy to some people going through it now, but I miss taking care of my mother and the purpose that it gave me while doing it. Not quite a year, but I still miss her presence.

So, in ending today, I will just say, be grateful to have a job, do the best you can at all times, make every minute count, enjoy today with whatever it brings….and hopefully the pieces will eventually fit together and make sense.

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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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Mom, a Small Desk, Garage Sale and the Grieving Process

Eleanor Van MeterIt’s the last day of May, the last day of my extended Memorial Day time off from work and another “first” since Mom passed away from her diseases. With every first, comes another moment to remember things from the past, with one thing leading to another. I’m sure that feeling will ease up after a year passes and I suppose everyone goes through this experience in one way or another in the grieving process. With the spring and summer months upon us, I find this feeling happening more frequently than before.

Yesterday, I had a garage sale in hopes of getting rid of some of the old and in with the new, although you won’t be able to buy much “new” with the money you might make from a garage sale! It’s no matter though, one of my goals has been to start clearing out the basement and besides, it’s good to be able to see a part of the basement that has nothing in it. Now for the other half of the basement and another garage sale in September. You can’t move on and grow in life until you start to clear out all of the old skeletons and cob webs, which is another reason to get rid of stuff.  It lightens your load and creates organization in your life. Once everything is out of the basement, after the sale, nothing goes back down, it gets thrown in the truck and brought right down to the local Goodwill or some other place that might help others in need.

garage sale 2That being said, it was about 4:30 pm. I was sitting outside just waiting until 5:00, at which time, I would start gathering everything that didn’t sell and start loading the truck. Right then a car pulls up with 2 woman and a lively little girl. The driver gets out of the car seeming to have an urgency about her. She asked me, if I by chance had a small desk? I paused for a moment, thinking, should I say anything…am I ready? You see, I did have a very small desk that I had bought for my mother when she had first come to live with me, before her dementia became obvious. She had specifically asked for a desk for her room where she could sit and write letters. I found just the thing on Craigslist and upon seeing it, I knew it was just what we needed to fit into her room comfortably. Although she didn’t use it much, that little desk meant something to me and reminded me of her. So, it sat in the basement taking up space until I felt ready to let it go.

Photos: above: (1) Mom a few weeks before Leukemia and dementia took her, Below: (2) Mom in California typing at her tiny home desk when she was still working.

mom_typewriterSo, after the long pause, I finally said to the woman, it’s your lucky day. I do just happen to have a very small desk. Would you like me to have it brought up from the basement so that you could look at it? She replied yes. We brought up the desk and it was exactly what she was looking for. She said that she had been to every garage sale in the area looking for a small desk, even going to some stores but they were much too expensive for her budget. I had a good feeling about this lady and her daughter was a little delight. I ended up selling my mother’s small desk to her for $20.00 which was much less than I had paid for it originally…like I said, I had a good feeling about her. They loaded it into her minivan, paid me and before she got into the car, she said to me, I’m starting a child care program at my house and I am trying to gather what I need on a limited budget. That was all she needed to say to make me know inside that I had made the right decision in letting the desk go. The desk had found a good home for a good cause…a match made in heaven. My mother would have approved. Sadly enough, I have no photos of the desk, which almost seems impossible but even so, it was a good day!


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Remembering My Father on Memorial Day

Edward Brophy   Edward Brophy_2

It’s Memorial Day, a day to remember all of our servicemen who so bravely fought for this country. We all either know or are related to people who have served…and today is their day to be remembered and honored. In my case, my father and 2 grandfather’s who served as far as I am aware of, one grandfather losing his life to the war. As I am enjoying my long weekend at home, I can’t help but take time to think about what this day is really about.

My Mom and Dad were married a long, long time ago and although the marriage only lasted 5 years, I know that my father went on to love my mother for the rest of his life. I didn’t know him very well since I lived with my mother until I was 15 years old, then went to live with my father at almost 17 years old at a point when I was a wild child. It was a rough time in not ever having a male role model in my life and lord knows he wasn’t used to having a teenager in the house either. We made it until I was about almost 19 years old when I moved out to make my own way. It was neither of our faults really, just the nature of the situation.

Photos: above: (1) Dad’s military portrait, (2) Dad in civilian clothing, below: (3) My Mom & Dad in the early years, (4) another really old military photo of my father, Edward Brophy.

mom-dad-boatI remember as a child always idealizing my father, carrying photos of him everywhere that I went. Fact is a girl needs a father as he’s the first male role model in her life and will form all the rest of her relationships with men moving forward. As with everyone, I grew up, got on with my life, had my own family and very often, having the same rocky roads, and as the saying goes…history repeats itself. No matter, I am fine, and I think that I’ve turned out pretty well considering the bumps in the road.

My Dad loved to dance, loved his beef stroganoff, beer, a good party, football and loved to watch the old war movies on tv. As with many servicemen, it’s almost as if he couldn’t get his military days out of his heart and soul. His laugh was talked about throughout his whole life because it sounded very funny, almost like a donkey, lol…it made other people laugh too. He was also, oddly enough, rather reclusive and kept within himself for the most part. He had strange beginnings in that his father, my red-headed grandfather, died while serving our country. His Mother, Helen, couldn’t deal with the loss and had a mental breakdown leaving her unable to handle everyday life. My father eventually had to go to live with his cousins who took care of him. I never knew either of my father’s parents, my paternal grandparents and only found photos of them after his death. For some reason he didn’t want to share these photos with anyone.

Edward Brophy_4This past September, after a long bout with dementia/Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and finally leukemia, my mother passed away. In the months afterwards, I’ve been slowly going through her papers and journals finding an array of things. One of these things are the above photos of my father. They were hiding neatly behind my original birth certificate, which back then was a letter sized certificate with a newborn footprint along with the usual information, set in a padded presentation folder. I was amazed to find these photos and it was if she wanted me to find them someday when the time was right. I’d say the timing was very good since I am able to post them on the first Memorial Day after her death. Dad has been gone for many years now, after a battle with smoking related heart disease and emphyzema, but I’m sure he would be happy that I finally have found these photos when I did.

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Friendships Make Dementia Sufferers Feel Connected

Eleanor_friend  cookie monster

Thinking of Mom today on this beautiful sunny day in April. Just a year ago, she was here, in my house, shuffling around, swiping cookies when nobody was looking. I got to wondering about friends and if she had many in her lifetime? I know she had a few friends while she lived with me, but did she have any when she was living on her own in California? I tend to think not, with her OCD affliction and the onset of dementia, which can make people rather reclusive and paranoid. I’ll probably never know the whole story but I am glad that she did have a few friends, that I know of. Friendships make dementia sufferers feel connected.

Photos: above, (1) Young girl Mom, Eleanor on the right, (2) Cookie Monster, Mom sneaking a cookie…sort of.
below right, (3) Mom on the phone with Noreen looking very happy and content, (4) below, Mom with Gene and Eleonore, our neighbor friends.

In childhood, I know that she had friends, since I do have a few very old photos of her posing with a friend as in the photo above. Mom is the girl with the bow in her hair, at a time when life was so innocent, promising and new. She looked happy with that little friend of hers and although I don’t know the girl’s name, I’m sure they had fun times together.


When my mother moved in with me from California, she soon started having regular phone conversations with Noreen Barsh, a long-time friend from her working days in New York City. As she told me, she actually hired Noreen back in the day and they soon went on to become great friends which had carried on through the years. I remember hearing her talk about Noreen on our Sunday night phone conversations but I never knew very much about it. She kept pretty private about things, not sure why, but I think that was just part of her personality. Once living here though, it became very apparent that they were wonderful friends, speaking on the phone for at least 2 hours at a time. I was very grateful for Noreen as she would be a extremely grounding force for Mom once dementia started taking hold. Even in the last year or so, when Mom was losing her words, it was no matter, Noreen would just talk and talk and Mom would just listen and listen. Sometimes, she would even start speaking back to her, which made all of us scratch our heads in wonder. It would take a friend like Noreen to draw her out of her void, maybe from recognizing some of the old experiences that her good friend spoke about. Noreen knew it was important to speak about old times with her, knowing that she just might remember way back when…and sure enough, it did work. Noreen would call her every single weekend until her death, even speaking to her in her last day, lying in the home hospice bed while unconscious, I held the phone to her ear while she said goodbye to her old friend. She was a loyal and wonderful friend, right until the end. I still call Noreen these days once in awhile to check in on her, as she is in the same age range as Mom, in her mid to late 80’s. I value our conversations now that Mom is no longer here. She is a constant reminder to me that Mom had a life once, working in NYC, having lunch with her good friend at the automat, no doubt! The automat was a very popular place in New York City back then. I remember, she even took me there once, as I have a vague memory of it. Mom once, had a nice life and that thought makes me very very happy.

While my mother was with me, dementia started taking hold in what seemed like over night, but in reality only a few years before becoming unmanageable, I would make a point of having our neighbors over every once in awhile for a pizza and conversation and Mom would actually get dressed up and join us, which was the whole point. My friend Eleonore Zeger and Gene, our neighbors across the street, also my good friends, are Mom’s age. Mom’s name also happens to be Eleanor, so it would get a little confusing sometimes, but it added a few laughs along the way. Eleonore, really liked Mom and would come over during the week to look in on her while I was at work. She would bring her little gifts and sit to talk with her to get her mind working. Mom loved seeing them and would sit and listen to everyone talking back and forth, even joining in once in awhile. I was so grateful that she would come out of her room and join us, because it is so important for people with dementia to feel needed and a part of something. Little get togethers would definitely make her feel like she was needed and wanted, a part of something fun. She would even sit and have a little glass of wine, although she didn’t really drink much these days, it did made her feel included.


I guess, today, I am thinking about all of this because of Spring’s arrival, a time of rebirth, regrowth and renewal…another season, new beginnings, a second chance to make it right. It’s a time to get things done, be outdoors, socialize, reground and revitalize yourself until the throws of winter return. After a very sad fall having lost Mom to dementia and leukemia and a particularly long and nasty winter, spring is being welcomed by all, especially myself. It’s a time for friends and a time to welcome new friends and long lost family. It’s a time to reconcile and come to terms with what is, the cycle of life with all it’s joys and sorrows, never forgetting those that we have loved who have passed.



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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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Mom’s Death Inspires A New Journey of Making a Family Tree…Who The Heck Are We Really?

wedding-2  mom-connnie

Photos are: from right to left (1) Lillian Sarter (Mom’s Mother), Eleanore Sarter, Bruno Sarter (Mom’s Father), Edward Brophy (my Father), Lillian Sarter (Mom’s Sister), Tess Heinke, Paul Heinke (Dad’s Aunt and Uncle), (2) Mom on right, Connie Heinke (Dad’s cousin) on left.

Since Mom’s death from the dreaded dementia, I’ve been thinking a lot about family, who is left and who we are as a group in this world. I mean, who ARE we as individuals, as family members and members of society that have made us who we are today. What type of people did I come from? The person from England who comes here and marries a girl and going on to have children, as in the case of Mom’s grandparents…or the man from Spain who marries a girl from Ireland and creates a family, as in the case of Dad’s grandparents…and so on and so on. Without just one of those people making those particular choices, any one of us in this family might not be here today. It’s a crazy thought, but true. One of the links missing would change history.

In the past years, I have been interested in this subject and had asked my mother lots of questions over the years, but it was mostly with her family, not my father’s. In not knowing a lot about my distant relatives, I’ve been inspired to find out who we are and where we came from genealogically and geographically. Did any of them have Diabetes, Dementia, OCD, Parkinson’s Disease or Leukemia? Did they do anything special in the world to add to society in this country or others? Who are they? Were they good people, bad people, famous people, smart or shallow people? Since I had lived most of my young life with my mother and her parents, I of course, know more about that side of the family. I seem to know a lot about her father Bruno and his family, as there is a family tree in Germany of his lineage dating way back with names and dates as I had mentioned in my last post. Her mother Lillian, my grandmother, is a different story however. I have photos of her mother and father but that was where the trail stopped. I know her father was born in England and her mother was born here. They had 2 daughters, Lillian, my grandmother and her sister Adlaide, who I knew. Anything else regarding her family is a mystery to me. I had always thought while growing up that we were a very small family when in fact, there were more than likely plenty of us.

Eleanor_lillian_adlaide  mom-dad-gg

Photos are: (3) Lillian, Aunt Adlaide, Eleanor (Mom), (4) My Grandmother, Grandfather, Uncle Sam, Dad and Mom

I really know nothing about my father’s family. I didn’t know his mother or father, my other grandparents. I know his mother had issues and his father died the year before I was born. My father lived with one of her sisters when he was growing up and as an adult he would never speak about his parents. Matter of fact, he was like a closed clam…what was he hiding? What’s in the past that kept him so silent all of those years? Very curious. After moving to Commack, many, many people asked me if I was related to this Brophy or that Brophy. Apparently, there are a lot of Brophy’s in Commack. Who’s to say that they aren’t in my family line somehow, someway? That’s what I want to know about…I went to school with a kid named Jimmy Brophy…Who knows…maybe. Stranger things have happened.

So, this weekend, I started an family tree. I’ve added a few names that I know of and will add more as I go through paperwork that I have from the past that have been recovered after my parents and grandparents passed away. These documents are a wealth of information and I am hoping that it will be very interesting in the end on what I uncover. Who knows…maybe something great, maybe not…regardless, it will be our family history either way, good or bad and I will feel connected to a lot of people, some of them might still be alive. As of this minute, I feel as if my mother is the last of the Mohicans…but I may just be surprised at what I find.

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Lillian Sarter and Her Sister Eleanor, Uncovering a Lifetime of Photos

lillian_babyThe featured photos are of: (1) Lillian Sarter in a beautiful colorized photo as a baby, (2) Lillian and Mom, Eleanor, with their great grandmother on the Sarter side, (3) Mom, Eleanor and Lillian with their great grandmother years later on the same stoop in Brooklyn

This past weekend, I spent my Sunday cleaning out a closet…a huge closet in my bedroom. Aside from the obvious things stored in a bedroom closet, like clothes, there are all the family photos and documents that I had inherited from my grandmother that dates way back, which I find invaluable for our Sarter family history. I like to keep them upstairs rather than the damp and dank basement, if only in hopes of preserving them as best I can. Also, I still have a lot of looking through to do because I am sure that I have things that I haven’t yet realized. Some people spend a lifetime of hours trying to find a history of their family tree. This one was given to me and hopefully I can do good by it.

So, in cleaning the closet, I came across the above beautiful photo of my Aunt Lillian, Mom’s sister, as a very little girl. It was professionally taken and obviously colorized, since back then they didn’t have color film. It was beautifully done so this photo was a real find. After finding it, I remember that my mother had sent it to me years before she came to join my in NY. In the box, with the framed photo of Aunt Lillian, were (2) 78 speed records that Lillian had recorded with her singing voice so many years before. I know there is a written story somewhere about these recordings and I know exactly I have been told the verbal story as well at some point, but it was so long ago, that I don’t recall. I do know that their Aunt Emily Sarter aspired to be an opera singer and also made recordings until she had gone deaf, which seems to run in the family from their father’s side of the family. Her inspiration to sing could have come from her Aunt Emily. Every time that I find something like this in the archive of my history, it sends me on a winding journey through deep thought for the rest of the day.

Lillian_eleanor_ggma_1931  gma_sarter

About 9 years ago, I came across the Birkenhoerdt Project, which includes a family tree of the Sarters, dating way back in history. It shows a very detailed tree of the Sarters from Germany and their spouses, children, births, deaths. I thought it was the most interesting thing that I have ever seen relating to our family history from the Sarter side. I started with my grandfather’s name and went on from there…it’s amazing. You can find it at:

I would love to find an old photo of my mother like that, but I suspect it wasn’t done for the second child…as it usually happens. If there was one taken, maybe I will find it in the box of old papers and documents that I have from my grandparents that I still, to this day I have not finished going though….not for a lack of desire, but from lack of time. This going to work thing doesn’t seem to allow for personal interests, but since I need a roof over my head and food on the table, I do it which keeps me away from the house for 12 hours a day…not to mention getting up at 5 am in the morning….long day! Eventually, something has got to give…but till then, it will be… hi-ho, hiho, it’s off to work I go, only to work on my interests with stolen time!

Aunt Lillian was a very interesting person. From what my mother had told me, they were very close as children. I often wonder if Lilian wasn’t taken by leukemia so early on…would she have been afflicted with dementia like her father and sister? Maybe she would have been one of the lucky ones? She was the first to leave us and my mother the last, both with such different lives…goals…hopes and dreams. If my beliefs are correct, they left this earth because they had accomplished what they were here to do…Lillian, to create 4 beautiful children, Michael, David, Maggi and Sam, Eleanor, my Mom, bringing me into the world, working out her fears and disorders and having a successful career in NYC.

If my beliefs are correct, they left this earth because they had accomplished what they were here to do…Lillian, to create 4 beautiful children, Michael, David, Maggi and Sam, Eleanor, my Mom, bringing me into the world, working out her fears and disorders and having a successful career in NYC.

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Isn’t Having Dementia Enough?

shad_mom    shad_lynn

The above pictures are (1) of my son Shad with Mom back in the 80’s. (2) Shad and myself, also in the 80’s.

It’s been an eventful few weeks at my house. My son, Shad visited for the first time in a very long time. He hasn’t seen my Mom, literally in years with her living in CA and he in NC. I also have not seen him for a long time, so it was a very welcomed visit. Life responsibilities just seem to take over our daily routines and before you know it, years have gone by. Not sure why that happens more these days than in years past, but my guess is that today’s world is more complex and complicated. There’s just more to do in our daily routines which leaves little time for what is really important.

With the anticipation and preparation leading up to his visit this past weekend, I had also received a call from Mom’s primary doctor about  recent blood work performed. Apparently, her blood counts were very low and she is drastically anemic. Her red blood cells are “big”. I replied, you mean they are high, but he said no, they are big. He informed me that he would do a folate test which could be the problem, but he doubted that it was the problem. As predicted, the folate test came back normal and he informed me that Mom would need to see a hematologist. He gave me a name of one in our group and I made the appointment.

After seeing him, I was given the same information as her primary doctor gave me, but now he is advising a bone marrow test. I wasn’t at all sure that was a good idea, given her age and mental state but he said that if I didn’t follow through, that I had better get her “do not rescesitate” docs in order. With that, of course, I made the appointment. My son was in for this appointment but she was unable to tolerate taking the test and the doctor decided not to force her, again with her age and mental capacity. We were told that another extensive blood test would be performed to see if a marker could be seen so that he could identify and treat her….otherwise, she will probably need blood transfusions. The bad part of transfusions is that, they will only do them in a hospital and with her weak immune system, it’s almost sure she will get some bacteria while admitted…so it is a lose-lose situation. What to do?

He told me that we are probably looking at Supportive Care, meaning hospice. I can’t help but think that we’ve come all this way, and to lose her to some sort of Leukemia is just wrong. Her sister Lillian succumbed to Leukemia almost 40 years ago but I don’t think it was the same type. Her father was a bleeder, which also leads me to believe that there is some genetic blood disorder prevalent to the Sarter bloodline which can appear at any age. Of course, I am not sure, but it is what I am feeling from what I am seeing at this point in time.

Makes me wonder what kind of a cruel joke is being played on her. Isn’t having dementia enough for her to handle, isn’t having OCD her whole life a heavy enough cross to bare? Will she have to wait until her next time around to have a good life? I wonder. 

Just can’t see the silk lining in this situation. I can’t help but thinking..isn’t having dementia enough in a person’s golden years?


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