Posted on June 28th, 2019
I am writing this at near-midnight on Friday knowing that by the time I finish my post it will be tomorrow... and the one-year anniversary of my mom's death. Of course I still miss her. If anything I miss her more than I did a year ago. I think it's because the memories of her declining health are becoming dimmer while my happier memories are becoming brighter. Happier, but also more painful, because they are a constant reminder of what I've lost.
Mentally I still have a lot of work to do, as I can't stop bouncing between extremes.
One minute I'm jealous... even angry... that other people have moms living into their 80's and 90's who are still living active, happy lives. It's not fair. Then the next minute I'm gutted because I hear that somebody's mom died in their 40's and they didn't get the time I had. That's not fair either. Cursed because my mom started sliding into dementia at 70 years old. Blessed because somebody else's mom was just diagnosed with dementia at 52 years old. Unlucky that my mom died before we could get to all of our travel plans. So very lucky that we got to see as much of the world together as we did. Happy that we were so close. Devastated that we were so close... because would it hurt this bad if we weren't?
It goes on and on.
I think the thing that hurts the most is knowing that I would give absolutely anything for just five minutes to talk with her again. The mom she was before she got sick. Just to tell her I love her. To tell her how much she means to me. But also to ask her if the deicions I had to make were okay so she could assure me that they were and she knows I did the best I could. Because of course she would say that even if she hated what I did. She's my mother, after all.
I know it doesn't make sense that I would want to ask my mom a question when I already know how she would answer, but I can't help it. The unthinkable choices I had to make won't stop haunting me. It's pointless to second-guess something I cannot change. And probably wouldn't change. My whole heart was invested in every decision, so what would I have done differently? I honestly don't know. But probably nothing.
It's now 12:11am on Saturday, June 29th.
Since it's unlikely that I will get much sleep... or any sleep... tonight, I suppose I will look through all of the travel books I made for my mom. It will probably just make me miss her more than I already do, but what's another drop of heartache to an ocean of grief?
Nothing. And everything, I suppose.
Posted on May 12th, 2019
2019 has been surprisingly accommodating considering the milestones it's been racking up for me.
First year without my mom. First Valentine's Day with nobody to buy flowers for. First Birthday Weekend celebration without my friend of 33 years. And now, as advertising will not stop reminding me, first Mother's Day with no mother.
I will be the first to admit, that last one is proving to be tough.
For thirteen years my gift to my mom on Mother's Day was a new vacation. We traveled the globe, visited all kinds of amazing places, and had fun doing it. Recently I was going through all the travel books I made for her as a souvenir. Starting with our 2002 trip to Europe right up through our 2014 safari in Zimbabwe.
Initially I created books for her at Apple Books. They were nice enough, but I eventually switched to professional printing because I was unhappy with the photo reproduction. On our first trips, I didn't take many photos though. Just a few snapshots here and there. I took so few photos that I was able to combine the first four Apple Book trips into a single professional book (I used the colors of the cloth covers on the original books as borders)*...
The look of the book was nothing groundbreaking, but the graphic designer in me tried to create stylish introductions at least...
Photo presentation was pretty basic though...
As the years went on, I got a little more ambitious. I was designing nicer, more elaborate looking covers, for one thing...
And adding maps, travel routes, and such...
On later trips I was taking a lot of photos and putting considerably more thought into the the images I was capturing. With this in mind, I started buying "lay-flat" books and adjusting my layouts so photos could be as large as possible. I also tried to tell a story to make the content more interesting...
The final book is my favorite for so many reasons...
Every book was always ended with a photo of the both of us...
For 2015 we were going to take a cruise along the fjords of Norway. 2016 was going to be Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. But those trips weren't to be. I thought she might be well enough in 2015 to take a Spring trip that was less ambitious. I booked flights to South Dakota so I could finally see Mount Rushmore and check the only state I haven't been to off my list (North Dakota). But a couple months before we were to leave I realized there was no way that she would be able to travel. Her confusion was far too great and it wouldn't have been a fun time for either of us. And so that was that.
Mother's Day isn't sad to me because I don't have anybody to buy a card and flowers for... after we started traveling, she never wanted me to spend money on that stuff anyway. It's now a reminder that I've lost a friend who explored the world with me. And while the books, photos, and memories are nice, ain't nothin' going to take the place of that.
*Apple Books was a part of the original iPhoto. You could select photos that you had stored there, then have the program automatically build a book for you. For the time, it was actually pretty cool. They had durable fabric covers with a nifty label stuck on the front...
There were issues though. In addition to the print quality, which was fine but not great, the books were kinda small and the layouts had a lot of wasted space and the pages were all one-sided...
By having my books professionally printed, I paid way, way, way more money... but I got to control the layouts, get superior print quality, and print both sides of the pages.
UPDATE: Interesting to note that Hallmark's prop designer used the same stock photo design for the cover of Santa's Naughty or Nice book that I used for my mom's Italy photo book...
Posted on December 19th, 2018
Happy Birthday, Mom.
Posted on December 11th, 2018
My mom was an avid Teddy bear collector. She had tons of them. So many that she ended up donating a bunch of them to a firefighter drive. Apparently when firefighters respond to an emergency where a child has lost everything, they will give kids the bears in order for them to have something of their own from which they can start rebuilding their lives. It's a pretty incredible concept. But, then again, firefighters are pretty incredible people.
When my mom couldn't stay with me any more, I packed up some of her bears and took them to her new home. The rest of them I boxed up and stuffed in a closet because I couldn't bear to give them away.* Now that she's gone, there's not much point in hanging on to them.
Last month, I decided I would start donating her massive bear collection to the annual "Toys for Tots" drive. Almost all the bears are brand new, have never played with, and still have the tags attached. I'm sure mom would be happy to know that her bears are making kids happy for the holidays instead of sitting in a closet collecting dust, so it really is the perfect solution.
And so... every weekend I've been unboxing another crate to make sure they're in good shape, give them a vacuuming, then bag them up for the Marines...
There are a couple bears I've run across that I'll probably hang onto. Sunday I found the first bear of her collection which, coincidentally enough, I bought for her. Then there's her Teddy Ruxpin, which I also bought for her. I don't know that I want to keep it, but I'm interested in selling it if I can get a good price! Probably a long shot since there's no box for it, but you never know.
I was told that getting rid of mom's stuff is good therapy for accepting that she's really gone.
That's a therapy I don't need. I know she's really gone every single day.
*See what I did there?
Posted on September 30th, 2018
Time to remember the past and move forward... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Marker. My mom's marker finally arrived. I placed her remains on Thursday and the stone was set shortly thereafter...
Burial vaults used to be big cement things. Now they're tiny plastic! She barely fit! The guys at the cemetery helping me were incredibly kind a respectful, which was very much appreciated.
It still seems strange for her to be honored as a Vietnam veteran when she wasn't in combat, but the VA assures me that her service during wartime absolutely qualifies her for the honorarium. I think this means the American Legion will put a flag on her grave come Memorial Day? That would be nice.
• Obituary. After my mom was buried, I could finally send in her obituary. I was surprised that I was able to do the entire thing online. I didn't have to talk to anybody...
I picked a photo from our last trip together. She's sitting across from me at the five-star Victoria Falls Hotel Restaurant in Zimbabwe. Sure she's in a T-shirt, but what the heck. She was an adventurer. That's the kinda stuff she wore when tearing up the planet doing awesome shit.
A sidenote... The photo I used for my mother's obituary was taken exactly four years from the day I sent it in to the newspaper, and I didn't even know it until I saw the date stamp of the photo. Weird how things line up from time to time if you pay attention. Here's my blog entry from September 27th, 2014. Amazing how the universe works.
And so I guess that's it. The last thing to do in a long list of things to do so we can both move on. Or not...
• Memoriam. When I purchase a copy of our local paper today so I can see my mother's obituary in print, I will also be purchasing yet another opinion piece by the paper's publisher who previously compared rape to cheating at golf and smoking. Did he apologize for his flippant and tone deaf attitude? No. No he did not. He doubles down and says that men have nothing to be ashamed of... we were born this way, after all. Most of us are good guys, so the horrible way that women get treated is not our fault.
Then whose fault is it?
You're saying the toxic masculinity which permeates our society and is a constant and consistent threat to women is nothing to be ashamed of? Men can hold their heads high while women are harassed, humiliated, beaten, raped, and even killed? Are you serious?
The idea that men should just keep going on about their business while a society which endangers women is thriving is categorically absurd. Jeff Ackerman says we should just keep drinking from the milk carton, mowing the lawn, and ignoring rape culture because most of us are nice guys. It's nothing to do with us. Men should stick together against these evil women who want to be able to walk down the street at night without fearing for their life. Apparently that's what he considers "behaving like a man."
I call bullshit. Real men should be standing together with women to put an end to this. Real men should be actively dismantling toxic masculinity at every opportunity. Real men should be teaching their sons that being a man means being a partner to women, not dominating over them. Real men set an example by respecting women, cherishing women, valuing women, and supporting women. Real men work for a society where women are heard.
My mother was victimized by a man who professed to be her boyfriend... but she was never a victim. She picked herself up, pulled together the pieces of her life, then moved on the best she could. She loved her family. She served her country. She was kind to those she met. She worked hard. She traveled the world to understand it better. And her reward for having such courage? To be memorialized in a newspaper where the publisher says that what she went through is none of my concern because that's just the way men are.
My mom deserves better than that. I'm a better man that that. And society will be far better off when "old men" like Jeff Ackerman are gone.
• Love. And in yet another "Making History" segment... MIKE PENCE BECOMES FIRST VICE PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS ANTI-GAY SUMMIT — But I'm sure he was hating the homosexualizers with Christian Love® in Jesus® name... so it's all good. I mean... these "Christians" have branded their hate as "Christian Love®" so I'm assuming they've trademarked that. Oh... and Jesus® of course. Can't go having The Wrong People co-opting The Savior® can we? They might tell people to love everybody as He did instead of weaponizing His name to push an agenda. We can't be having THAT! Can you imagine? People coming together to love one another? Why, the notion! So silly! Christian Love® is reserved for those who believe EXACTLY LIKE PENCE DOES... and nobody else! Lord, what a piece of shit. Pence, Trump, and their entire administration is garbage. Way to represent all Americans.
• Political Climate. When given the choice from here on out, I am voting exclusively for progressive women candidates. I honestly do not give a single fuck's worth of thought to any of these old white men destroying this country. I'm voting all women, all persons of color, all LGBTQ, all ANYTHING but the status quo from here on out. These assholes had their chance. The future belongs to anybody but them. Because the only way we are going to get FAIR REPRESENTATION in government is to have ACTUAL REPRESENTATION IN GOVERNMENT.
And until next Sunday, when I'm sure there will be a whole new set of horrors to deal with, I bid you adieu.
Posted on September 11th, 2018
As I said last year, pretty much all I have left to say on the subject of 9/11 can be found here. Now that my mom is gone, that's even more true since it's her story too. And so I'll just be linking to that entry from here on out when it comes time to remember the tragedy of the terrorist attacks.
When I was going through my mom's stuff last month I found this...
She saved her ticket stub from when I took her up the "Top of the World" at The World Trade Center on that day.
Mom saved a lot of stuff from our travels. Tons of stuff. I'm finding things like matchbooks and coasters from restaurants to brochures and pamphlets of activities we did to receipts and ticket stubs like this one. I had asked her why she'd want to save all this kind of stuff and she'd explain that it was just souvenirs. One day she thought she'd want to look back and remember all the things we did when she was too old to travel any more.
It's sad that she never got that chance. But kinda cool that she was so busy visiting new places that she never had time to look back on old travels while she was alive. Well, except for the photo books I made her. She'd look at those often. Many times while showing them to other people. Where the first words out of her mouth would be "Are your hands clean?"
Funny how I didn't start out as much of a picture-taker, but the books kept getting thicker and thicker as I was taking more and more photos. There's no book for 2006 because I helped her buy a car instead of taking her on vacation that year. I think I ended up taking her with me on a work trip to San Francisco or something, but it wasn't the same.
One of these days I really need to look at these again. And create a book for all the miscellaneous trips we took from 1994 to 2001 that I never got around to. Most of these I haven't opened in years. And one of them I can't find. Her book from Cambodia and Laos (Southeast Asia Vol. 2) has gone missing.
Even if I don't find it, I'm sure there's a matchbook from Cambodia around here somewhere.
Posted on August 30th, 2018
It's been two months since my mom died. It seems like it was years ago. It seems like it was yesterday. Sometimes it seems like it was just a bad dream.
Most days I come through it just fine. Her mind was gone long before she passed, she's no longer suffering, and I have so much to be grateful for in the time I got to spend with her. Whenever a wave of despair comes crashing down on me because I don't have a mom any more, I remember this and manage to keep from being overwhelmed. It doesn't mean I miss her any less, however. My heart still aches and that's something that's never going away. But my life seems less and less defined by her passing as time goes on, so I guess I'm going to survive this.
What's been going on with all that over these past months...
Funeral planning was pretty easy. My mom wanted to be cremated and buried in the plot next to her parents which they gifted her many years ago. I had bought her a funeral insurance policy, so most everything was set. Two weeks ago I drove over the mountains to pick up her ashes, which were kindly placed in an urn I bought to match the one I got for my grandma back in 2015. My mom said that a graveside service was all she wanted, but I decided against it. The last thing I needed was her piece-of-shit ex to show up. I figured mom would be okay if I didn't end up going to prison for murder over a service she didn't even care about, so that was that. The next time there's a family reunion, I'll show up with all my mom's travel books and that will be a better way to remember her anyway.
Because my mom was a veteran, I was able to get the VA to provide a memorial marker for free. When you order the marker, you get to select a "symbol of belief" to put on it. Since the Catholic Church didn't seem to give a fuck about providing her last rites, I was not going to put a Catholic cross on her marker. I thought I might compromise and choose a Catholic Celtic cross, since she absolutely loved the cemeteries in Ireland we visited, but I didn't feel comfortable with that either...
I briefly toyed with the idea of putting the Hammer of Thor on it, but I don't know that mom would find that particularly funny so I decided to leave it blank...
Then I noticed that the form said you could go online and find an updated list of emblems. So I visited the site and saw that they had added a heart to the options...
Interesting to note... my mom served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. When I filled out the paperwork, you can check a box for wartime service if the person qualifies. I checked the box and didn't think anything of it... until a week later when it popped into my head and triggered a panic attack. Should I have checked that box? So I called the VA and asked if it was disrespectful to veterans who fought in the war to be having her war service added to her marker since she was a state-side doing paperwork. Turns out that it's not. All parts of a war effort get recognized, and he encouraged me to leave it on her marker order. So I did.
And so now I wait for the marker to arrive so I can bury her ashes under it on the day they cement it in.
I decided to not post a notice in the newspaper until after mom's been buried. I have, however, written her obituary already. I wrote it the night she died.
My mom died with only one day left in the month of June. I did not realize how significant this timing was until I started dealing with the paperwork. Since there was just the one day, everybody is content to just write it off. No repaying of benefits. No weird requests for pro-rated reimbursement of coverage. No letters to cancel stuff. Pretty much no anything. I closed her bank account the next day and everything else just took its course. Insurance companies could just be ignored and, after a month of pestering, they went away on their own because there was no money in it for them. Ditto for her various memberships and such. Given time... they just... disappeared. This is a massive change from the nightmare I faced when my grandmother died. She passed with a little over a week left in the month and that drama went on for months. So... note to self: when it's time to go, be sure to die on the last day of the month. It's easier for everybody. I mean, it really shouldn't be... but it is.
I don't get much physical mail. All my bills are paid online and the vast majority of what shows up is junk mail. Once I had to start checking my mom's post office box to get her mail, I changed my address to the same box so I'd only have one spot to worry about. Now that she's passed, I've switched my address to my house and will close down the post office box when it runs out in December. In the meanwhile I have the key to the box around my neck so I don't forget to check it. This morning when I woke up the key was gone from my nightstand and could not be found, even when I moved everything to search for it. When I went to feed the cats, I saw that the key was laying on the stairs. Sure enough, checking the security cameras revealed that Jake had hauled it off at 2am. And he was so stealthy about it that I didn't even wake up.
My mom was not a foodie, nor was she overly-fond of cooking. She cooked when she had to, but most of the meals we preferred were ready-made canned or frozen that got microwaved. I took her out to eat as often as I could because it offered a bit more variety over the soups and peanut butter sandwiches she would usually end up eating. I would love to eat out every day myself, but A) I don't want to drive 20 minutes into The Big City just for myself, and restaurant options in my small town are minimal... and B) I can't really afford to eat out very often anyway. So I cook a lot. Which is difficult given that all my mom's kitchenwares are so old that they're falling apart or worn so badly that they're tough to cook with. And so... I've been slowly buying all new stuff. Muffin tins... cookie sheets... bread pans... that kind of thing. My latest acquisition? Mixing bowls! I splurged and bought stainless steel bowls with non-skid bottoms and lids. They are so much nicer than the beat-up old warped plastic bowls I've been living with. And while I would much rather spend my money on new power tools, my next purchase will be a nice set of new pots and pans. Really looking forward to that.
As I mentioned previously, I bought loads of photos of my mom and her travels to put up around the house so she would understand that she lived there even if she didn't recognize the place. It worked so well that I transferred them to her memory care facility when she moved out. Once she died, I ended up getting them all back. Some of them I've got hanging in my kitchen and hallway. All the rest I've decided to hang in Jake & Jenny's bedroom... which I may end up turning into a combo cat bedroom /slash/ second guest bedroom. They are some awesome travel photos, so they would make for a nice decoration for a houseguest to look at.
After I had to move my mom out of my house, I managed to slowly work my way through most of her belongings... tossing or gifting or donating them as appropriate. After a while it got to be too hard to keep going through her stuff, so I packed it all up into cardboard boxes and shoved it in the closet that's in Jake and Jenny's bedroom. My plan was to go through them this weekend. But now I've changed my mind. I'm just not ready. Maybe in another two months. Maybe never.
I had already given mom's best clothing (jackets, sweaters, and stuff) to family. Anything that was left got donated. When she died, the memory care facility said I could leave anything I didn't want and they would go through it all... giving anything worth saving to residents in need. Which leaves two items hanging in my closet. 1) Her high school sweater, and 2) A Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I bought decades ago that she loved so much that she wore it only for special occasions to keep it in good shape. I think I might build a shadow box for the sweater. Like what they do at Hard Rock Cafes for their memorabilia clothing. That would be kind of cool. I'm not sure about the Mickey sweatshirt. I might just leave it hanging in my closet. Maybe I'll build a box for it as well one day. It's strange to be so indecisive about "stuff." This goes against the Buddhist concept of detachment that I strive for, and I'm not sure how I should feel about it. Maybe I shouldn't feel about it at all? About the only thing I'm certain of is that I don't want to part with it. At least not yet.
I wish I had something insightful to say in order to wrap up this post, but I don't.
I just really miss my mom.
Posted on July 1st, 2018
Sad though my life may be right now, the bullets must go on. And so an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Thank you and remembrance. First of all, thanks to the many, many people who sent their condolences. It never ceases to amaze me what a great group of friends I have online. Second of all, for people asking where they can send a remembrance donation in my mother's name, please consider the Cure Alzheimer's Fund. It is estimated that somebody develops dementia every 65 seconds in the United States alone. We have to find a cure. This charity gets a perfect rating from Charity Navigator, and 100% of the money donated goes directly to dementia research. My mother's name is Pat Simmer and if you have a couple bucks to spare, you can donate in her name to the Cure Alzheimer's Fund here.
As I had explained yesterday, dementia is a horrific idea that forces you to reexamine everything. Relearn everything. And while I didn't find the books I read to be very helpful... and I feel as though I learned practically nothing... I thought I'd run out some bullets with my experience.
• Don't wait to have a power of attorney assigned. A lot of life decisions and financial decisions will need to be made that won't be able to be made by a person suffering with dementia. I wasted no time getting my brother and I assigned power of attorney so that we could make those decisions when the time came... because it always comes earlier than you'd think. The scary thing about POA is the potential for abuse, so it's essential to get somebody whose heart is in the right place and will always have their best interest in mind when making decisions. It's okay if that's not you. Recognize if that's not you.
• Be sure you are an owner on all financial accounts. Even the most beloved small-town bank seems out to screw you over, so make damn sure your finances are in order very early in the game. When my grandmother died, we found out that a Power of Attorney becomes invalid after death and, even though my mom was a signee on my grandmother’s account, she had no access to the account upon my grandmother’s passing. So... when I became Power of Attorney on my mom’s account and had that added to her checks, I had learned my lesson. I went into the bank and asked to use my Power of Attorney to add myself onto the account NOT as a mere signee, but as an owner. I was told "we’ve already done that." And when I logged into my mom’s account online, it appeared that was true, because my name was right there. Well, guess what? Turns out I was only a signee on the account after all, so now I have to go through all the bullshit I had to go through for my grandmother. This is outrageously stupid. If the situation is such that a person IS NO LONGER ABLE TO CONTROL THEIR OWN FINANCES AND THEY ARE SURRENDERING POWER OF ATTORNEY, IT SHOULD BE AUTOMATIC THAT THEY ARE ADDED TO THE ACCOUNT AS AN OWNER. And if banks don’t want to MAKE that automatic, then they at least owe it to their customers to point out that they need to do this so that the POA can control the finances to pay off final bills and expenses after death. I HATE banks. HATE HATE HATE them. Mostly because I have never understood their motivation in screwing over their customers. For the love of God, ditch your bank and find a Credit Union that is interested in serving you, not some board of directors. I'm not saying that they will be any better about making sure your loved one's accounts are accessible after death, that's up to you, but at least they won't be actively working against you for whatever reason banks choose to act against you.
• Hope for a miracle... be wary of miracle cures. From the minute the doctor dropped the dementia diagnosis, I was all about tracking down that miracle cure. I scoured the internet for anything the even remotely showed promise. I spent hundreds of dollars on everything from CBD oil to miracle juices to coconut oil to herb mixes... all in the hopes of halting or reversing her condition. Needless to say, it all ended up being a load of crap, and books like Awakening From Alzheimer's: How America's Most Innovative Doctors are Reversing Alzheimer's, Dementia and Memory Loss were essentially snake oil (which I would have probably tried if I read snake oil was the new miracle cure). Desperation to save somebody you love makes you want to believe anything, and there's no shame in trying alternative medicines if they make sense to you. But be careful you don't get sucked into losing more money than you can afford to lose. Because there's a lot of money to be lost out there.
• Question medications and mood changes. My mom has always been a kind and gentle soul. But near the end of her time living with me, she would lapse into fits of belligerence and anger. This can happen with dementia, and I had just written it off as her condition progressing. But it turned out that was not the case. At least not for her. She was prescribed loads of drugs to keep her calm and out of depression. When she ended up in the hospital, they cut all the mind drugs... all of them... and she was back to her normal kind and gentle self within a week. And she stayed that way until she passed. I'm not saying that you should ignore all doctor advice when it comes to medications... I'm just saying that if you see serious personality changes popping up, consult with your doctor to see if they have ideas about reducing or changing the drugs they're on. My life would have been so much easier if my mom was "clean" those last few weeks of living with me, but I didn't know to question what was happening.
• Don't intentionally create confusion, even if you're doing it for the "right reasons." Needless to say, coming to terms with dementia was not an easy thing. I didn't want it to be true. I needed for it not to be true. And every once in a while some little thing would happen that had me convinced she might be getting better, even though deep down I knew it couldn't be. So I'd come up with little tests to see if it were possible she had improved. Things like asking her if she wanted a Coke, then pulling up to a mini-mart and asking her to run in and buy a couple bottles. Then waiting. And waiting. And waiting. All in the hopes that she would come out with those damn bottles. But she wouldn't. Of course she wouldn't, because she couldn't remember why she had gone into the store the minute she walked inside of it. Which means I'd have to go in and get her. Turns out all I'd done is needlessly confuse her in an attempt to make myself feel better. Helping somebody with dementia means doing everything you can to keep confusion to a minimum. At this point, it's about all you can do and the biggest kindness you can offer them.
• Take breaks. Find a way to laugh every day, even when you don't feel like it. If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that being a dementia caretaker is a lot harder than actually having dementia. You will be pushed to your limits... a lot. Caring for somebody with dementia is like a black hole from which you can't escape. But you simply have to. You risk losing yourself if you don't. I didn't have anybody I could have come give me a break, so I worked with the local council on aging to apply for a nursing service. I was able to get a few hours a month paid for, but if I ever needed a break or had to travel, I paid for it myself. And if I didn't have the money? I put it on my credit card. Something I hate doing, but couldn't not do. There were days I felt as though I would never laugh again and, as things progressed, I was honestly wondering if I could feel happy again. It became such a serious concern that I promised myself to find something I could laugh about every day. More than anything else I did, this helped me feel human again. The day that my mother no longer recognized me was the most painful day of my life. I went home and watched Eddie Murphy standup until I could laugh again because it's so vitally important to keep your ability to do so.
• Don't discount the rest of their life (or yours) after diagnosis. Once the doctor dropped the dementia bomb, it would have been incredibly easy to consider my mom's life to be over. But let me repeat what I said yesterday... her life was not done yet! Look at the last photo I posted on my travels with mom post...
At this point, my mom could not remember anything new. The brain mechanism for recording memories had been destroyed. All she had right here is most of her old memories... and that moment. She was happy and having a nice lunch even though she had no idea she was having high tea at the Jungle Junction Restaurant at the five-star Victoria Falls Hotel. She didn't even know she was in Africa. And the minute we left the restaurant, she would have absolutely no memory that this had ever happened. And yet... I would remember. I would remember her being happy even though she didn't realize she had no reason to be happy. Her life wasn't over. There were still good times to be had.
• Recognize when you can't be a caregiver anymore. I didn't. The fall off the dementia cliff happened over years, so I didn't recognize how bad it had gotten until one of my mom's doctors pointed it out to me. As it turns out, I probably should have found a facility for my mom months... maybe even a year... before I did. And yet, I have no regrets. My thinking was that the longer I could keep her with me, the better her quality of life. And maybe that was true. She was still recognizing me as her son, so having a friendly face has to be a benefit, right? In any event, when it's time... it's time. I am very, very lucky that my local hospital made the process be as painless as it could possibly be. First of all, they made it known that I needed to find a place as soon as possible... but they never threatened to force my mom out of the hospital. Second of all, they had an amazing, amazing staff helping me search the state for the best facility "fit" for my mom, taking in consideration her retirement savings, my budget, her Navy pension options, her Social Security monies, and what aid she was qualified for. And I took my time. I considered eleven facilities... and visited seven of them across the state... before making my decision. Because of that, I never felt bad about where she ended up because I knew I had put in the effort to find the best place possible.
• The best option may not be next door. When it came to finding a home for my grandmother, I picked a place that was literally two minutes from my home at the time. My thinking was that it would make it so easy to visit whenever I wanted. The problem with that is that I felt obligated to visit more often than I wanted. Not that I didn't love her... I loved my grandmother more than just about anything on earth... it's just that you can't let the sunset of their life become too much of your life. Had I been smart, I would have put her somewhere further away where visiting was more of an event than a constant chore. Your mileage may vary, of course. Perhaps you need to have your loved one close by, and that's fine. But for me? Having my mom being further away was much, much better for my health and mindset. No matter how bad things got, I looked forward to my visits because they were happening every two weeks instead of every two days.
• Make their home a home they're recognize when they can't recognize it as home. When my mom was living with me and really started to slide, the home she was looking for was the home she lived in when she was six years old with her mom and dad. Obviously there was no way I could make that happen. And so I tried other ways. Having her personal effects out in the open where she can see them helped. But the best thing I found? Photos. Not necessarily of family (though I did that too) but of herself. I had big photos printed on canvas of all our travels and hung them everywhere around my home. The brighter and more attention-getting the better, because she always seemed to recognize herself. So when she would see herself everywhere, she'd be able to figure out that this was where she was supposed to be. This ended up being so helpful that I actually hung photos of her over the windows. Because what's outside the windows could be confusing. Pictures of herself? Not confusing. When she moved into a memory care facility, I took the pictures off her my walls and covered her walls with them. For several months, she had something to talk about with her caregivers because she could still kinda remember them. Even once she didn't remember, they were still cool to have there for her visitors and the staff caring for her.
• Abolish glass everywhere you can. This may seem obvious, but it wasn't to me. When I moved into my new house, I bought all new dishes. For whatever reason, my mom kept breaking them all. Eventually I replaced all plates, bowls, glasses, and cups with shatter-proof melamine dinnerware from Pier 1. I got rid of picture frames and went with canvas prints because she was breaking those too. Anything breakable... especially if it could harm them after breaking... has to go. For things I couldn't put away... like the glass in my IKEA hutches... I covered with clear contact paper front and back so if it were to break it would be held in place instead of flying everywhere. You can do that with actual windows too, though most windows are tougher than you'd think.
• Keep an eye on their feet. Loose carpeting and area rugs are accidents waiting to happen because people with dementia have a confusion which is always distracting them. The first thing I did when I moved into my new home was have all the carpeting ripped out. It made things so much easier. But it's not a bulletproof solution because they can still trip easily. Do whatever you can to minimize this wherever you can. I kept my home as sparse as possible with little to no clutter.
• Surveillance cameras are as handy as you'd think they would be. In the earlier years where my mom was a bit confused yet still had some memory and was able to function on her own, I was still able to go to work because I set up security cameras everywhere so I could check in. These cloud cameras are getting cheaper every day and can be bought for as little as $30. I went with Nest Cams, which are considerably more expensive than that (and the cloud storage is even more expensive)... but they were easy to set up, allowed me to create motion zones so I could be alerted when my mom when places she shouldn't, and were an overall godsend for my peace of mind.
• Make as many moments as you can. Four years seems like a long time. But I assure you that the four years from June 2014 to June 2018 went very quickly as my mom's dementia progressed. Milestones happen and you don't even know it until they've passed. The last time we saw a movie in a theater. The last time we ate out in a restaurant. The last time we'd go for a walk. The last time she'd ride with me in my car. The last time she recognized me. The last time her eyes were open. In every case, I never knew it was the last time. So if there is something that you enjoy doing together... do it often, because there will come a day that they can't do it any more. I regret that my mom's last drive was to the dentist. She loved going for drives, and it would have been awesome if we could have went somewhere nice for her last time. But I waited too long after I saw she was starting to have serious difficulty getting in and out of the car, so it never happened. Not that she would remember any of it... but she might have had a nice moment at the time... and I would remember.
• If you're Catholic, plan ahead. My mom hadn't had anything to do with the church for decades, but she was raised Catholic and if you were to ask her what religious affiliation she was, that's what she would tell you. I don't know whether or not receiving "last rights" (or "anointing the sick" as it seems to be called now) would be important to my mom, but I wanted to cover that base just in case. This was a problem though, because my mom's old church was 2-1/2 hours away. The religious director for the hospice company we were using attempted multiple times over three days to get a priest from different local Catholic churches to come. No priest ever did. I was told somebody from the church would call. Nobody ever did. Needless to say, I was absolutely livid. Not because I give a shit... I'd just as soon not have a priest anywhere near my mother. I was livid because it might have mattered to her. And so... unless your loved one is in the vicinity of a Catholic church that knows them so there's a priest who gives a shit, plan ahead. Find a parish and build a relationship with a priest long before you'll need them to come for last rights. Otherwise? Apparently saving immortal souls is only something priests care about if you were a member of their church long enough to have made it worth their while on the donation plate. Because of this I went from loving the Catholic church, to being an apologist for the Catholic church, to being indifferent about the Catholic church... to now actively loathing the Catholic church.
• Just plan ahead, period. Because my mom and I had spent so much time together and were so close, I knew what her wishes were and what she would want for herself once she couldn't make decisions for herself. This is not a luxury everybody has, so you have to do the work. Go over every possible decision. Get an advanced directives document drawn up today. Start looking at facilities before you actually need one. You can't anticipate everything... Lord knows I didn't... but the more you can take care of ahead of time, the better off you'll both be.
• If a pet will help you, make sure you have a pet. If you need help, make sure you get help. Jake and Jenny kept my mom company and me sane while she was living with me. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning after she left. I seriously question if I could have survived all this if it weren't for my two cats. There were times I thought I should be in therapy to help deal with everything that was happening. I never pursued it. I should have. No matter how strong you are, dementia will test you like nothing else will. Be sure you're strong enough to face it because you're no good to anybody if you're not. Whether that means cats... or a dog... or therapy... or whatever... don't forget to be a caregiver to the most important person in all this. That would be you.
This is just the stuff off the top of my head, and my experience won't be the same as everybody else's experience. But maybe it will be of help to people, I dunno. It's a mere drop in the dementia bucket, but collect enough drops and you can fill that bucket.
Take care of each other, everybody.
Posted on June 30th, 2018
When you've unloaded your life on the internet for fifteen years, it probably seems hypocritical to claim to be a "private person," but for me it's still true. Rarely does my blog touch on my personal life, my work, my family, or my offline friends. That's entirely by design, because there are some things I'd rather keep to myself. Not just for me, but out of respect for the privacy of everybody else connected to my life.
Long-time readers were probably surprised to find out that so many of my travels which have been documented here on Blogography were made with my mother, because I never mentioned her being with me at the time. The reason for this is long, complicated, and nobody's business... but... at the same time it really should be everybody's business. Partly because it may help others who are going through a similar trajectory, but mostly because there's a lot of inspiration to be found there.
For all the time we've spent together over the years, my mom was never given to talking much about her life before I came along. I know practically nothing about her years growing up, and I honestly don't know why that is. What little insight I have is from old photos I've run across or out-of-the-blue comments that would pop up. Once while we were out for breakfast I ordered my eggs over-medium instead of scrambled like I usually do. Mom took that as an opportunity to mention that when she first got married and was cooking breakfast for my dad, she'd throw out eggs with broken yolks because she didn't want him to think she was a bad cook.
And so it went for as long as I knew her.
When things didn't work out between my mom and dad, she moved to a neighboring city. I ended up moving there with her because I was attending college there at the time. After a year of starting a new life for herself she spent most of her time with her boyfriend and was rarely around, making her the perfect roommate.
I spent way too long trying to figure out what to do for a career, but eventually found my way to graphic design. Once that had been decided, I took a job offer with a brand new company that was starting up in San Diego. It was sent my way via an ex-girlfriend who was living there, and seemed like an opportunity I couldn't pass up. The opening was seven months away because offices were still being built, so I asked my mom if she wanted to take a trip before I left. She had accompanied me on work-trips around the US from time to time, but this was to be a grand vacation in Europe... visiting London, Edinburgh, and Paris. We went. We had a great time. And I was happy to have some terrific memories before leaving home.
Not long after returning, it came to light that her boyfriend was a heinous, abusive, shit-stain on all humanity. And my mom's world fell apart. I'd say this "man" was garbage, but that would be an insult to the bag of cat shit I just tossed in my trash can. I maintain to this day that prison was too good a punishment for the atrocities he committed, and consider anal warts to be a higher form of life than him on his best day.
My mom never fully recovered.
She blamed herself for not seeing what he was... blamed herself for not knowing what he was hiding... blamed herself for everything and anything because that's all she had left. On the day she got a phone call from her now-ex piece of crap demanding she come bail him out of jail, I knew that San Diego would have to wait. First I had to try and get her the help she needed. This involved attempting to carry her down the stairs of her apartment, which I was not capable of doing. I essentially ended up dragging her down the stairs as she was sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn't walk. She could barely breathe. Days later I saw how badly she was bruised because I was not strong enough. It was the first time I felt as if I had completely and utterly failed her as a son. It would not be the last.
Months later as she was slowly... so painfully slowly... recovering from the trauma that life had thrown at her, she asked me if we might go on another vacation together one day.
You also now know why she was never mentioned as I documented our travels on my blog.
I didn't want her disgusting pig of an ex to know anything about her or what she was doing, even though deep down I loved the idea that he would know she recovered from his abuse and managed to live a great life without him in it. She had crawled out of the wreckage, picked up the pieces, and did the best she could to carry on. Sure all the fantastic places we traveled had helped, but make no mistake that it was her strength, determination, and drive that were ultimately responsible.
This was not the life she had hoped for, but it would be good enough.
At least for a while.
A decade after our European vacation, her memory started failing her. She would chalk it up to having "senior moments," but after a while it was becoming a problem. She would write herself notes constantly. More notes than anybody could ever read. She'd go through a pack of Post-It's in a week (eventually she'd go through a pack in a day). Then, three months before we were to leave for Africa, I woke up and found her wandering around in a daze. She was so confused that I thought she might have had a stroke, and rushed her to the hospital. But it wasn't a stroke.
The specialist was not entirely sure what had happened to have caused the "permanent brain injury" which my mom was now dealing with. He didn't think it was Alzheimer's, but couldn't know for sure. Subsequent sleep studies found that she would stop breathing for dangerously long periods in the middle of the night. Her doctor felt that oxygen deprivation was most likely responsible for her brain trauma. He immediately started her on a CPAP machine, but the damage had been done.
There was no reversing what had happened, and her slide into dementia had begun.
And now it was my turn to have my life fall apart.
First thing I had to do was get a note from her doctor so I could cancel our trip to Africa and get a refund from the insurance company. "Why would you want to do that?" he asked me. Well... probably because her brain was incapable to making new memories and it would be a horribly confusing ordeal for her. But her doctor thought canceling would be a mistake. Since her older memories would be preserved for a while, he thought she would be able to go and still have a good time. Sure she would remember absolutely none of it, but that wouldn't stop her from having fun at the moment.
And so we went.
It was bizarre, tragic, and beautiful all at the same time. Every morning we'd wake up and she wouldn't know where we were or how we got there, but then she'd see an elephant wander by our tent (or whatever), remember that we had been planning a trip to Africa, put two-and-two together... and, surprise, we must be in Africa.
And, no, the irony of an animal that supposedly never forgets helping me come to terms with a mother who always forgets is not lost on me.
It's funny how things sometimes work out.
I am beyond grateful that we had taken that first trip to Europe, because that showed her she could have fun in life without her boyfriend in it... right before her boyfriend was carted off to prison.
I am even more grateful for her doctor encouraging me to take her to Africa despite her brain damage... because it showed me that her life was not done yet. Yes, things would continue to fall apart, but I didn't just writer her off after diagnosis like I probably would have if we hadn't gone to Africa.
Everything after returning home is a blur of heartbreak and tears as I struggled to figure out how to help my mom have the best life she could when life was throwing every possible obstacle in her path.
Eventually her apartment wasn't safe for her. Those same stairs I had dragged her down years before became a barrier to getting her in and out of the apartment. So I bought a home in the old neighborhood I grew up in where she could be in a familiar area (so that's why he bought a new home!). I had to install security cameras all over my home so I could keep an eye on her while I was at work (so that's why he has all those cameras!). My mom was scared and lonely when I wasn't there, so I decided to get some cats to keep her company (so that's why Jake and Jenny are there!). It goes on and on. Every day was a new challenge. But it's my mom and I love her, so what else was there to do?
I'm not going to sugar-coat it, dealing with dementia is a horrendous ordeal, and just when you think you have a handle on it, things get worse. They always get worse. And then there comes a point where you don't think that your life will ever be anything but worse.
After six months in my new place, my mom was declining badly. She was on a host of drugs to help her with the depression and confusion, but they sometimes only worsened what they were supposed to be helping. Mom would become angry for no reason. She'd scream at me because a son shouldn't be kidnapping his mother. She'd pound on windows to try and escape. She'd start crying and couldn't stop.
One day she complained of chest pains. Thinking she was having a heart attack I ran her to the ER. It wasn't a heart attack, it was constant stress generated by never-ending confusion. Her doctor was very concerned.
But not for my mom.
He was concerned for me.
"What are you doing? You can't take care of her like this." And he was right. My entire life had become about trying to keep my mom from going off the edge, but I didn't realize she had already fallen off. And I was falling with her. It was then I knew that she should have been put somewhere that could help her months ago, but I would never admit it to myself because admitting it would feel like I was giving up on her.
After weeks of searching, I found a place I could live with where she could live.
Driving her across the mountains to her new home was about the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Maybe it is the hardest, I don't know. All I do know is that it felt worse than any heartbreak I've ever had and I spent a lot of time after wanting to die.
But it was just a warm-up for what was to come.
When it comes to dementia, things always get worse, remember?
There is nothing... and I mean nothing... that can prepare you for that moment where your own mother doesn't recognize you. You can read all the books that exist on dementia... you can think you are prepared and be able to accept it when that day comes. But you're wrong.
If you want to know what that's like, there just aren't words to describe it. There is no pain... no suffering... that will cut you quite like it. This video might give you the smallest inkling of how it goes. The whole thing is worth watching, but you can fast forward to 23 minutes in if you want to see what it looks like when somebody has been completely and utterly destroyed...
And that was me.
Sitting in the parking lot of my mother's memory care facility trying not to die of a broken heart.
They say that when it comes to dementia you say goodbye twice, and that's absolutely true. I said goodby to my mom when everything that I was to her was gone. I said it again last night when she died. The first time was a lot harder because it was the one that matters. Relatively speaking, the second time was easier because it was just saying goodbye to the body of who my mom used to be.
And so now you know.
The reason my blog stopped on June 4th, 2016 is because I had to find a home for my mom. The reason it didn't really start up again until October 31st, 2016 is because that's how long it took for me to recover from it. You can fill in the blanks on all the entries after that where I'm having a bad day or feeling depressed or didn't feel like blogging.
Tomorrow's Bullet Sunday will be bullets talking about what I have learned in dealing with dementia. Which is almost nothing, but it still might help somebody out there who is going through the same thing. I don't think it will be published tomorrow, but when it is published, that's what it will be.
To my family and friends who have helped me so much over these past years... sometimes without even knowing it... thank you. I could not have made it through without you.
To my mom's doctors, nurses, and all the people who work at The Cottages Memory Care in Mill Creek... thank you. I cannot fathom how you manage to do what you do with such compassion and grace, and am more grateful to you than you will ever know.
And to Jake and Jenny, who gave me a reason to get up in the morning after my mom had moved out (and almost certainly kept me from killing myself on more than one occasion)... thank you too. I mean, I know you're just cats, but you're still far better humans than a lot of people I know.
And so... until whenever I start feeling a little more like myself, take care of yourself and each other.
Posted on June 29th, 2018
A lot of people can tell their moms "I love you around the world and back," but in my case it's literally true. She's been traveling the globe with me for almost twenty years on an annual vacation we take together. And since it's her Mother's Day gift, she gets to pick where we go and what we're going to do once we get there. Riding a camel at the pyramids of Egypt? Done it. Trekking the rainforest of Costa Rica? Done it. Climbing a glacier in Alaska? Done it. Exploring temples in Cambodia? Done it. Taken a safari in Zimbabwe? Done it.
My mom's love of adventure has always been a never-ending source of joy in my life.
And tonight I had to say goodbye to her.
Losing a parent is a soul-crushing, heartbreaking ordeal which creates a wound that will never heal. But as I sit here looking through hundreds of photos of all the places we've seen and all the things we've done... it's hard to stay sad. What time we had together on this earth was put to very good use, and you can't ask for much more than that.
The travel bug was something that bit her late in life. She ended up enduring a horrific tragedy that would crush most people, and her way of putting it behind her was to roam the planet. Mom wanted to see as much of the world as she could while she was on it, and would pore over travel magazines and TV shows for ideas all year long. And the things she would come up with for us were always interesting. I could write a book about it... maybe I should write a book about it... because the situations we often found ourselves in make for great stories.
But as many times as she would come up with something out of the blue (Vietnam?!?) she was not above wanting to return to old favorites. We ended up in Rome four times because she loved the city. Especially The Colosseum, for some reason, which we visited all four times. She also had this weird love of helicopters, and was always looking to see if there were helicopter rides available wherever we landed. I've lost count of how many times we'd end up lifting off into some incredible places with chopper blades whirring above. Maybe it was just being able to see the world from a different perspective? I dunno. I never thought to ask her about it.
About the only thing Mom didn't like about traveling was wrinkles. She was always up long before I was, ironing away on the day's clothing. When I finally bought her a travel steamer you'd think it was her own personal helicopter, because getting those pressed-in wrinkles out was just so much easier now. Anybody who knows me knows that I hate ironing and couldn't care less about wrinkled clothes, so that was the one thing I most definitely did not inherit from her.
But the wanderlust to roam the planet? That's all her.
Thanks for a lifetime of adventures, Mom. I'll love and miss you every day...
We had traveled to places like San Francisco, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, and the like... but this was the first international trip we took. My mom had to get a passport, which she was very proud of.
My mom will rarely ask me to take a photo. Like... very rarely. This was one of those times. She really wanted a photo of her coming out of a phone box for some reason.
Obligatory Eiffel Tower shot. I knew that this is what mom's friends would most want to see when we got back, so I made her stand there for way too long so I could be sure I got a good shot.
My all-time favorite shot of my mom. Arizona was our first trip after a horrific ordeal she endured, and it was great to see her smiling and having fun again.
While in Sedona, we took a "Pink Jeep" tour out in the rocks. Mom asked our driver for this photo because she wanted to remember the time we took a trip together. Little did she know... it was just the beginning.
We're on a Caribbean cruise here at a stop in Tulum, Mexico as it rained and rained. We had a great time anyway. I am not a cruise person, but my mom loved them because you get to stop in a lot of different places without packing and unpacking.
Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Mom was terrified of slipping and falling on the climb up because she wasn't sure-footed. She made it just fine, I, however, slipped twice. This was a triumphant moment for her.
New Orleans is my favorite US city, so of course I had to take her for beignets at Cafe Du Monde!
Obligatory Leaning Tower of Pisa shot on one of our five trips to Italy (which I think was my mom's favorite country to visit... it's certainly one of mine!).
Trevi Fountain in Rome. My mom threw in a coin and made a wish but wouldn't tell me what it was because she wanted it to come true. Years later when she saw this photo, she told me that she had wished for more vacations like this one. See, kids... wishes can come true!
A foggy day in Tuscany. Out of all our travels, this was probably the most disappointing stop. We really wanted to have our "Under the Tuscan Sun" moment, but rarely saw the sun the entire time we were there. Still had a fantastic time though... the food and history are incredible.
My mom wanted to go to Greece and bought a whole book to plan out the stuff she wanted to do... mostly centering around visiting the Greek islands. I said okay, and started planning. Then one day at work my mom calls me. She was looking at a map and "...noticed that Egypt is really close to Greece, so we should go there too!" I was going to explain that an inch on the map was actually hundreds of miles, but thought "Hey, I'd like to see Egypt too!" The logistics of such a trip were a little crazy, but about a week later I got a cruise brochure which included Greece, Egypt, and Turkey. So there you go.
As we were making our way around the Acropolis area, this dog comes running up. Here is where I told my mom to stand still so the dog wouldn't feel threatened and possibly attack her. Then I took this picture for some reason. I was walking towards them when the dog ran up to my mom and she was petting him, so I missed that shot. She thought it was hilarious that I thought she was in imminent danger, but stopped to take a photo.
At the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo. Mom absolutely loved mosques because the interiors were always so gorgeous... and very different from all the churches she had seen. We visited quite a few over the years.
"I thought they would be taller!" said my mom... and most every other person that visits the pyramids.
Be fore we leave on a trip, I always ask my mom if there's something special she wants to do so I can be sure to arrange it. Since she was obsessed with reading travel magazines and watching travel shows, I didn't want her to miss something that made her choose to go there in the first place. For Egypt the only thing she cared about was riding a camel at the pyramids. She later told me that it was the reason she wanted to go to Egypt because it looked like fun.
The camel's name was "Daisy." As mom was forgetting things and our travels were fading away, she rarely forgot Daisy. Even when she did, I'd remind her of Daisy and she could start pulling memories out of the experience. Thank heavens I asked about what she wanted to do, because this became one of her most enduring travel memories and I would be gutted if she had missed it.
Mom was disappointed that Cairo was so close (it literally comes right up to the pyramids, which you can see if you look at Google Maps). She thought that they were out in the dessert somewhere and we'd be riding camels out to see them. We actually went inside of The Great Pyramid, which is a good story unto itself. I'll have to blog about it one day.
A stop at Ephesus in Turkey. The crowds were insane, and it took several attempts to find a spot where I could get a shot where people weren't walking in front of her. I thought it funny that she wanted to bring her purse for this excursion, but she did that a lot. No idea why. I had all the money. Guess she just liked to be prepared. She had everything in there.
Mykonos, I believe? Not the first time mom asked a total stranger to take our photo... with my pricey camera. I was always worried that somebody might run off with it one day, but it always worked out!
Gorgeous sunset in Maui, one of my favorite places on earth.
I had my mom bring a jacket and gloves to Hawaii because I knew we'd be going to the top of Mt. Haleakala and it's cold. She was upset she didn't bring a hat and scarf, so we improvised with a Bad Monkey cap and a beach towel that were in the trunk of our rental car. We looked ridiculous, which is why mom insisted on getting this photo.
I have been to Hawaii many, many times. I always hope for an eruption so I can see lava. This is as close as I ever got.
This photo is deceptive on a number of fronts. First of all, the volcanic rocks are sharp, and falling could cut you up good. Second of all, you can't tell here, but there is a massive drop off a rocky cliff behind my mom, and if she had slid on loose rocks, she'd probably go over the edge and end up dead. Or severely broken. I was distracted taking photos and the next thing I know... there she was... being a total daredevil and completely unaware of it. So naturally I took pictures.
One of many, many helicopter rides we took. This time on Kauai. Mom loved helicopters to a crazy degree, so I always tried to get her a front seat. Sitting next to the pilot was her favorite thing.
"Do you think we can go down there?" Um, sure mom... we just need to rent a boat or hike miles and miles! From a previous trip to Kalalau Lookout, I knew that the it was mostly cloudy most of the time and that the saw-tooth ridge there photographs as a jagged black blob. And so I looked into HDR photography so I could pull some detail out of the shadows. This is the result.
Neither one of us were beach people, but hanging out on a really nice beach was still a great way to spend time in Hawaii... especially when there was nobody else there!
I had work in Orlando for many years... both for contract jobs with The Mouse and later for charity presentations. I'd often ask my mom if she wanted to tag along and we could stay an extra three or four days to play at Disney World. She never refused, as she loved to have something to do that wasn't work or sitting around the house.
I love Mickey Mouse, and will gladly stand in line for a half hour to get a photo op with him. Mom always thought I was nuts, but would stand in line with me without complaining. And she had to do so many, many times.
Of the many helicopter trips we took, this was our hands-down favorite. A ride up the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. Amazing scenery and a fun hike on top!
Mom had this photo on her dresser for years, but it got lost when we moved. I always meant to print out another one, but never got around to it. I try not to have regrets, but that's one of them.
On top of the Mendenhall Glacier. If you look next to my ear, you'll see hikers scaling the glacier in the background. We actually got in trouble here. The guide told us to have fun wandering around but stay close. So we headed out. Then the guide yelled at us to come back because he wasn't done talking. We were both rolling our eyes at that one.
My mom fell in The Icicle River when she was a kid and nearly drowned. She has been terrified of moving water ever since (but joined the Navy!). When I booked this eagle-watching rafting trip in Alaska, my mom (who was usually fearless and up for anything) was constantly telling me how worried she was and saying she didn't want to do it. I told her "fine, you can ride with the trailer driver to the pick-up point and I'll meet you there. When we got to the drop off and told the guide our plan, he walked out into the river... which was around six-inches deep. "If you fall out, you can always just stand up... it's not much deeper than this the whole way." Mom was then all "Well I can do that!"
You can't see it here, but our vests have names written on them. Mine was "Digger" (or something like that) and my mom's was "Buzzard" (which you can kind of see in the previous photo). She absolutely loved it, and I had to call her "Buzzard" for the rest of the trip. I got a lot of Eagle shots, which was amazing. We loved this so much that mom said she would do it again.
We took a float plane to a fish hatchery for bear watching... and I got some fantastic black bear photos. Mom had to inform me that the plane ride was more fun than she thought it would be, but she'd still rather ride in a helicopter.
We had a day's layover in Atlanta before flying to Barcelona, so I took us to World of Coke. My mom was a serious fan of Coca-Cola, so it was kinda a no-brainer. She loved bears, so we had to stand in line so she could get a photo with this one.
My mom decided she wanted to go back to Italy after watching the movie "Only You" starring real-life couple at the time Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei (decades before they would appear together in Spider-Man). In the film Fisher Stevens plays a roofer trying to find out what happened to his wife, so he calls the credit card company to find out where the charges on it were from. They tell him and he says "Positano? Where's That?
My mom told me on several occasions that The Colosseum was one of her favorite spots. And so we went back again and again. I'd ask her why she loved it so much and she'd say "I don't know... I just do." When I told her that maybe she was a gladiator in a previous life, she thought that was funny and started telling people that when showing this photo.
After standing in line for yet another Mickey Mouse photo with me on a Disney Cruise, mom saw a line for Donald Duck and said she wanted to get a picture with him. "Really? You like Donald?" I asked. "Sure! We were both in the Navy!" she replied. What you don't see here is that "The YMCA" by the Village People started playing and Donald grabbed my mom's hand to get her to dance it with her. So, yes, I totally have photos of my mom doing The YMCA with Donald Duck.
Eating Fettuccini Alfredo at the restaurant where it was invented... Alfredo alla Scrofa in Rome. It is my favorite restaurant on earth, and I never pass up a chance to eat there.
Santa Margarita Legure, I think? I was trying to gain weight in preparation for a medical ordeal where I'd always drop
Pirate Night onboard the Disney Magic. Mom and I were totally up for the pirate bandanas they handed out. We were probably the only ones who kept them on for the whole dinner. We were goofy like that.
Okay... on our first trip to Venice, all mom wanted to do was take a gondola ride. But when we arrived in the city on a gorgeous day, I was not feeling well and asked if we could wait until tomorrow. So we did. And it rained every day afterwards. So she didn't get her gondola ride and I felt awful about it. So when I got free tickets to Europe anywhere British Airways flew, I asked her if she wanted to go back to Venice for that gondola ride. Of course she said yes. I was worried the entire flight that it would rain the whole time (again)... but the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We're in the shadow of a building here, but once we got out on the Grand Canal it was fantastic. It ended up being a really fun trip, so I was glad we went back.
Aruba. I love taking pictures of storm clouds and was taking a lot of them when I looked over to see where my mom was. That's when I saw this, her pink sweater and blue jeans standing out against the gloom!
At a turtle farm in Grand Cayman. I asked mom if she wanted her photo taken with a turtle. She said "no" because she thought it would be mean to the turtle... but a guide there said they weren't bothered by it, so she relented. After we got home and she saw this photo she told me "I'll bet that guy was lying, that turtle doesn't look happy at all."
After a dozen trips to Disney World for work, I was tired of doing the same thing over and over and stopped going to the parks. This trip my mom came along, so I knew we'd be visiting them and so I was asking co-workers if there was anything new to do. I was asked if I had done the "Wilderness Trek" in Animal Kingdom, which I hadn't. It's a kind of "behind the scenes" tour of the fake 'Africa' they had built. We both absolutely loved it. Here we are harnessed up and ready to go.
Mom climbing on a hanging bridge over gators (or crocodiles?). She thought this was an absolute riot. Me, being afraid of heights, was slightly less enthused. Disney went to great lengths to make the journey seem perilous... breaking boards on the bridge and having the netting fall away and stuff... but it was Disney, so 99% safe. But it looked dangerous and cool.
After we finished the "Wilderness Trek," my mom was gushing over how much she loved it. One of the cast members said that if she liked this, she'd love an "Adventured by Disney" vacation! You know... one of those hideously expensive vacations where everything is Disney-fied and the opposite of what I want on vacation? Mom, of course, loved the idea.
Mom got the Adventures by Disney brochure and declared that she wanted to go on the Africa trip. It was heinously expensive, but I thought "Hey, I've always wanted to go to Africa!" and so I called them up. Alas, the only times I could go were sold out, so I asked mom if we could do it next time and have her pick somewhere else. So here we are at a cooking class in Vietnam.
We made those lanterns! Adventures by Disney is geared towards families with kids, but they have trips which are "Adults Only." Needless to say, I booked the first "Adults only" trip because the last thing I want on my vacation is a bunch of screaming kids. But here's the thing... even though it's an "Adults" trip, the itinerary is the exact same as the "regular" version... so there are lots of activities geared towards kids that you get to do. Like lantern-making. We both loved it.
Mom loves animals and won't hesitate to get her picture taken with them. Our resort in Hoi An has an ox that rakes the beach smooth each morning. When my mom found out about it, she wanted to go meet him. And so here we are... up at some gawdawful time in the morning. Mom asked the guy what the ox did when he was done with work... "eat and sleep!" we were told.
Another crafting project. This time we got to pick out a paper maché mask and paint it. Mom had them hanging in her room for a while, but I eventually took them down when she didn't know what they were any more.
Remember what I said about mom hating wrinkles? Here we are in our perfectly-pressed tai-chi exercise outfits, because mom was up ironing them at some ridiculously early hour. Oddly enough, it was while ironing these that I remember my mom having her first serious memory lapse. She was standing there with an iron in her hand and it was like she forgot where we were and what she was doing. It passed quickly, and so it was forgotten. Little did we know that it was just the start.
Mom rubbing a turtle's head for luck in Vietnam. She always thought the perspective on this photo was funny.
The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. Normally, you can get a ticket to view his preserved body inside, but "Uncle Ho" was out for his annual cleaning, so we didn't get to do that. Mom said "I don't know why, but I would have liked to have seen that."
Getting ready to offer Buddhist monks some rice as they make their morning processional to a nearby temple. Mom and I were totally into it... nobody else seemed to care. That happened a lot. We loved new and different things.
Many great photos as we climbed up to the temple. Here we are taking a break along the way.
Mom having big fun with an ox again. And once again she was concerned that the ox was working too hard and was asking if he got to have fun after he got off work. "Of course," the Adventures by Disney guide said.
"Do you want to feed him?" they asked. "Sure!" mom said... "Do you have some soap and water so I can wash his face first? He can't have lunch with a dirty face!" Holy crap I loved traveling with my mom. If you ask me why, it was moments like this.
And here we are in Cambodia. As we went hiking around from temple to temple, I kept asking her if she was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. "No. I want to see them all!"
The next day, still trying to explore every temple in Cambodia.
And... Africa (two years after mom had asked about going... we had a cruise around South & Central America and through the Panama Canal before this). At this point my mother couldn't make new memories. Our lovely guide was so wonderful about it, and never let on when my mom would introduce herself five times a day. Eventually he told me that one of his wives had the same condition, so he was used to it. Fate, as it turns out, is always the best guide.
Mornings in Africa were surprisingly cold. Fortunately, we were well-prepared. Because she got cold easily, I packed her different sweaters and jackets for layering. As it started getting warmer and warmer each day, our guide would say "Pat, aren't you getting hot? Can I take your jacket?" Mom, without missing a beat, would respond "I just put it on because I'm cold."
When you can't remember where you are or how you got there, seeing elephants outside your window is an amazing thing. Which means my mom was in a constant state of disbelief... "My goodness! There are elephants out there!"
The sunsets in Africa are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. After this photo, my mom asked if we were going back to the house or if we were going out to eat, which I found really funny for some reason. "Well, we're in Africa and our house is thousands of miles away... but we might be able to find something to eat back at camp." "Oh. That would work too."
Hiking around Victoria Falls (or Mosi-oa-Tunya, as the non-colonizer locals call it). We also took a helicopter ride over the falls, of course. Her memory may be screwed up, but she totally loved it... as I knew she would.
The end of our last trip together... high tea at The Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe where we were staying. It was a good run.
Our last vacation together was to Africa in 2014. When her health declined too much for trips like that, I tried to come up with something a little closer to home. I had booked us a trip to the Dakotas, since North Dakota is the one state I haven't yet been to, but it had to be canceled. In many ways I'm thankful for that. Africa is a heck of a place to go out on, and the memories made that final trip are some of the best travel memories I have.
Where my mom is at now, I don't know. Hopefully it's someplace at least as amazing as all the places we've been.