Thursday, February 28, 2013

Remembering Deana: Part VIII: Anniversary Special

Today's blog is a special one. It was written by my dad, in honor of their 32nd anniversary which is today.


I met Deana Rae in early 1975, her dad was dating the woman next door, soon to be married. I was attracted to the red hair and blue eyes. It didn't take long to figure we were mutually attracted and soon after her 14th birthday she and her dad were full time neighbors. We went steady on and off for the next few years. Then one day, boom. Fred and Edie were divorcing and Deana moved to Corona. She was visiting often, but most times I was stoned or slightly drunk. This didn't always make for meaningful visits. She would bring her car over to be serviced, we would talk about days gone by. One day she called shortly after my parents decided to divorce for the second time. I had finally decided to stop drinking. When I told Deana of this, she thought it was good. When I told her I stopped smoking too she was over within the hour. After a lengthy visit somehow the conversation changed to "after we're married...this-n-that..." Soon it was that we were to be married. I was 20, she was 19. We set the date 28 March 1981. As fate would have it, I was laid off Friday the 13th of February. On Valentine's Day we went on a double date with Gary and Janna to play in the snow up in Big Bear. We talked about it and talked about it and finally decided 'to heck with a big wedding, why wait?' So we decided to pitch the already purchased invitations and get married and start living. So we did. Two weeks later on Saturday the 28th of February we were married.

I was unemployed for about a month, then went through a few odd jobs before getting steady employment. Just in time to find out in June that Deana was going to have twins. At 8 months pregnant, she looked like a beach balloon on stilts. We were blessed with Cassandra and Joe weighing in at 6 lbs 12 oz and 6 lbs 0 oz, respectively. Life was good. Two little monkeys kept each other company and kept us laughing. Three years later, Christina was born, weighing in at 8 lbs. 7 oz. We struggled, but those were some of the best times I remember.

Deana has always been shy, but friendly. One day, her friend Nancy called and asked if I wanted a job working in tile. Even my occupation I owe to my wife.

My mother-in-law, Beverley, was a fantastic cook. She passed this skill down to her daughter. She would visit often and she and Deana would cook and bake together. It was absolutely great coming home to a nice home cooked meal, my favorite coconut cream pie. Nobody could make a better coconut cream pie than Bev. She passed this on to Deana who would always have one fresh baked pie for my birthday.

Deana was also very frugal. She would make a dollar scream. She did a tremendous job keeping the family finances. Whenever we'd go to buy a new car or something, it made me feel 10 ft tall when the guy would comment on how good our credit was and he'd compliment Deana on a job well done. I've learned recently, it's not that easy to balance everything and pay bills on time. Although paying online is a big help.

For as long as I can remember, after we were married I called Deana Toots. Every morning I kiss her good-bye and tell her "Have a good day Toots, love you." One day she asked why I did this. I told her so if anything happened to me and I didn't return the last thing she heard from me was "I love you". When my Italian Grandma visited in 1985 she heard me call Deana "Toots". She told me Grandpa always called her Toots. Maybe in my youth it ingrained.

Besides being a great cook, baker, house cleaner and everything else, Deana was smart. She had planned to go to work after all the kids were in school full-time. She went to school in the evenings and eventually became a Head Start teacher. She was very detail oriented. She would plan things in such detail it drove me nuts just watching. When she had parent conferences, the previous week was busy busy busy. She would have lots of sticky notes on each child, then have to compile a lot of notes and paperwork together to prepare for these conferences. The living room couch was filled with paperwork. She'd be completely involved in this from 4:30 to 9:30 or 10:00 every night for the week. She'd teach Sunday school and have the same detail oriented attitude. Lots of prep, visual aides, treats she'd prepare for a couple of days for a one hour class.

Deana loves to travel. She would come up with ideas for family vacations and we'd make them happen. For our anniversary, however, we'd just go somewhere for the weekend. No gifts, no problems. Just the two of us for a few days, in either the mountains in a cabin or Catalina Island. Just a peaceful, quiet weekend. Usually I'd let her pick the location. Always make the wife happy.

We would have disagreements, but one thing I learned is...never argue about money. "It's only money-I'll make more." However it's okay to ask for an accounting of where it went. Sometimes Deana would get upset about asking where the money went. It didn't help that I really loved to tease Deana. Any chance I got I would tease her almost to the point of tears. She was an easy mark. Eventually after a few decades she finally would know when I was yanking her chain.

Toots is more than a best friend, a lover, a maid, an accountant-she's everything. She even used to do the yard work. No we don't have a big yard, but she was detailed. Flower beds, grass manicured. One day, two of my buddies were driving by; Dave said he took out his cell phone and took a picture of Toots doing the yard work to show his wife "a real woman".

One day I got injured on the job and received 8 stitches to the right wrist. Deana was an excellent nurse. She wanted to drive out to Orange County on a Friday afternoon and drive me home. I refused to have her drive all that way, at that time of day. She met me at the door and stayed by my side all weekend. Even insisting on bathing me-not a bad deal. All she needed was the uniform.

This year we'll celebrate 32 years of marital bliss. Well mostly; the last few years have been somewhat difficult. In 2010 Bev died suddenly from a fall. Deana was very close to her mom. The way she responded to this event was very unusual. This is when I really knew the train was coming off the tracks. Her stepdad had ALS and I was involved with taking care of him until he died 45 days after Bev. Deana's attitude during this time was puzzling to me. This was not the woman I've known all these years.

At Thanksgiving time the following year, I questioned her about dinner since Cassandra would be at her in-laws that year. She didn't seem to understand so I told her not to worry about it, I'll take her to Denny's. Now this should have gone over like a fart in church; like telling Babe Ruth he didn't know crap about baseball. But on Wednesday night, when I asked "where's the turkey?" her reply was,

"You said you were taking me to that place for dinner."

Now I knew that the sub had sank and I actively went to doctor's appointments. I'm pretty critical when I think negatively about someone or something. Her nuerologist was a complete flake. Met him one time and knew a second opinion was needed. Finally I got the hook up with UCLA-it only took them 3 hours to give a diagnosis. She'd seen "Dr. God" for 3 years and all he could tell me was, "It's not dementia and it's not Alzheimer's." Yeah right. Semantic Dementia is fairly rare according to Dr. Mendez. The symptoms fit Deana to a tee. March 7 2012.

Gone is the twinkle in her eye, her spunk, her ability to reason-to keep house-accounting-laundry-the woman I've known and loved for more than three decades is gone. Left in her place, in her physical body is a person that is self-centered, fixated on medicine and her own schedule. 8:30 medicine, 10:30 medicine, 12:00 lunch, then nap, 2:30 medicine, 5:00 dinner, 8-8:30 bedtime. It's almost like being with Rain Man. Life now feels like Groundhog Day. Everyday, hearing the same complaints, stories about how women change, how she thinks she looks different. Not quite as bad as "50 First Dates" but getting close. While she can tell you with exactness things 30 or 40 years ago, trying to reason with her or explaining what seems simple is like trying to teach her trigonometry. I have to constantly remind myself it's not her fault, it's not the real Deana. It's almost like having a 5 year old around. My once very frugal wife now wants to spend, spend, spend. No concept of money at all.

Our dreams of the future are just dust in the wind. Once I was her love, she was my Queen. Now she's still my Queen, but life is dramatically different. Life is full of disappointments. We may never hit the 50 year anniversary mark. She may not remember me 5 years from now. Live for today, Deana still knows who I am. My job is to make her happy, happy, happy. Not an easy task. Sometimes it wears on oneself. But in this game that we call life, no one said it's fair.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pink Panther

Lately my mom has been a little obsessed with her clothes matching. She's become a little bit too matchey-matchey, in fact. The other day I walked into her room, to find her in her usual position sitting on her bed. Right away, she pointed out how well her maroon shirt matched her maroon pants.

"I just wish I could find pink sock things and pink shoes to match this too. I wonder if JC Penney will have any pink that could match too."

Indeed, she wants to be one color from head to foot.

While my brother was visiting over the past couple of weeks, he one day decided to ease some of the burden off my dad and take my mom shopping to JC Penney (she has been nagging dad to take her for weeks now, despite the fact I just took her to JC Penney outlet a few weeks ago.) Mom was on a mission. She sifted through clothing on the racks until she found what she wanted: pink pants and a pink shirt to match. And I don't mean maroon...I mean Pink Panther pink. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to find pink socks and pink shoes to match. Bummer.

I've been anticipating her wearing her new pink outfit. However, once she got home and tried them on (my brother tried to convince her to try them on at the store, but she insisted size 10 was her size and they would be fine) she found that they didn't fit. Apparently, the stylish Skinny Jeans brand that she selected was cut smaller than her usual Gloria Vanderbilt jeans; she felt they were too tight.

Now mom has a dilemma: what do to with her pink pants.

Jeff (my husband) and I went over to my parent's house on Saturday night, a few days after her shopping trip, to visit with my brother and sister-in-law before they headed back to Arizona. Without any greeting, mom came right up to me while I was sitting on the couch, crouched down to my level and, with her face about 6 inches away from mine, asked me if I would please consider taking her pink pants.

"What I was wondering was that I bought some really good pants at JC Penney and they don't fit and I want to bless someone with them. What I was wondering is will you want them?"

I told my mom that it was unlikely they would fit me, seeing as we are different sizes.

"Why won't anyone let me bless them?" she whined.

We went back and forth for a few minutes; mom, trying to convince me how "good" her pants were and that I should take them. Me, trying to explain to her that they wouldn't fit me. Eventually, I decided to give in and try them on. Surely once she saw them on me she would understand that they didn't fit. Mom raced down the hall to her bedroom as I trailed behind her. I slipped into the pink pants and tried really hard to suppress my laughter as I looked at myself in her full-length mirror. Unfortunately for me, my plan backfired. Mom had no recognition that the pink pants were ill-fitted to my body.

"Oh good! They look so good on you, yeah. Oh good, I really wanted to bless you with these too," she said enthusiastically.

I couldn't hold back my laughter any longer. I walked back down the hall into the living room to model the pants for my family. Mom followed behind, tugging at my heels and continuing in her excitement about the pants.

"They look so good. And they even look good, match your toes, too," she said, pointing to my painted toenails. "Bless you," she added with a childish grin and a twinkle in her eye.

I tried to calm down my laughter and show her again that the pants were too big.

Mom didn't hear me or notice the excess material at the waist.

"Do you have a pink shirt too that you could wear with it?" she continued.

Joe (my brother) tried explaining to her that she can exchange her brand new pants and get a new size that would fit. He could've just as well tried explaining it to his 2 year old.

I debated what to do with the pants. I eventually changed back into my own pants and folded up the pink pants, placing them on her bed. I feel bad letting her down and dashing her hopes of me wearing her pink pants with a matching pink top. But it just can't happen. Not in public, anyway. I'm hoping to help her find the receipt and make an exchange for pants that will fit her. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Burning The Bacon

My mom used to be an excellent cook. Growing up, she had a home cooked meal for us every night on the dinner table, where we ate together as a family. I was always proud of mom's cooking, especially when I was dating my husband. He used to joke that mom's cooking is what brought him over to our house every night.

Like most everything else, cooking is a skill that is long gone with the dementia. It faded slowly. In the beginning, she began cooking less and less and then she seemed to cook only a select variety of meals. In the year leading up to her diagnosis, we would joke everytime Sunday dinner came around,

"What do you guess it will be tonight: tacos or spaghetti?"

We had no idea at the time, of course, why she was stuck on the same meals every week.

Over the last year, her meal varieties have become less and less. She had trouble coming up with ideas, so I made a menu for her with meals she was familiar with and would cook regularly. Eventually, that strategy ceased to work. Within the past few months, mom has, for the most part, quit cooking altogether. Her list of things she will make is very short: sandwiches, tortellini (the frozen kind that you cook in boiling water) with jarred fettucine sauce and frozen mixed vegetables, salad (which has to be the iceberg lettuce mix with tomatoes and cheddar cheese, smothered in ranch dressing), and her broccoli-cauliflower salad. She will warm up left overs for tacos, but dad has had to take the reins on preparing those meals.

For the most part, these meals don't require a stove-with the exception of the tortellini and the broccoli-cauliflower salad. Her broccoli-cauliflower recipe (which came from my Aunt) calls for cooked bacon to be crumbled on top.

A couple months ago, we were all at mom and dad's house as mom was preparing the bacon for her salad. She turned the flame on the stove at the highest setting, flames flipping out from under the pan. She put her slices of bacon in the pan and let it cook. As we observed her preparation of the bacon, we noticed how brown it was becoming and eventually the smell of it burning.

"Mom, you need to turn your bacon over now, it's getting burned," I told her, as I peered over her shoulder.

"No. I know what I'm doing. I'm a good cooker. You don't have to tell me what to do, I know how to do this," she insisted, irritated with my suggestions.

"I cook 4 minutes on this side and then I turn it, 4 minutes on the other side," she continued, glancing at the clock on the stove.

"Mom, if you wait another 4 minutes it's going to be black," I tried again.

"No, you don't tell me what to do. I never would talk like that to my mom. I know how to do it, I'm a good cooker."

She continued burning the bacon, as I stood by, watching. When 4 minutes were up, she flipped the bacon and continued burning it on the other side. When she was finished, she put the bacon on a paper towel to drain the grease and picked up the pan with the remaining grease. With the flame still on the highest setting, mom began pouring the grease into a cup which sat right next to the flame on the stovetop. I quickly turned off the flame and exclaimed to mom that what she was doing was very dangerous. She completely ignored what I said and continued pouring the grease.

The smell of burned bacon consumed the house. Dad opened the doors and windows (despite mom's protests) to air the smell out of the house.

This experience was an eye opener to us all. We knew that mom needed to be supervised in the kitchen; I think we didn't realize the seriousness of that need until this night. I don't want to think about what could happen if she attempts to make bacon while we are not home. Dad has taken extra precaution to make sure that he is there when mom buys her ingredients for the broccoli-cauliflower salad and that it gets made while he is present. It's not an easy will argue about the way she cooks it and becomes very angry if we try to help (flip the bacon before the 4 minutes is up, turn down the flame, etc), but have to do what is necessary to keep her-and everyone else-safe.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Guest Post

For those of you who do not follow my page on Facebook, and haven't read my updates, I have taken a couple weeks off of blogging to spend some much needed time with my family.

However, a few weeks ago I was contacted by an editor of an LDS based website and asked to write a guest post about dementia for their series on mental illnesses. It was featured on their website today. Feel free to check it out by clicking on this link.

I'll be back to my regular blogging soon!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Too Large Dress

For the past few months, mom has been pestering us to take her to JC Penney Outlet (I say that affectionately). We urged to her to wait until Christmas, knowing that some would be getting her gift cards for JC Penney. So, since Christmas, she has been asking to go. Saturday, I was the lucky one asked to take her on her shopping spree. Mom was so excited that she even skipped her nap to go!!

Mom knew exactly what she wanted. Immediately, she sprinted over to the dress section. She was on a mission, searching for dresses ONLY with longer sleeves. She was so focused on finding dresses with longer sleeves that she hadn't noticed that she had migrated into the Women's section (which is the section for larger women). She was thrilled when she finally found what she was looking for. The only problem was that they were all at least 2 sizes too large.

I promise I tried to tell her. I tried to explain to her that Women's sizes meant they were for larger women. She couldn't grasp the concept. She looked intently at the size tag on the dress which read "1X".

"See, it says one. It's not too big for me, no."

Okay mom, have it your way. The only sure way to convince her would be to let her try on the dress and see for herself that it was too large.

"See mom, it's too big for you," I said, as she looked at herself in the mirror.

"No, huh-uh, it's not too big, no. It's fine, you quit picking on me!" she snapped back.

Mom was seemingly happy with her find. Nevermind that she's a 5'7" woman, weighing in at only 135 pounds...she was happy with her size 1X dress. Nevermind that it looked like a dress that should be worn by a woman from Kenya (and I mean that with no's just a fact). Mom was happy with her selection. Is she hurting anything wearing a dress that is too large? No. Just let her be happy.