For the Love of Peeps

My team at work is simultaneously enamored and repulsed by my love of Peeps. There’s something about them – the soft marshmallow, the neon colored sugar, the two-bite size – they’re really the perfect food.

I wasn’t feeling great last week. Super tired, coughy, achy, run-down, and simply no energy at all. To lift my spirits, my team sent a Peeps-a-licious! cookbook (who knew there was such a thing!) as well as four packages of Peeps – traditional yellow, pink, purple, and blue. I was delighted and amazed. The next day, I got another box. I opened it, and inside were six individual packages of Peeps:

  • Birthday Cake
  • Root Beer
  • Fruit Punch
  • Sour Watermelon
  • Cotton Candy
  • Pancakes & Syrup

(I know! I was astounded, too, that there were so many flavors I never knew about!)

The way I’ve listed them above is the order I prepared to eat them, from the flavor I thought I’d love the most to the flavor I thought I’d love the least. Because even a not-my-favorite flavor of Peep is still a Peep and I knew I’d enjoy it. And here’s what I discovered. I’m now on Fruit Punch and I love each new flavor of Peeps even more than the previous!!!

There’s probably a life lesson in there somewhere. I’m just not quite sure what it is. Be open to new possibilities? Past performance is not indicative of future results? You only think you know what you want? Eat more Peeps?

Whatever it is, I’m grateful for my team, and I’m grateful for a stockpile of Peeps. And I’m definitely feeling better.

Jazz and Taxes

I have been known to procrastinate. One of my first jobs was as a writer for the local newspaper and there was a thrill of turning something great in, right at the deadline. There is one major exception to my habit of procrastination. Taxes. I relish filing my taxes as soon as possible. I sat down this weekend, determined to have all the requisite paperwork to the accountants by Monday. This year, however, I had two sets of taxes to prepare. Mine, and my parents’. I probably should have done mine first. But for some reason, I didn’t.

As I worked through the organizer my Dad’s accountant sent me, questions stabbed me.

“Change in marital status?” Yes, J deceased in April 2019; S widowed in April 2019.

“Sale of residence?” Yes, after my Mom could no longer live on her own.

“Medical receipts?” So. Many. Medical. Receipts. As I organized them by month, the painful memory of each individual receipt overwhelmed me. Trips to the Emergency Department. Prescriptions in the hospital pharmacy. Waiting at the cancer center pharmacy. Trip after trip after trip to the local CVS, filling prescriptions for drugs that didn’t work.

I couldn’t breathe. I was back in 2019, back hoping that each proposed treatment would allow Dad to continue to live the life he wanted to. Not aware that he would leave us so soon. Gullible and believing him when he said that he would get better. And then I was sad. So incredibly sad that he wasn’t able to live the life he wanted to for as long as he wanted to. That he’s no longer here.

************

A friend invited me to join her for a special Fat Tuesday dinner tonight. The restaurant was serving special New Orleans cuisine and a jazz band played throughout dinner. Gold, green, and purple beads hung from the fixtures. She talked about going to New Orleans with her brother, and how he went to bed so early and they didn’t get to experience the late night jazz New Orleans is famous for. And just like that, I was overwhelmed with memories of my first trip to New Orleans.

I had just graduated from college and Dad said we should take a trip, just the two of us. I suggested New Orleans, and he booked everything. We saw all the historical sites during the day, and at night we ate great food and listened to so. much. music. I’d suggest going to one more bar to hear one more band, and he was always up for it. Our agreement was we could stay out as late as I wanted, but we had to be up at 8 am (ouch) the next morning to tackle the historical sites.

As I listened to the band tonight, I know that I’m forgetting parts of the trip. I so desperately want to remember every detail. When I returned home, I pulled out a box of pictures from that time (back when we still printed pictures from a roll of film at the local drug store) and looked for a picture of us from that trip. I couldn’t find any of us together. There were pictures he took of me, and pictures I took of him, but we hadn’t had the foresight to ask someone to take one of us together. And then I was sad again.

 

 

Me and RBG

“I have something for you.”

Mom often has things for me. Receipts from the dollar store. Magazine renewal notices. Donation requests. Generally, things I recycle as soon as I get home.

We walked into her bedroom. “I got this for you.”

It was an objectively ugly representation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on a keychain. Part of the “string doll gang” – her face was made of string wrapped around and around and around a ball. She had a tag attached that said, “Women belong in all the places where decisions are being made.”

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Then I noticed two other keychains. One a “Dharma Queen” and one a fluffy white puppy. “Who are these for, Mom?”

“Oh. The dog is for Ashley and the other one is for Anne.”

I stood there, dumbfounded.

Somehow she had picked the exact correct keychain for each of us. My sister, a dog lover, and Anne, a hippie at heart.

“Mom, did you pick these out on your own?”

“Yes.”

“I love it. Thank you.”

And with this gift, I realized she still knows the essence of each of us. I could barely keep from crying. Weekly, I’ll sit on her couch with her and she’ll turn to me and say, “Do I have any children?” I nod my head and say, “You do.” “How many children do I have?” “You have three. You have a son, Greg, who lives in Winston-Salem, a daughter, Lori, who lives here in Asheville, and a daughter, Ashley, who lives outside of Atlanta.” “Are they big children or little children?” “They’re pretty big.” She’ll nod her head and stare into space. And a little part of me dies inside.

And today, I realized that she might not remember I’m her daughter, but she knows who I am.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I called Mom this morning and asked if she’d like to go to breakfast together. “Hm. Have I had breakfast yet?”
“I don’t know. Did you eat anything this morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you like to eat something?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a few minutes and we’ll go to breakfast.”
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
I laughed, “Sure.”

I picked her up ten minutes later.
“Why are you here?”
“I thought we’d go to breakfast.”
“Okay.” Pause. “What day is today?”
“Saturday.”
“Do I go to that place today?”
“The YMCA?”
“Yes.”
“Not usually. We can go if you’d like to.”
“No. I only go M, T, W, Th. What day is today?”
“Saturday.”
“Do I go to the Y today?”
“No. Want to go to breakfast?”
“Sure.”

We were handed menus.
“I can’t read this.”
“Do you have your glasses with you?”
“No.”
“Would you like me to read it to you?”
“Yes.”
I read the things I thought she might like. No, no, no, no. I asked her what she’d like.
“A piece of toast and some fruit.”
“Would you rather have toast or a biscuit?”
She looked at me plaintively.
“Toast is a piece of flat square bread. A biscuit is round, and a little fluffier.”
“Oh. A biscuit sounds good.”

The food arrived and we ate. I asked her how she liked her breakfast.
“Well, it’s not Tiffany’s. But it will do.”
And she laughed.

I was dumbfounded. Humor is hard. It’s one of the hardest things to master when learning another language.  And yet, even though she can’t master time, or remember what we said a few minutes prior, and is losing the ability to pair the abstract word with the concrete thing, she can still make jokes.

And I laughed, too.

Traffic Jam

I experienced my first traffic jam in Asheville today. As I was returning from running errands, I noticed the car in front of me was stopped. It didn’t appear anyone was turning. As I got closer, I realized the neighborhood wild turkeys were in the road. Just hanging out. Not crossing the road, just standing there. So we waited. I was impressed that no one tried to inch further, potentially hurting a turkey, no one honked, everyone just waited until they eventually left the road. Patience is a virtue.Wild Turkeys.jpeg

Welcoming 2020

I’ve just eaten the traditional New Year’s lunch of collard greens with bacon, black eyed peas with ham, and cornbread. Supposedly this will bring a year of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

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2019 was perhaps my most difficult year yet. Witnessing my Dad’s health decline, and his passing, was heartbreaking. Moving my Mom to Asheville, out of what she considered her forever home, was heartbreaking. Watching her cognitive struggle as Alzheimer’s progresses is heartbreaking. Grieving for a co-worker who passed; grieving for a friend’s spouse who passed. Grieving for the state of our nation and the hate that has rooted. It’s felt as though the year was overshadowed by loss.

And for all the grieving, and difficulties, and losses, there was incredible joy as well. I work with a team who are simply amazing. They are smart, compassionate, supportive, and bring a smile (and usually a guffaw) to my face every day. I visited friends in San Francisco multiple times. I celebrated milestone birthdays with friends I’ve know for decades. I witnessed the investiture of a dear friend onto the North Carolina Supreme Court. I visited Cape Cod for the first time (and ate my weight in lobster). I completed so many jigsaw puzzles (an activity which brings me overwhelming feelings of calm and peace). I completed a Sunday New York Times crossword without relying on any hints. I spent time in person with Mom several times each week. I celebrated EJI’s 30th anniversary and heard Bryan Stevenson speak in person. I saw Elton John in concert. I witnessed two dear friends get married in a stunning ceremony in the UK. I celebrated a bat mitzvah with dear friends who feel more like family. I welcomed many visitors to Asheville, making my cozy house feel more and more like home.

May 2020 be as joyful.

Lights and Words

I search for things that Mom will enjoy. Experiences that are relatively short and have a visual or musical element to them. Conversations can be hard. Crowds and loud noises can be upsetting. I saw an ad for “Winter Lights” and thought that could be a hit. The NC Arboretum strings thousands and thousands of Christmas lights on the trees and plants throughout the grounds. I asked Mom if she’d like to go, and she said, “Sure.” So tonight we bundled up and walked the grounds, oohing and aahing at the displays. We came to an area which, from a distance, I thought was a S’more making station, so I steered Mom that way (I have a soft spot for marshmallows). Once we got closer, we were informed it was a “wish station.” The volunteer encouraged us to write a wish on the tags provided, and then hang them from the trees. I asked Mom if she’d like to make a wish. “Sure,” she said and took a marker. She finished and I told her to choose a tree to hang it from. We hung it and I read the wish. “ThiNGs will Bette Nest year.” And my heart broke just a little. I want things to be better next year, too.

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We walked a little more, and found a bench in front of the centerpiece of the Winter Lights display, a tree made out of lights that changed patterns with each song that played. We sat, not talking, and watched the light patterns. “I like that one,” I said, when a multi-colored pattern appeared. “It looks like a Lite-Brite.” Mom looked and said, “Dad and I used to come here. We loved the lights.” Again, my heart broke just a little, as this was the first time either of us had visited Winter Lights. “Tell me about when you visited.” And she did, recalling imaginary visits, where they went, what they saw, what they loved. I listened quietly and when she stopped said, “That sounds really lovely.”

 

“WORSt YEAR IN MY LIFE”

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This is what I saw when we returned to Mom’s apartment tonight, stuck on the wall just to the right of the doorway. It was right below another post it note that read

“SADDIST Thanks GivviNG”

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I asked her to tell me about the notes. We sat on the couch, her head leaning on my shoulder. She whimpered and said that she just missed my Dad so much. That she didn’t understand why he had to die. And why he had to die so quickly. And that she felt completely lost without him. I held her tight, tears running down my cheeks, and said, “I know. I know.”

The Joy of Not Being Needed

On Sunday afternoon, my phone rang. It was Mom. “What time is it right now where you live?”

I looked at my watch. “4:04 pm.”

“What time is it right now where I live?” For a split second, I thought about this. Could there, would there, be any chance that time where she is could be slightly more in the future than where I am? She’s north of me by about three miles. I told her, “It’s 4:04 pm where you are, too.”

She sighed. “Okay. The clocks don’t work. They all say zero.”

I knew what had happened. She had pressed the “clock” button on the microwave instead of “start.” It had reset to 0:00.

“Would you like me to come and reset your clock now?”

“No. It’s fine. Just reset it the next time you’re here.”

“Maybe you could have Gloria (caretaker) reset it tomorrow when she’s there with you.”

“I’ll do that. Gloria can do anything.”

*******************

This afternoon, my phone rang. It was Mom. “What time is it right now where you live?”

“It’s 4:54 pm. What time does your clock say?”

“It says 0. I don’t know what time it is.”

“I have a work call in a few minutes and then I’ll come over and reset your clock.”

********************

I arrive to Mom’s apartment about 6:30 pm. I let myself in and loudly announced I was there. She appeared from around the corner and said, “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to reset your clock.” 

I reset it, and wrote the directions for how to reset it on a post-it note so that if Mom accidentally reset it to 0:00, Gloria would know how to program it.

I hugged her tightly, told her I loved her, and she told me I could go. I put my coat back on and asked if she was going to attend the 7 pm movie. She nodded and said she’d walk me downstairs. When we got to the lobby, she shooed me off and started talking to her friends, also going to the movie.

I wondered if this was how she felt when I was a teenager and immediately pretended not to know her as soon as she dropped me off anywhere. I smiled, glad that she didn’t need me, glad to see her so social with others in her home.

Gratitude When It’s Not Expected

I’m grateful for the way Alzheimer’s is affecting my mom’s brain.

I attended a Moth Story Slam last night here in Asheville. I love these events. Hearing people tell stories. Being in the presence of vulnerability. Feeling the support of the community as people reveal their joy, their sadness, their fears.

The theme this month was “Gratitude.” I thought about preparing a story to share, and then sitting with mom for four hours after a run in with the dining hall manager, spending two hours at the bank dealing with dad’s estate, and writing thank you notes took precedence and the story was never practiced, though it resided in my thoughts.

A few weeks ago, I heard some women my mom’s age talk about their “eggshell daughters.” I had never heard this term and asked, “What’s that mean?” They explained that though they loved their daughters tremendously, they felt like they always had to walk on eggshells around them – the tiniest thing would start an incident.

“Hm,” I thought. I wondered if my mom considered me an eggshell daughter. It wouldn’t surprise me.

See, we clashed for a considerable amount of years from when I was a tween to when I was a grown adult. I never felt approval from her. I would bring home an “A” on a paper, and she’d ask me why wasn’t it an “A+”? When I quit my NC teaching job to move to CA (with no job in hand) she told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life, and why would I ever give up a steady job with benefits, and I would be on the streets for sure and she wouldn’t be there to help me. When I divorced, she told me that I would never, ever find someone as good as him (she really liked my first husband).

I loved my mom deeply, and it was so incredibly hard to be around her sometimes. Many times.

And now, it’s not.

I hate that my mom has Alzheimer’s. It’s a devastating disease. Moment by moment you watch as a loved one’s brain dies. I would never wish this disease on anyone.

And, I love spending time with my mom now. She doesn’t remember to be acerbic. She doesn’t remember to criticize. She doesn’t hold grudges, and we live every day in the moment. We have fun together. We go to events, and art galleries, and sit on the porch and rock, and cry, and remember dad. We tell each other, “I love you” often and openly.

Yes, we have the same conversation multiple times in an evening. Tonight she asked me seventeen times what tomorrow was and did we have any plans. And seventeen times I happily told her that tomorrow was Saturday, we didn’t have anything planned, but if she wanted to do something, she could push the button on her phone that direct dials me and we would do it. And on Sunday we would go to a neighbor’s art show.

And it doesn’t bother me. I honestly can approach every question as if it is the first time she is asking, because there is no negativity anymore, and I’m so grateful for that.

And, yes, I’ve spent several therapy sessions over the guilt that I feel because I’m so happy with our relationship now, and I don’t know that it would have ever been possible without her succumbing to this terrible disease.

I’m so incredibly grateful that my most recent memories of my mom are moments of joy, and laughter, and lightness, and love. I’ve heard stories of how people’s personalities change when they have Alzheimer’s, and mostly it’s going from being really kind and sweet to being really mean and nasty people. And even though fifty years were difficult with a mom who was critical and withheld affection, the past six months have completely changed my perception of my mom, and I’m so thankful to share this bond with her, even though it’s a result of her brain dying. And that is what I think of when I think of gratitude.

The Final Visit

I sat on the floor, back against the wall, where his bed had been, where he had lain for months, where every night we had gone through the sterilization process for dialysis, and I sobbed. The memories were so strong. This is where he fought, where he tried to best the disease that would kill him. That final day is etched in my mind. I came in to say goodbye before getting on the road, and he was writhing in pain. When he attempted to answer my questions about what hurt, he grimaced. When I touched him, he recoiled in agony.

The memories are so strong when I return to Winston-Salem. And this will likely be my last return.

We thought about keeping their condo, about renting it out. And I talked to a couple of folks who might have been interested, but the price wasn’t right, the timing wasn’t right. Mom keeps saying that she never wants to return to Winston-Salem, that there are too many bad memories. The idea of running a third household in addition to mine and Mom’s was more than I could consider.

I put the condo on the market and two days later had an offer. I should be happy. I should be thrilled. We got a great offer and this will be another chapter behind us.

And as I moved from room to room, cleaning out closets and wrapping pictures in bubble wrap and towels, I  stopped and sat on the floor and just cried. Cried because I miss my Dad so much. I miss his wisdom and his guidance. I wish he were here to help ease Mom’s sadness. I wish he were here to share happy moments. I just wish he were here. How is it possible to miss someone so much to the point where your heart physically hurts?

I take pictures off the wall that we bought together when we traveled in China, in Korea, in other places around the world. I take pictures off the wall that had been in our house in Rural Hall, where I lived from 5 years old to adulthood. I wondered where these would go. My walls were full. Mom’s walls were full. My siblings’ walls were full. I wrapped them in sheets and placed them in my car, prolonging the decision until later.

I walked out on the balcony. The sun was setting and the sky was turning from pink to orange to blue to violet. My favorite time of day. My favorite place to be. When I lived with Mom and Dad earlier this year, I would bundle up and sit in the rocker as the sun went down and just be. Not think about work, or what I needed to do, or Dad’s medical prognosis, or Mom’s recent cognitive assessment. I watched the sun set for the last time from this vantage point. And I cried some more.

 

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