Mother-Daughter Reflections On This Mothers Day

Mom-babymeMother’s Day has been sneaking up on me little by little this year. I mean, I think about my mother just about everyday but lately thoughts of our relationship throughout my lifetime have been presenting themselves in different ways. Even though, and probably in spite of Alzheimer’s disease, I considered the last years of her life a coming to terms time for us. We were able to put aside the past and accept each other for who we each were without fault. That was monumental.

As far back as I can remember in childhood, my mother was not like other mothers. First of all she worked a lot and although I didn’t know it at the time, a career is what she had aspired for herself since she was a child. It wasn’t easy for her, because at some point during her early teenage years, she developed a disorder, which would go on to cripple her life for the rest of her days. OCD is a disorder that completely changes the way a person thinks and perceives things and in turn with how they are able to react to the world around them. It can show it’s ugly head in many ways, but for my mother, OCD manifested itself with a fear of germs. She spent her life alienating herself from people, not touching them and also keeping herself from touching most things around her, both inside the house and out. She spent a lot of times washing and re-washing her hands, over and over and over again until she was raw, day after day, year after year. I believe that Howard Hughes had the same disorder.

Eleanor_Sarter_Lynn_3With that being said, having me wasn’t exactly in her plan, nor did it make her life easier, but being a young, beautiful and vibrant woman, seemingly in love, she made the best of the situation. From everything I can see in our old family photos, she both welcomed and loved me after my birth. In the photographic trail that I have, early on it looked like a pretty normal family from the outside, although I’m sure that she was struggling with her problem with every minute. Of course, over time, her symptoms got worse and the marriage fell apart, leaving my mother to take me and leave home. I remember that I was about five years old. We went from apartment to apartment to Ozone Park where my grandparents lived to Jackson Heights through the years, and looking back, we very much lived separate lives under the same roof. It seemed normal to me because it was all that I knew.

Being younger, I really didn’t understand that we were different than most of the other families around. Once I got to about 5th grade, I was well aware of the differences because I started to make friends and visit their houses after school while my mother was at work. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s homes because it felt very good, very right. In a sense though, I really didn’t know or understand why we were different because back then there was no name for OCD, I had no understanding of what was going on. We were living one day at a time, never thinking of the next day.

Eleanor_lynnIn reflection, what I know for sure, I am today the person I am as a result of the environment I grew up in. Although I consider myself to have turned out pretty good considering, with her goodness rubbing off on me, I find that I too am different than other people around me, but in a very different way than my mother. I of course, don’t have OCD, but I do have walls built around me, which was a learned behavior. I can be secretive and very much a loner, being very reclusive. I rarely feel comfortable socializing in crowds and don’t go out of my way to socialize. Not that I am antisocial, but I feel more comfortable by myself. I guess I’d say I am social on the inside, but not so much on the outside, although there are always exceptions.

Yes, I’d say that my mother’s OCD affliction affected me to some degree, but I don’t blame her in any way…she absolutely couldn’t help it and did the best that she could. I admire her for loving me the way that she did through all of her problems and bumps in the road, right till the end. Now, I understand her and why she was compelled to act the way she did and more over, I am learning everyday what behaviors that I have walked away with as a result. It’s taken me most of my adult life to understand why I am such a loner with such high walls. Actually, in hindsight, it was Alzheimer’s disease that brought closeness and understanding to a lifetime in our relationship.

My mother Eleanor Van Meter was a very strong woman who was dealt a bad hand in life, who still managed to deal with her issues on her own, support me, even if only by phone and still remain the classy lady that she was.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

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Pondering Thoughts Post Alzheimer’s

lynn4It’s been awhile since I last posted. There’s been a lot of pondering, wondering and lamenting, going on over the past year and a half. Not sure if it’s just another stage of working through the grief process or if it’s just me in the “what’s next” portion of life after losing a parent to Alzheimer’s disease. I think that when a parent dies, the first year is focused on the event and the void of that person in your life, not to mention all the firsts…anniversaries, birthdays, etc. A lot of thought goes to “what could I have done differently” and “if only I did this or that” or “acted this way or that way. After that, for me at least, I am thinking a lot about what the next 20 years has in store for me.

Will my life follow a different path than that of my mother’s life or a similar path? Will her dreaded diseases and afflictions be passed onto me? If so, who will be the one to look out for my well being? Those are all tough questions and they come with tough realities. Everybody is different, rightfully so, and we are all on our own journey. What will be for one, will most likely be different for another. So then, why I wonder, am I so unsettled about all of this? It seems to be the natural course of life. Maybe it’s just the natural flow of things as we get older and facing mortality. Maybe I am feeling exactly what I am supposed to be feeling at this stage of my own journey. Maybe at this age, it’s normal to be more in touch with the universe and the processes of life. How do I know…when will I know, or is it all just a crap shoot? That is the question.

Photos: (1) Lynn, me apparently pondering life at 5 years old, with crayon in hand, (2) Mom, Dad, me, Grandparents, Uncle Raymond & Marion Corso, (3) Mom and Dad on a boat, (4) Ragamuffin Lynn, me, on a tree swing at summer camp.

mom-dad-boat mom-greenwoodlakeI look back at old photos of my parents and of me when I was a kid along with other family members and it makes me feel good. Even though times were often rough back then, living in a broken home and being poor, I can look back and appreciate all the good that took place in those days as well. I can see it now very clearly now. All the times that I spent at my grandparents house, all the years that my mother had to work hard just to keep a roof over our heads and what it took to keep me fed, clothed and schooled, mostly on her own. She was getting $20 a month child support from my father who very often didn’t pay, but she was a strong lady and she made it work even with her OCD issues. It never even occurred to me back then how hard it must have been on her to have a such rowdy, tomboy daughter who managed to challenge her at every turn. The simplicity of life back then can’t compare to today’s world filled with technology, financial woes and eternal busy work leaving us no time to fully enjoy life in the now. Isn’t that what Ekhardt Tolle says in his book, The Power of Now?

Lynn-camp016Funny how we never really appreciate what we have, when we have it, in the now. It’s only when it’s gone, with no chance of returning, that we get it, really get it. Is that the same for everyone? Does everyone go through this insanity? I have to believe that we all do at some time or another, because in my opinion, we are so involved in the normalcy of life, the sameness, that a lot of times we don’t fully appreciate the moment we’re in this very minute. We need to get this or that done today, errands, busy work, just stuff in general, and in the end, it’s all insignificant stuff that we won’t even remember later on. I suppose that 20 years from now, I will be looking back at this time and at my health, hoping that I was able to fully appreciate having this blog, going to work and earning a paycheck, having a house and maintaining it, paying bills, being able to get through New York winters while fully appreciating how good that I really have it. Although I truly wish that I could afford to retire like the generations of yesterday, things could be a lot worse. I see how much worse when I watch the news every day. The world is a crazy place. Sadly, simplicity in daily life has long been lost in the past.

Moving forward though…what’s the answer, how do I proceed? Should I simply go with the flow and see where it takes me? Or should I try to work it out creatively, meaning to get involved in some of the creative projects that I have put off for lack of time, energy or inspiration? In the end, I suppose it’s my choice and my unique journey, so I’ll keep thinking, wondering and pondering until it leads me to where I am supposed to be. Hopefully, I’ll know that place when it comes or maybe it will be an unconscious awakening, but regardless I’ll have faith that I’m on the right path.

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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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Holiday Magic While Thinking of My Demented Mom

Freda_eleanor_lillian     Eleanor_Lillian_dance

It’s December 28, 2014, a few days after the first Christmas without my Mom, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting, thinking and reflecting. Looking through papers and things of hers, if only to feel closer to her during the holidays…especially this holiday.

So, yesterday, the Saturday after Xmas, I’ve finished my errands outside of the house, I’m home and had decided to straighten up things that have been on my list for a long time. Cleaning up stacks of paperwork that have been begging to be organized and filed for ages, put away the wrapping paper, bows, tissue paper and ribbons, clean the birds, wash the dog, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom…all those things that you really must do, but really don’t want to do, uh-huh!

So, as I am going along, one thing leads to another and I made the decision to bring my mother’s end table into my bedroom. I had bought it for her when she first decided to come live with me and I liked it very much. Now of course, it just reminds me of her when I look at it. It needs to be refinished as she had ruined the surface during her OCD days, but I will do that in the springtime. I brought the table into my room and started making a few changes, cleaning around, moving things from here to there. It was kind of nice, a quiet time in my weekend, almost like getting myself re-grounded after a hard year. As a kid, I had always felt like a new person after moving the furniture around in my bedroom, which is what yesterday was feeling like to me. Some people need to go out and spend money…I move furniture!

As I was going through the motions, I came across a box of jewelry that Mom had sent to me before she moved here. It wasn’t expensive jewelry, mostly costume from the 60’s & 70’s, but I had remembered some it from when I was younger. I had looked through it back when she had sent it, but didn’t pay much attention, which seems to be my MO. I always feel funny in a situation like that. I know darn well she sent those things to me because she was thinking of death and dying as older people eventually do…but I don’t feel the right to it until later, afterwards, so I ignore it. Well, yesterday, I paid more attention, looking at each piece carefully. I came across many little pieces that I remember her wearing to her job and a few things that I didn’t remember.

Then, there was one thing that stood out, a very tarnished silver ID bracelet with her name on it. Instantly, it brought me back to a story that she told me a few years ago, when she still had a memory and could articulate it, before the dementia had taken over her mind. As the story goes…when her and her sister Lillian were just kids, a new Pastor came to their church, St. Andrews. Apparently Lillian had quite a crush on this good-looking Pastor, but it was just a schoolgirl crush and maybe the pastor knew about it or maybe not. We’ll never know the answer to that.

One Sunday, after Sunday school, the Pastor gave my mother a little ID bracelet and poor Lillian was so hurt by it. She felt awful and so did my Mother. Mom didn’t have a crush on the Pastor, she was 5 years younger than her sister and probably wasn’t interested in any boys at that point. Lillian eventually got over it, grew up, got married and had 4 beautiful children…so what was meant to be, indeed happened.

ID_bracelet Photos Above: (1) Eleanor Sarter and Sister Lillian with Freda, her Aunt, (2) Lillian and Eleanor, Right: (3) ID Bracelet from Pastor.

Getting back to the ID bracelet, the instant that I saw it, read her given name on it, the story that she had told me a few years earlier came flooding back to me. I wished that I could have made the connection before now and was able to show her. I’m sure that she didn’t even remember that she had sent it to me in the first place. Sometimes I think that she leads me to find things to make a connection to it’s meaning…from wherever she is…not so far-fetched. Stranger things have happened, which is another story for another time as this was not the first time this has happened since she left us.


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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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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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Dinner For 2 Please, Dementia Patients And Social Interaction



There was a time when Mom would always sit at the kitchen table with the family and eat meals. That’s what the old timers did and families today still do it..thank goodness. Since she’s been at my house she’s never sat down at our kitchen table to eat dinner with the rest of us, except once when my son Shad came to visit. Not sitting at the table was mostly an OCD thing, but over the years, with the dementia setting in, she has forgotten about the OCD, but out of habit, still wouldn’t sit at the table. So, with that, she would opt to have dinner in her room and I, of course, humored her and served her dinner on a table in her room, which became the norm. If that’s what made her feel comfortable, I would of course, do that. I continued to eat in the kitchen, usually multi tasking while eating because there is not much of a window at night after the work day to get things done. Crazy way to live but that’s today’s world. 

Photos: Above (1) Mom, Eleanor Van Meter’s family, mother, father, sister, aunts and uncle out on a picnic, pre 1949. Below: (2) Mom after dinner on her 86th birthday…going to bed looking content, happy and tired.

Birthday 86

After Cardine, Mom’s home health aide started with us, I noticed that they would do things together in her room, such as eating lunch together, coloring or playing games. I also have noticed that Mom has directly responded to that by being more alert and in touch with reality. Cardine told me that Mom wouldn’t finish her lunch until she ate her lunch also. Mom would always leave some food on her plate saying it was for Cardine. I guess that she was feeling badly eating in front of Cardine, so she would take that as a hint to heat up her own lunch…sure enough, Mom would finish her lunch. I don’t know whether it is a “polite” thing or a “being in company” thing, but it seems obvious to me that she does better when eating in company with social interaction. As a matter of fact, looking back, she will never take the last of anything….even if it is the last chocolate chip cookie… that is self control…or perhaps a result of growing up in the depression years.

As a kid, she would always eat dinner at the table with her sister Lillian and her parents. When I came along, I would always sit at the table with my grandparents as well…seemed to be a family thing that she somehow lost along the way. Now, when I come home from work, I settle in and fix both of our dinner plates and I go sit in her room and eat with her. She eats all of the dinner on her plate happily, we have some conversation and we watch a tv show, even though she really doesn’t understand what is going on with the show, it doesn’t matter…it’s interaction and stimulation. She seems more alert and ready for her night after dinner. Btw…Vladimir doesn’t feel badly that I’ve abandoned him in the kitchen….mainly because he has always eaten every leftover in the fridge like a vacuum cleaner before I even get home, so he’s finished for the night.

After it all and in the end, I know that I will be happy that I had spent time eating dinner with her after work, creating some good quality time with her, knowing that she had a full stomach at the end of her day. It’s also a good thing for her interacting with people and engaging her brain. It’s a win-win situation.

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