About Me

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Spokane, WA
This profile photo is my mom and me at the beach--she is 26 and I am about 18 months. LOVE the joy!! I am a mom of three and a teacher; being a teacher means I have to go back and cut the f-bombs. There were a few. Because Alzheimer's sucks badly. This blog, for nine years now--skipping a few while I was too cheap to buy my domain name-- helps me un-peel and process the endless layers of sad woven with weird and--impossibly--comedy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On photographing the perfect sunset

It's the first time I have gone to see Lynn while drunk. That was today, but first I have to talk about my visit three or four days before- on the day of the snow storm~ so maybe Sunday? And how the rest of the afternoon and evening were just blown. Mike was on shift and I crawled in and out of bed, just to be sad, or stare. 
You see, earlier I had the opportunity to feed my mother lukewarm, then cold, ravioli. She was the only one in the feeding room who was eating solids. She doesn't drool, and her countenance is pretty  pleasant. There are lot of really ornery old dudes with neurological issues who get pretty combative. So she's basically a feeding room superstar. 
And that might be something.  
After it was determined she would likely not eat anything more--she refused the cold and soggy zucchini-I was making small talk with the staff- and ended up blowing bubbles for the young woman with CP since she enjoyed it more than Lynn. 
The snow was blowing outside and it appeared to be getting worse (it was the only legitimate storm in a month) so I told Lynn, back in the multipurpose room, in front of the drink dispensary, that I had to go. 
She gave me what appeared to be an almost conscious sad face. I swear. I said first, "Oh you're giving me a sad face" and I overheard the nurse assistant (with whom I'd been chatting and who is very emotionally attached to my mother) say "I cant watch this," and in hushed tones to another nurse, 'I can't imagine how that would be." 
I hugged my mom and said, "I miss you." She can't hug back, but it doesn't matter. She's still there. And I then sobbed, "I miss you," for about five minutes. Then I took a deep breath, kissed her on the cheek, said "I love you" and left.

December 26, 2013

So, yeah, anyway today when Chris and I set off, I suggested we get alcohol for our coffees.
But which kind of sweet liqueur goes best in a post-Christmas Thursday morning/pre-mourning cocktail?  I wanted something creamy and coffee-ish for my Starbucks drip; my brother was trying to stay true to his non-dairy diet and was pushing for something whiskey-ish. But, really, when you're a brother-sister combo off to visit a lady who used to be your mom but kind of isn't anymore for the one time a year you get to see her together..is it the time to be health-conscious?
Ultimately, we chose Jim Beam Maple.
Chris drank on the way out of town; I did my coffee slamming before going in. Mom was nodding off in her sky blue sweatpants and sweatshirt when we entered the big room. There was a white rose on the front of the sweatshirt, and she was clean. Once we rolled her wheelchair into the TV/plant room, we each set out to rubbing lotion on one of her dried, flaky legs.  Chris was holding her hand, talking at her, and showing her individual and perhaps baseball team photos which he'd just scanned onto his iPhone from a pile of her old photos.

She likes the toddler toy in her hands. it gives her something to do and it's not very challenging.
Was there a  glimmer of recognition? We thought so, or probably not, but we pretended there was.  She sort of smiled one time, gave one laugh and a few looks. But mostly she was just staring around blankly.. I was slightly drunk, honestly, and we were there precisely long enough for two episodes of "The Middle" to be playing in the background. The Heck family was fighting because they were camping, and they had also camped for their honeymoon.
When we were sure it was time to go, we rolled her back into the big room. Chris thought she'd like it over by the window because she'd been looking out the window when we'd been sitting with her. Plus outside there looked to be a magnificent sunset beginning. I was talking about the nurses aide's favorite regional yodeler; listening, rather. Chris and mom had a moment together by the window. I thought I took a photo, but I guess I just watched them.  Chris hugged her as she stared out and didn't hug back. I knew  because the back of his neck was red and his head was far down toward her lap that he was crying but I was stoic, because I  had already cried hard a few days ago and was still a little drunk. But I can tell you that thinking of it now, remembering the tears falling from my baby brother's gorgeous blue eyes on to my mother's borrowed blue sweatshirt that although he is just a few years from  40, we are ageless when we are together and I'm sorry I moved out at age 19 and that I was ever away from him when I could have been with him. I feel old pain and new heartbreak welling up and I must remember to be a grown up and complete this blog entry because it is just a process. We are just slightly wounded imperfectly perfect happy sad kids growing old together with a lady who used to be our mom staring blankly out at the pinkish sky.
As I reached the front door, I acknowledged the 1970's-era framed Jesus painting. 
"Thanks! For nothin'!" 
But I was saying it to break the sad and I really was thankful, actually, even in the moment, that we got to be there together; a rare sharing of the simultaneous pain and tiny satisfaction that is the ongoing drawn-out grief of being with Lynn.
And really, Jesus or whoever was responsible for the sunset: we celebrated it. All the sadness we were feeling was channeled into the relentless pursuit of the best sunset photograph possible on an iPhone.










See? Chris is in the background photographing.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Looking for Humor in an All-Purpose Room

(This was written earlier this Fall. October maybe?)    

          I can find humor in just about every situation. In fact, if I can't find humor in a situation, then I am hormonally imbalanced and you should run away quickly. When my twin premature daughters were in baby intensive care (NICU-Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), I had a uterus infection, and recall laughing my ass off with another woman who also had suffered a uterine infection after her 25-week old babies had been born. There's a five percent chance of developing this infection and we both had it. "Of course we did!!" We guffawed..they were deep, hysterical cackles borne from the macabre thrill of finding relatedness in a most horrifying situation. We had to quell our tittering with the social worker at the front desk as other shell-shocked new parents lumbered by us in ill-fitting hospital scrubs to go visit their own sick babies.
          In 1983 or so, my little brother and I were crying at the wake of our great-grandmother inside a senior center/all-purpose community hall in Arlee, Montana. Not because we were sad. (She was like 96, and we had no real relationship with her before she developed Alzheimer's. Incidentally, another hilarious moment: Great-Grams grabbing pieces of chicken off my little brother's plate instead of her own. His incredulous, horrified seven-year-old face? Priceless) But there was so much taxidermy on the walls of the senior center and this whitetail deer, in particular, was insanely posed: His face and neck wrenched nearly all the way to his ass. And Chris was riffing about "This damn horse fly just won't get off my..oh, almost got it.."
          I don't even know but everyone within earshot was trying not to get busted laughing...you get the picture. 
          Nary an uncomfortable Christmas morning at my grandmother's house could be survived without making fun of the ridiculously cheap gifts we were receiving; especially the re-gifts. Woo. Good stuff. My point?
          I can't laugh about my mom's Alzheimer's disease, and the visits to the Medicaid-only skilled nursing care center where she "lives." It's just not. Funny. At. All. A few years ago when there was some "Lynn-ness" left in my mom- some glimmer of recognition or a partial smile or a change in her expression..then I could assume she was there and it felt like a courtesy to dig deep and cause laughter for her and for me..mocking the shabby decor, or the other patients passed out in their chairs, or the two mangy cats who'd made their home there. There could have been humor in the irony of her contemplating institutional breaded baby cow cutlets on her plate after ten years of being a rabid anti-veal activist. Bringing that one up really backfired, however. I wrote about it previously...me crying into the sugar packets alongside the food line trying to explain to the lunch helper why it was important to find a vegetarian replacement.
          Her childhood friend Connie and I tried yesterday. We really did. There was a Bingo game happening as we sat in the all-purpose room and I tried to get crumbs off her black sweats. Again: Where are her clothes? I followed along half-heartedly. My mom played with three Bingo cards. There was a guy in a McMurphy hat, and it was a day that there was just no connection, so we left. And we went to an overpriced lunch at he one cafe and decided there is no humor anymore. Which is a damn shame for a person who uses humor as a survival skill.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why "Still Alice" made me cry in the fetal position (no, but read it, really)


A few years ago, my book club decided to read "Still Alice." This was during my mom's rapid decline, but I thought, Hell, it's just fiction, and if it's done well, then my friends will understand more about what I'm going through. Or, I mean, my mom.

During the book discussion, I was all quiet and kind of pulled into myself. We were, I swear to God, wrapping up the "conversation," and the discussion leader, or maybe one of my closer friends said, tentatively, "Lisa, did you have any perspective you wanted to share?"

Who? Me? I got shaky, and then a little woozy and then very sobby and..I am pretty sure I shared a lot, and every one was crying and I don't remember what was said. I was, as they say in the news business, a little "too close to the story." 

And yes it is fiction, but incredibly realistic fucking fiction, and the theory I had about an active and stretched mind being less susceptible to Alzheimer's?(I'm very different than my mom in that way) That was blown to Hell because the main character was a professor at Harvard. 
I understand there is a convent somewhere in which all the nuns did crossword puzzles and sudoku and lived, without dementia, until age 100. But I'm not a nun, and I'm hoping Words with Friends will qualify. 

Here's a powerful excerpt I think about a lot. And I watched it happen with my mom. She forgot how to talk on the phone one day. 

I think it captures this particular brand of horror (the first stages of Alzheimer's..when it begins to thieve the humanness) beautifully, and it makes my chest hurt.

You can order it here: Or better yet, at a local bookstore.http://www.amazon.com/Still-Alice-Lisa-Genova/dp/1439102813

“She typed: Alice, answer the following questions:

1.     What year is it?
2.     Where do your live?
3.     Where is your office?
4.     When is Anna’s birthday?
5.     How many children do you have?

            “If you have trouble answering any of these, go to the file named “Butterfly” on your computer and follow the instructions there immediately.”

She clicked on “Butterfly”.

Dear Alice,

            You wrote this letter to yourself when you were of sound mind. If you are reading this, and you are unable to answer one or more of the following questions, then you are no longer of sound mind.
1.     What year is it?
2.     Where do your live?
3.     Where is your office?
4.     When is Anna’s birthday?
5.     How many children do you have?

            You have Alzheimer’s Disease. You have lost too much of yourself, too much of what you love, and you are not living the life you want to live. There is no good outcome to this disease, but you have chosen an outcome that is the most dignified, fair and respectful to you and your family. You can no longer trust your own judgement, but you can trust mine, your former self, you before Alzheimer’s took too much of you away.
            You lived an extraordinary and worthwhile life. You and your husband, John, have three healthy and amazing children, who are all loved and doing well in the world, and you had a remarkable career at Harvard filled with challenge, creativity, passion and accomplishment.
            This last part of your life, the part with Alzheimer’s, and this end that you’ve carefully chosen, is tragic, but you did not live a tragic life. I love you, and I’m proud of you, of how you’ve lived and all that you’ve done while you could.
            Now, go to your bedroom. Go to the black table next to the bed, the one with the blue lamp on it. Open the drawer to that table. In the back of the drawer is a bottle of pills. The bottle has a white label on it that says FOR ALICE in black letters. There are a lot of pills in that bottle. Swallow all of them with a big glass of water. Make sure you swallow all of them. Then, get in the bed and go to sleep. Go now, before you forget. And do not tell anyone what you’re doing. Please trust me.

Love,
Alice Howland
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
            She wanted to print it out but couldn’t figure out how to make that happen. She wished her former self, she before Alzheimer’s took too much of her away, had known to include instructions for printing it out.
            She read it again. It was fascinating and surreal, like reading a diary that had been hers when she was a teenager, secret and heartfelt words written by a girl she only vaguely remembered. She wished she’d written more. Her words made her feel sad and proud, powerful and relieved. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and went upstairs.
            She got to the top of the stairs and forgot what she had gone up there to do. It carried a sense of importance and urgency, but nothing else...”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stephen King & Me.

       I've been listening to THE STAND- a 1991 edition of Stephen King's 1978 book, about which anyone who read it at the time would never have said "This needs 500 more pages." But the unedited version has them: 1300 in all.
       So I'm 26 hours into the 48 hour audiobook and it's lasted me, so far, a month or so. I don't drive too much, which is the best way to burn time with an audiobook. I listen to it on the way to see my mom an hour out of town, and I listen late at night~ after I take the requisite diphenhydramine. I have fucked up dreams about people who've died in a disjointed movie scene manner. Then I wake up at 1:30 am and realize I'm still listening to the book and will have to figure out when I stopped being cognitive and back up.
        I went through my first Stephen King phase when we all did: the early 1980's- after sometimes cheesy but always freaky feature films based on "Christine" and "Carrie" (the best crazy bloody revenge flick to watch after being ditched at a school dance, as I was at age 14), "The Shining," "Children of the Corn" and "Cujo."
        This all coincided (but existed on a different artistic level) with the "slasher" phase: Starting with "Friday the 13th," "My Bloody Valentine," "Halloween," "Poltergeist" (a family film. You could share with your parents the universal terror over that goddamn clown underneath the bed.)
         So anyway, I rediscovered King's story-telling mastery last year after reading/listening to "11/22/63" an 849-page historical fiction Sci-Fi /Time travel/horror/love story. Who could pull that off besides King? He has a new CBS series, "Under the Dome" which deals with our collective cultural fear: The loss of freedom. King gets access into the human psyche; tapping into our deepest, most subliminal or fully conscious insecurities, as well as private horrors. Don't believe in conspiracies? You will. Ghosts? The Devil? Bogeyman? Bring it.
          He is descriptively grotesque and dark, then lyrical enough between horrific passages to make it feel safe enough to read on. I say all this to make clear that he knows and is the ultimate architect of SCARY.
         Which brings me to what Stephen King says is his biggest fear: Alzheimer's Disease.

Monday, June 24, 2013

This Lamp: And that's All I Need

          Last Friday morning, the first day of summer, was the pre-appointed time that the executor of my grandparents' estate decided the heirs would meet to come though their rightful piles of potential belongings. I went in place of my mother, and my mother''s guardian. And, really? How could she have known the back story for all that crap? Which were the treasures? Which was the trash? (WOW I am now picturing a Dr. Seuss book about grandchildren going through old shit in a house.."What about this vial of volcanic ash?")
ANYWAY
          Everyone in the extended family had been nervous about how my mom's youngest brother would react to both families and strangers touching all the STUFF from what has really been just HIS house for three years. He has historically been sort of like a really tall, loud old toddler. Some tantrums sometimes, particularly during times of grief..which is mostly all he's experienced (he took care of both parents with cancer and his uncle..and care taking is excrutiating.)
The point is, there was a policeman at the "distribution of property."A lot of that had to do with the fact that there were 5 guns up for grabs.
         Here's how it actually went down:
Here's the the allegedly stolen cat that caused a rift
between my mom and her parents for years. It's all hers now.
In the background, the cop's Honda.
         He scowled when he first saw me, but seemed to mellow out when I sat down on that ugly couch and asked where the chocolates were. (the wooden candy dish was filled with lug nuts, bolts and an allen wrench) He did start to get angry about the idea of handing over his washer and dryer (rightly so), so I went and searched for my mom's bronzed baby bootie. I'd say initially it helped to have the cop there to diffuse a potential "situation", but once my other uncle got there and we started talking awkwardly about which of Great-grandpa's watercolor paintings we wanted, and made sarcastic comments about the large organ, and I spilled an old planter full of dirt (that hadn't housed a plant for probably five years) and he grumbled, "Hey don't mess up my house'" everyone kind of loosened up. Among my booty-I never actually found the bronzed bootie-There were some great rhinestone and plastic vintage clip-on pretty things that most grandma's have, and even a long coat with a real fur collar, as well as a 1950's Viewmaster with images of black bears eating from peoples' car windows in Yellowstone Park.

         And that damn long-necked ceramic black cat. This was a bone of contention for years..my grandparents accused my mother of stealing the cat, which was allegedly hers as a child ..and I don't know at which point the fucking thing shattered and was badly glued back together,
SO worth fighting over. WTF?
but by God it was proudly displayed in the living room. "You have to give this to Lynn," he told me conspiratorially at quite possibly the pinnacle of our awkward junk-distribution bonding session.
The heirlooms: Teapots, photos, desert bowls,
a real fur collar & a pretty powerful old rifle.
Once we'd gone though several of the boxed-up old photos--(all of which were painstakingly stored by my great aunt, who spent hours inventorying all of this stuff) many of them Polaroids, thus originals and the only in existence-it was very sweet. He explained that the photo of me literally taking a shit in the woods (it may have been just a wiz) as a three-year-old (with a toilet seat!) was taken at Flathead Lake. We declared on yellow legal pads what we'd taken and then- we all went to lunch together for the first time EVER. My magnanimous uncle even paid the tab. The two brothers will, after all, plus my mom, each be inheriting about a third of a million dollars, which to people who lived among only the belongings found in that house, is a fortune.
        It will pay to get my mom in a nice place closer to me..but she still won't have occasion to wear her newly inherited jewels, or the fur collar coat. (She wouldn't be caught dead in real fur, Alzheimer's or not) For her end table, I procured this milk bottle glass lamp (and matching vase filled with dusty silk roses) and of course quoted "The Jerk" after doing so. You'll be pleased to know that at no time did I have my pants around my ankles. (Although I did get teary when I discovered my grandma's "Cub Scouts Den Mother" pendant, because I was one, too)

(What follows is my favorite clip, which I was making reference to when I selected the sweet piece. Does everyone do that when they come into an old lamp? How couldn't they? Click this link to watch. Sorry there's probably a :30 spot before hand)  And this LAMP 


(Reluctant) Guardian In Training

          I have completed the Online Guardianship Training on the Washington Superior Court website. I do not really want to be a guardian to my mother now that I know what it really entails. It's up there with "understanding the stock market" and "getting really good at creating tax returns" on the NOT AT ALL ON MY BUCKET List.

         There is a concern among my extended family that my mother's current court-appointed guardian will somehow make off with a sum of what appears to be only great wealth to come out of the Cole family..and (the majority of the inheritance is money that my mom's Uncle Gordon squirreled away into more than a dozen off-shore bank and investment accounts while he wore two suits and watched a black and white TV from his rent-controlled apartment in the Queen Anne section of Seattle for 40 years)  but now that I know how heavily monitored a guardian is required to be with finances (hence my resistance to it) I just don't care. 
          So I'm working on my the family/daughter obligation part and I..nope, still nothing.
I will meet with the actual guardian this week, and I will probably go through the whole training. Maybe the ghost of Florence Nightingale will visit me as I doze off during one of the court training videos and I will wake a with a clear sense of direction. I have one month.

Dichotomy of a home town



March 3, 2013 entry

I'm driving back from Missoula. It's weird because there are some familiar, comfortable things about it like the M and Higgins Street and Farmer's Market and The Liquid Planet but my old hometown memories are inexorably tied to a morose depressed feeling that is Lynn and my childhood with her; a simultaneous loathing of that childhood sadness and new grief that she is no longer anything except a big old ugly toddler in a wheelchair. AHH! I can't  write about it or describe it or quantify it even though I'm attempting to do all three right now... 
Here's a Bad secret:
I have often not liked her, and always loved her; have been ashamed of her and ache to talk to her again. And all that crazy dichotomy is unfortunately tied to Missoula, and my childhood home and Worden's market and the fucking Top Hat Bar where she used to dance to bad bands. 
The Top Hat has expanded and is now rebranding itself, offering great food and becoming a venue for live comedy which is poetic, really, (at least to me) because tragedy plus time equals comedy.
I've noticed as I plan the trip to Disneyland in two months; looking for things to do during the one day we are in one of our favorite places in the world, that Pacific Grove, too, holds a tiny sense of melancholy because of all the happy memories of our young lives there. But Hell with that. I got married there. It's MY place. Nope, it's both.
See, that's me, with mom and grandma and toddler Chris. Asilomar State Beach, late 1976

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dalmatian Toadflax

My grief, as I've explained before, comes in metered doses. Perhaps it does for everyone. My little brother says it comes for him at inopportune moments. Like when he's out with friends. Yesterday, it came in our backyard strawberry patch. The plants have started coming up in the otherwise empty garden beds, and towering above one of them was a noxious weed called the Dalmatian Toadflax. I know about his invasive species-a plague to both wildflowers and home gardens-because the impulsive, dedicated removal of these stalks was my mom's final stand as an activist. She was always concerned about all aspects of the environment; a dedicated vegetarian not because she didn't enjoy the taste of meat, but because of the cruelty of the cattle industry, and the way it destroyed the water table..so anyway, she became vicious with these Dalmation Toadflax which in my neighborhood, with its plentiful open space, was often.
So I went and pulled the damn little weed and cried..deeply and hard..for about five minutes.
And I threw it in the green bin. And I was then in a space to write about memories of she and her mom, whose funeral was that day.
I miss Lynn. I miss her passion; I even miss her her bitchy tone (and apparently have it sometimes. WHATEVER!!) and her crappy driving. Even the charm of her with early dementia, when she tried to fake her way out of having forgotten something massively vital. I hear her voice when I go to see her, and I am glad when she laughs, and I pretend there is recognition but the lack of cohesive word strings always leaves me wanting.

P.S. The possible symbolism of me and my darling family getting ready to go on the trip of a lifetime being the strawberry patch and my mom sitting in a sad nursing home being the Toadflax? Yeah, I can consider that.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Seriously Grown Up Problems

It has been pointed out to me that I have not blogged for a while. Like, a LONG WHILE about this whole mom thing. Frankly, it's so surreal and icky, I can't get enough distance from it to articulate it.At the last visit..which I make very infrequently, and with the back up of my mom's friend Connie..my mother played with a baby toy. It had crinkle sounds and a rubber edge on which to chew..as she likes to chew on things..
She started this game which was eerily familiar. Where she held the toy and then dropped it and I made the toy make a faux-anguished Mr. Bill sound, (like "oooh, nooo, why are you doing this to me?!!") she laughed hard, I picked it up and gave it to her, and she dropped it again. Sound familiar? Yea, I am good with babies. They love me. But this baby (complete with what appeared to be a messy diaper) looked like an older version of my mom and she was not adorable. And I was feeling sorry for myself but then she made a cute expression and she was baby-charming.
So weird.
And that's why I don't write much.. Even retelling it makes me feel like I've swallowed a bottle of vinegar.
But today, my grandma--her mother-- is dying..went in early Friday morning (or Thursday night) bleeding profusely..
FYI, Once you are wheelchair-bound and severely demented and close to 90, the pelvic exams stop. So it was not until she had advanced uterine and bladder cancer and started bleeding and cramping so badly..that anyone knew about it.
I am sad that Evelyn was in pain and grasping at people's hands..and I am thankful for morphine, and that her family has been keeping vigil..I thought about going to see her because she is sweet, but my grandma dying is acceptable. A friend of ours who is 45 and has three young girls is dying, also, and that's not acceptable. Whereas nearly 90? it's a pretty good run.
But I have to tell my own mom her about her mother dying, and she will likely just look at me and mumble. And I suppose, as I did with my grandfather, I will go to a memorial service and speak for my mother.. if they have the service before we go to Disneyland..otherwise we will miss it altogether.
Then there is the matter of my mother's extended family worrying because currently my mom is legally a ward of the state--(in that she has a court appointed guardian in is subsisting on Medicaid.) and the third of my grandparetns' estate that is designed to go to my mother will be allocated to either her court-appointed guardian's care or maybe to the state of Washington? and they're afraid it will be "stolen." So I need to petition to become her guardian. Ideally, if I can do that,and the "inheritance" can come through me, then I can pull her out of the current place one hour away and put her in a dementia unit in a very nice facility close to me. I would like to spend time trying to get her mobile again..anyway..I am hopeful I can. I'll have to learn how to make a spreadsheet.

Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973

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