Category Archives: The Lucky Daughter

The Lucky Daughter, Part 2

I was Daddy’s Little Girl.  No doubt about it.

When I was little and he came home from work with a 5 o’clock shadow, he’d go straight to the bathroom and shave, because I wouldn’t give him a hello kiss if his face was scratchy.

It's no wonder my mom fell in love with him.

I was about 12 when we built our camp in Grand Isle, and he and I built all the cabinets in the boat shed ourselves.  Just the two of us.

When I went away to college, he was the one who cried.

On my wedding day, just before I walked down the aisle, he asked me again if I was “sure” this was the right guy.  I said I was, because that guy was a lot like him.

He taught me well.

We worked in the same industry for a few years, and he was so proud when we’d end up at meetings and conventions together.

When I named my second child after him, he was speechless.

He taught me to enjoy the everyday moments of life, not just the big events.

Even though he’s been gone from my sight for 16 years, I still try to make him proud.

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The Long Goodbye

Those who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s know what this means.

The term was made famous when Nancy Reagan described her husband’s slip into a distant world.  We all get its meaning, but only those of us who live with it truly understand it.

My father-in-law, “Gramps” to all of us, started experiencing lapses in judgment about 15 years ago. At first it was of little consequence, just slight confusion and poor decision-making.  It slipped into forgetfulness and some short-term memory loss.  Within a few years the confusion grew, and the memory loss became more profound. Simple household tasks were becoming off-limits, and driving was no longer safe.  His wife assumed the 24-hour responsibility, and the 36-hour day.  As it became no longer safe for him to be left unattended at home, Gramps became a frequent face at our house, allowing his wife a few precious hours to herself.  Then sitters became part of the routine, and eventually, a search for an appropriate facility to relocate him.

While this was happening, the impression my kids had of their grandfather changed as well. Only my oldest son has memories of Gramps when he was “whole” – when he worked, drove a car, and remembered their names. My middle son remembers him in the beginning of his decline.  He recalls going fishing, throwing a ball, going on vacations together.  But my little guy has only known Alzheimer’s Gramps.

In a way, the little guy has the easiest load to cope with, because he only remembers Gramps the way he is now.  He didn’t have to watch him slip away from us. He understands what Alzheimer’s is, and knows first-hand what it means.

In his prime, Gramps was an amazing man.  He worked tirelessly for his family.  In a story we can all relate to today, Gramps worked two jobs to rebuild his family’s losses after Hurricane Betsy.  He was generous, kind, and polite to a fault.  His wife never touched a vacuum cleaner, or pumped gas.  When his children cried at night, he paced the floor with them.  He served in the Navy with his twin brother, and served his community as a Shriner.

He currently resides at a skilled-care facility for Veterans, the third residential facility we’ve placed him in.  It’s not a VA facility, but a partnership between the state and the VA.  As a war vets home, it’s mostly men, and a place where he seems to feel comfortable with his neighbors.

Which brings me to today.

We had a lacrosse game in Baton Rouge, and stopped to see Gramps at his “home” on our way home this afternoon.  While we adults visit often, we keep our visits with the kids controlled, limited to times when we think Gramps will be receptive to visitors, and under conditions that won’t freak them out. 

We arrived in the early afternoon, and I ushered the boys to the family room, while hubby went to retrieve Gramps from the secure Alzheimer’s unit.  Some of the other residents are in states of deeper decline, and visiting the unit can be uncomfortable even for adults.   So Gramps greeted the boys in the game room, where the air hockey and pool tables waited, and other families visited with their loved ones.  We spent about an hour visiting with him, playing games, and talking.

Watching them interact with their grandfather was a beautiful thing. They played pool with patience, explaining the rules with every turn, and laughing along when things got confusing.  They reminded him of their names, what grade they’re in, and promised to visit more often.

As the rate of his decline continues to accelerate, opportunities like today will come less often.  Catching him on a good day will be a gift, and the number of times they get to make memories with their grandfather will decrease.  And when he can no longer interact with them, and no longer remembers them, they will have something to cling to.  So will I.

The Lucky Daughter

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom lately.  Maybe it’s the holidays, which are so full of the memories and traditions she gave me.  Maybe it’s the growing kids that she didn’t get to share with me.  Who knows.  When I think of her I don’t usually get sad, because (1) she had an awesome life and (2) I know she’s in heaven, which must be pretty awesome!!   But the thoughts of her have prompted me to make a list of her best attributes, with the hope that I can emulate some of them.

The only baby picture of my mom.

She was old-fashioned.  But not in a backward way – she held on to traditions that added values to our family.  Believe me, she embraced modern conveniences every chance she got during her daily life.  But when it came to holidays, she baked every pecan pie just the way her mother did.  My children were the only ones in preschool with starched pants.  She prayed every day.  She held on to the things that made life meaningful.

She embraced change.  Sounds like a contradiction to the previous item, but it’s not.  She had a great career, jumped on the technology bandwagon when it rolled through, and got a toe ring when she was in her 60s.  My son and I were talking about cell phones the other day, and he commented that if Granny were alive, she’d have the coolest phone on the market, and she’d play games on it all day long.  And she’d be on Facebook.  No doubt about that.

My mom and her friend we called Mimi. They’ve been best friends from age 15, all the way through their “Red Hat” days!

She was fiercely protective of her family.  Sarah Palin may think she’s the original Mama Grizzly – but she never met my mom.  She could be a little meek when it came to herself, but woe betide the person who committed a wrong against one of hers.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.  Those who were on the receiving end of that know who they are.

She was generous.  My family was a fairly modest, middle-class family.  Our life wasn’t fancy, but we had a brick home, 2 cars and a boat.  We didn’t take extravagant vacations or buy expensive clothes, but my parents gave generously to their children, their church, and their chosen charities.  I don’t ever remember her walking past a bell ringer at Christmas or a Shriner in front of the grocery store without dropping money in their bucket.  When kids would knock at the door selling candy, she’d pay for two boxes, and then give one back to the kid to keep for himself.  She never put coins in a collection basket, or ones for that matter.  She gave generously.

She faced the end of her life with courage.  As her physical health declined, she acknowledged it.  In the final months on earth, she suffered a series of strokes, each one taking a little more from her.  She had vascular dementia, which would come and go when one of the small strokes she had would hit.  Sometimes it would last for a few hours, sometimes a few days.  But when her wits were with her, she spoke openly and honestly about life and death.  She wasn’t afraid to die.  I think it’s because her life was so well-lived.

She was a woman of faith.  No doubt inspired by her mother (who I never knew).  She lived with us when my youngest son was born, and that child never went to bed without having a Hail Mary sung to him at bedtime.  She did a good job at infusing faith into everyday activities.  She didn’t just practice her faith.  She lived it.

She was a delightful blend of love, strength, faith, and beauty.  She loved the beach, a good cup of coffee, and visiting with her sisters.  She died with a freshly done cherry-red pedicure.  She had the same best friend from age 15.  She liked to travel, but she loved coming home.