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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Life, Love, Friends and Career vs Dementia

mom-moreyA-2   mom-moreyA-1

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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