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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Location: United States

Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Alzheimer's Patients Still Have Feelings and Still Love

Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor's husband has had Alzheimer’s for more than 17 years. Recently she moved him into an assisted living facility where he’s met and fallen in love with another Alzheimer’s patient.

In this article, “Forgetting long-time bonds, Alzheimer's patients fall in love” Rubin Dessel, head of memory care services at the Hebrew Home care facility in New York, said he “can't quantify how often this type of situation occurs, but it will continue to occur in greater number as the years go by.”

People with Alzheimer’s lose their memory day by day; they live moment-to-moment forgetting their past, their children, even their spouses.

Though Dessel can’t put a percentage on the incidence of Alzheimer’s patients forgetting their loved ones and moving on to another relationship, he is correct in stating that it does occur and will continue to occur.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is heartbreaking in itself, and I applaud O’Connor’s love for her husband, which allows her to feel somewhat relieved seeing him happy and enjoying life with another woman. It takes selfless people to care more about someone else’s feelings than their own.

My mom is a widow of nearly 10 years. I feel that if I hadn’t stayed close by her after my dad died, she probably wouldn’t be around today. I kept her active. We went everywhere and did everything together. We went to homemakers together; seven to ten women my mother’s age, and me, thirty years younger, sat around tables in the community room above the police station for three to four hours once a month making crafts, eating lunch, and sharing conversation and memories. Why did I attend a monthly meeting with women so much older than me? Because my mom wanted me to be there; she enjoyed my company and wanted to share as much time with me as possible.

Then, together, Mom and I shopped for groceries, Christmas presents, went to lunch, the hairdresser, took bus tours, spent days cooking meals and cookies, and spent hours at each other’s homes just talking. She came to my house for dinner at least twice a week and we even took our dogs to the vet and to be groomed at the same time and scheduled our dentist appointments back to back.

She once told me that my brother told her she “needed to get out more and do things with friends” and my mom responded that she “did get out and do things and was happy spending time with me.” In return, she was told, “But she’s your daughter, not your friend.” Mom told me she was angry and hurt by his response and said, “Joanne may be my daughter, but she’s also my best friend.”

Now, Mom with Alzheimer’s spends the day at a day care facility where she gets her hair done once a month, has lunch and goes on outings with other clients, and I shop for groceries and presents and take the dogs for appointments without her.

What does all this have to do with Sandra Day O’Connor? Mom has an admirer at the day care; a bus brings Mr. N. to the facility while his wife goes off to work. Mom’s talked about him daily for the past year and giggles like a school girl when she talks about how they dance together every week when the ‘music man’ comes to play oldies from their era. When the caregivers at the facility first told me about the little romance, my heart broke because she had forgotten my dad, but I soon got over that when I saw how full of life and happy she seemed to be. When I saw them dance together at this summer’s family picnic, I cried, not because she forgot my dad, but because she was enjoying herself—life had meaning to her once again.

Mom and Mr. N. sat together occasionally and chatted since the first day I took her to day care. Those little chats have transformed into handholding and kisses on the cheek. He pulls her chair out for her and asks her constantly if she’s okay.

This past Thanksgiving weekend Mom woke up several times during the night and thought Mr. N. was in her house. She sat on the edge of the bed talking toward the doorway of her bedroom. When I heard her through the monitor I went downstairs to find out what she was talking about. She swore up and down that Mr. N. was there and she wouldn’t have invited him over if she thought he would have come so late. Five times she awoke each night saying the same thing. For three nights I told her she was dreaming and tucked her back into bed.

It was on Tuesday, my mom and dad’s anniversary, that the caregivers told me that my mom and Mr. N. talked about ‘going out’ to lunch or a movie and since neither of them can drive any longer, maybe ‘Mrs. N.’ could take them where they want to go. It all sounds so strange, and of course the date will never happen, but for the moment they are talking about it, they are happy.

I told the caregivers at the day care about my weekend with Mom and I joked, “If I had known this before Thanksgiving, I would have sent Mom home on the bus with Mr. N. over Thanksgiving weekend and let ‘Mrs. N.’ deal with Mom’s three-night long conversation with her husband.”

It wasn’t so cute at 4:00 AM when I was dealing with it, but now that I’ve had a chance to catch up on some sleep, I smile at the thought that my mom is acting like a school girl and is smitten by someone, who when I look at him closely, has many of my dad’s features. I’m not sure if ‘Mrs. N.’ feels as O’Connor does, but I’m happy for them. I’ll always be Mom’s daughter, but it looks like Mom has a new best friend—someone she enjoys being with, talking to, and spending her time with. My smile deepens, I’ll admit, when I think of my bother’s hurtful words to my mom years ago. I don’t think he could be so selfless to accept that Mom’s new best friend is a married man.

If we learn one thing as caregivers, we learn that our loved ones still have feelings and they still remember how to love. That may be the only good thing about this disease, as well.

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Blogger steflovesnonna said...

Gale wants you to know she cant seem to leave a comment on your blog. But she wants you to know that she reads your blog and enjoys it. :) OH and Stef says HI too. LOL

11/29/2007 9:47 PM  
Blogger steflovesnonna said...

Also thanks for this post. Sometimes I forget that all the time I spent with Nonnna did mean something. Its easy to forget that they do really know someplace inside of them that we are there because we love them. When she is gone its even harder. There are no more moments of clarity to hang on to. Just have to try and remember her as she was. Thanks friend.

11/29/2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Hi Stef. I'm glad this post helped you realize Nonna did love you and I'm sure appreciated the time you spent with her.

Thanks for letting me know about Gale. I'm not sure what could be keeping her from posting. I don't have any blocks. There's only the word verification bar beneath the comment box.

Hi Gale. **waves** Do you get an error message or anything?

11/29/2007 10:13 PM  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

Great post, Joanne. Thanks for sharing. Has Mr. N brought mom flowers yet?

11/30/2007 1:12 AM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

No flowers, Betsy, but he has made her a beaded necklace during the craft sessions and he picks up tiny pine cones from the patio of the day care to give to her. LOL

Anyone need tiny pine cones for crafts? I have a lunch bag full of them. ROFL

11/30/2007 8:03 AM  
Blogger cornbread hell said...

this is my new favorite post.

11/30/2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger nancy said...

i was smiling the whole time i read your post. how absolutely touching. i remember earlier on when russ was at day care, i heard that there were a couple of women who always wanted to sit by him, and he didn't seem to mind at all! i don't think it ever got as serious as with your mom and Mr. N., but maybe they just didn't tell me.

you are right, i'm so glad those with AD are still able to love. thanks for posting, just great!

11/30/2007 9:28 AM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Wow, I made your favorite post list, Rick. YAY! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Nancy, they may not have said anything to you. I'm not at all sure if 'Mrs. N.' knows anything about it or not. I'm really happy that my post kept you smiling. That in itself is a joy to me when I bring a smile to a friend's face. :D

11/30/2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger Lori1955 said...

Oh this post is just too sweet. I can just picture your mom giggling. you know when all is said and done the only thing that really matters is that they are happy. I'm glad your mom has found someone to make her happy, but of course preferably not at 4 in the morning. LOL

11/30/2007 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's really touching. :) Thanks for sharing it, Joanne.

12/04/2007 4:19 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

just checking in on you.....

12/05/2007 2:02 AM  
Blogger cornbread hell said...

i bet i'm not alone in sayin' i miss your posts, joanne.

hope you are doing well,

12/06/2007 5:06 AM  
Blogger Cinnamin said...

Joanne, I just stopped by to say "hello"...No new entries? Hope everything is ok with you!

12/08/2007 7:00 AM  
Blogger rilera said...

Thanks for the lovely post. I'm glad that your mom has found happiness. Our loved ones lose so much to this disease, it's nice to know that they can still find friendship and affection.

12/09/2007 4:45 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

hope everything is ok with you. i'm starting to get worried....

12/11/2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Hi Lori, Since this post, she's back to seeing the old nasty woman. These visits are totally 'unreal' in every sense of the word. LOL

Thanks for reading, rilera! I'll stop by your blog asap.

Nancy, Rick, Betsy, Cin, I'm fine really. Just a lot of things going on that I needed to take care of and didn't want to 'whine' about. I have a bit of time today, so expect an eyeful. ROFL

12/11/2007 11:58 AM