Monday, November 25, 2013

Missing Grandma

My mom has always looked forward to the day she would be a grandma. I remember when I was younger- first, dating my husband, and then engaged, and eventually married; mom was excited at the prospect of someday becoming a grandma. My grandma was the absolute best grandma a kid could ever ask for, with sleepovers and baking dates, back scratches and stories of her younger days…I am very blessed to have such great memories with my grandma. My mom was anxious to follow in her own mom’s footsteps and was determined that she would be the “favorite” grandma.

When the grandkids finally started to come, they were my mom’s greatest pride. She had pictures hanging on her filing cabinets and on her desk at work. She loved showing off her babies whenever we stopped by for a visit. She always bought them little gifts and loved spending time with them. She made up little songs for them and had lots of toys and activities for our visits. There was no doubt how much my mom loved her grandkids.

I think about this often. It’s hard to not feel “cheated” sometimes for my kids. It makes me so sad to know that they will never have the grandma experience that I had. The bond I had with my grandma was so strong…my kids will never know what that is like. They will never have a grandma for sleepovers, to bake goodies with, to take them out on little dates. They will never know the woman that my mom once was. They were too young to remember mom before the dementia days.

Last night, I was tucking my little girl into her bed and I laid down beside her. We talked about my mom and she pointed out a tender moment from earlier that evening, when my mom had stood behind me at the dinner table and scratched my back for a brief moment. How sweet that moment was. Somehow, my perceptive little girl picked up on that and could tell that I longed to have my mommy back. I expressed to her how much I missed my mom. Together, we shed a few tears as I told her how very much her grandma loved her and how overjoyed she was when she became her grandma. I reassured her that it was only the dementia that prevented her from being the best grandma in the universe. I told her to look for those small moments of love and to cherish them; a smile, a hug, a push on the swing. Hold those memories tight and know that your grandma loves you.

Earlier that evening (at family dinner), I was standing at my kitchen sink, preparing dinner, and I peered out the window to the backyard. I saw my mom sitting on a swing beside my 2 year old. Every now and then she would give him a little push and they looked like two friends, swinging side by side, smiling as they flew up and down. Swinging just happens to be one of my son’s favorite things. How happy I was that he was able to have that moment with his grandma. My brother-in-law, who was barbequing out back, noticed this sweet moment too and captured it on video with his phone. I thought I would share [sorry it’s not great quality…but you get the idea].

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mom’s Beauty Routine

hpqscan0001I always thought my mom was pretty. She always took great pride in her appearance. I think a lot of that was due to her insecurities about her fair skin, her red hair, her blonde eyebrows and eyelashes. She never left the house without a fresh face of make-up on and her hair perfectly put together
(unless it was to pick us up from early morning seminary…in which case she wore her sunglasses). She always looked beautiful and nicely put together.

I remember my mom once telling me, when I was a kid, that she wanted to look good for my dad. I always thought it was sweet that even after years of marriage, mom wanted to look her best for my dad. Of course he loved her whether her make-up was on or off, but I’m sure he appreciated the fact that she made the effort to always look her best for him.

One of my mom’s obsessions now is her looks. However, it’s much more extreme now than it was before the dementia. She hides away from us until she is no longer a “Plain Jane”. She never worried about us seeing her without her make-up on around the house when we were kids. She doesn’t even like my dad to see her without it nowadays. She keeps it on at night (her pillow is orange from the residue of her foundation), washes her face in the morning and immediately puts on a fresh face before she steps foot out of her bedroom. But…she doesn’t quite have the talent she once had in doing her hair and make-up. Those who know her have noticed the change in her abilities.

On Monday, like many other days that I have gone over there, I arrived at my mom’s house and knocked on her bedroom door before she was “put together”. It usually takes several knocks before I get a response of any kind…if I even get a response at all. This time, I had a Mary Kay lip mask and balm that she had ordered from me and has been impatiently waiting for. I used that as bribery for her to open her door for me.

Immediately upon opening the door, mom fidgeted with her bangs and shyly turned her face away from me, stating,

“I didn’t want you to see me like this like a Plain Jane.”

I reassured her that it didn’t matter to me and invited myself in her room. I stood beside her at her bathroom sink and tried to converse with her as I studied her beauty regiment. First, she squirted a half-dollar-sized amount of Mary Kay foundation into the palm of her hand (which is highly pigmented…the size of a dime would be more than enough). She rubbed it onto her face, missing underneath her eyes and not blending into her hairline or jaw line whatsoever. Next, she took the same amount of a dark tan-colored Maybelline foundation and did the same.

“Whoa mom, let’s rub that in a little better,” I remarked, trying to help her blend in the lines. “I think this color is a little too dark for you,” I added.

“No I need to do this darker too cuz I don’t like that I’m such a really white person too. This is really good too and Bud really likes this color on me too,” she said, as she slathered it on.

“I remember this lady in Corona when we lived in Corona and she taught me us how to do these things really good too…” she told me. She submerged her powder puff into a container of powder and, without tapping any of it off, patted her face, re-dipping the powder puff after each pat on the various parts of her face (cheeks, forehead, nose, etc).

“My Aunt and Uncle say I look okay too, even though I feel like I look weird and differently too now in my 50’s but they say I still look okay too thank goodness, and other women at church too say that I still look good too which is so good too,” she continued as she slathered it all on.

She turned off the light in the bathroom and turned on a small light-up mirror which sat on her counter.

“This is such a good thing too. When Joe lived in that different place I had a different kind of mirror thing like this too and I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know if he has it still too,” she said. She swirled her cheek brush in a bright colored pink blush before vigorously rubbing it on her cheeks.

“This is my most favorite color,” mom remarked, as she applied her favorite navy blue eyeliner. “And Bud really likes it too, he really likes me this way too,” she added.

Mom continued to finish up her face: mascara (which she smudged on her eyelid), dark brown eyebrows and dark, pink lipstick. When she was finished with her make-up she turned her attention to her hair. After running the curling iron through her hair, she took not just one, but two cans of hairspray and explained to me that “that girl” who does her hair uses two different kinds of hairspray. She held the first can an inch away from her hair and sprayed, making her way around her head. When she came across a rogue hair, she would comb it down and plaster it with spray! When she was finished, she repeated the process with the second can. To finish up, mom took a bottle of Bath & Body Works spray and gave her hair several close-range squirts as she narrated,

“I tell Bud I put this on my hair too, he likes it too.”

She opened her blouse and put a few squirts down there as well as sprayed her arms and her hair-again.

As I watched my mom throughout this process, my initial reaction was to dive in there and tame down her “look”. But once I realized she wasn’t listening to a word I was saying (as I tried to help smooth out that jaw line) I just stood back and watched on. I admit it was partly amusing but a larger part of it was touching. I saw that innocence in my mom as she happily put her on make-up in an effort to look good for my dad. With every stroke of her brush and comment that “Bud likes it when I do this” I couldn’t help but to smile at the sweetness of it. Before, when I looked at my mom, all I could I see were the dramatic lines and colors that were too way dark for her complexion. Now, I see things a little differently. I see a woman who wants to look good for the man she loves. I see love.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Need To Stop Reading The Internet

I really need to stop reading the internet. My Aunt warned me not to read any more on the internet. But I didn’t listen.

Last June, I went in for my yearly physical. Disclaimer: it had actually been 2 years since my prior physical and I figured I had better check in on myself. I had gestational diabetes with all 3 pregnancies which puts me at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future, so it’s kind of important to get my yearly physicals to make sure I haven’t developed the dreaded disease; I try to keep up on that.

After a quick physical inspection, the doctor then asked me a series of questions before sending me to the lab for standard blood work. One of the questions she asked was,

“Are you depressed?”

I paused for a minute, caught a little off guard. If I was being totally honest, sure, you could say I’ve been struggling with a bit of depression. For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know what I’ve been through this year. I figured it would be almost inhuman to NOT feel some sort of depression.

I was going to answer “no”. After all, it wasn’t as if I was unable to get out of bed in the morning. I had no thoughts of hurting myself or others. To be put on meds was the last thing I wanted. There was no reason to be a drama queen about it.

But when I opened my mouth, the word “yes” escaped my tongue. I surprised even myself.

I explained to her that I had gone through some traumatic events this year and that I was also dealing with the loss of my mother to dementia. She asked a few more questions [“Are you frequently tired?” “Yes”, “Do you have low energy?” “Yes”, etc]. She told me that she would add a hormone check to my lab work.

A couple of weeks later, I learned that I have hypothyroidism, meaning, my thyroid is not creating enough hormones. She put me on medication, told me I could choose to be monitored for a while or choose to meet with a specialist. Of course I chose the specialist. So, over the past 5 months I have met with the specialist, had an ultrasound on my thyroid (which revealed nodules), had even more blood work done, had a very painful biopsy which required needles going through my neck and the conclusions are this:

1. I do not have thyroid cancer (hooray!!)

2. I have an auto immune disease called Hashimoto’s Disease, which basically means that my immune system is attacking/destroying my thyroid.

It’s not the end of the world. I have to take a pill everyday for the rest of my life. Once we establish the right dose of medication (4 months and we’re still working to figure it out!!) monitoring and adjustments will continue to be needed, as it is a progressive disease. I will have to have monitoring and possibly more biopsies in the future (ick!).

When the doctor gave me the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease, he told me,

“You can read about Hashimoto’s on the internet.” [Really???]

I like to educate myself, so I took his advice. And this time, I wish I hadn’t because it brings back one of my greatest fears. Dementia. I read that hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease can lead to dementia. Yep, it’s true. Thyroid problems can lead to memory problems. I even read posts from real people who were experiencing it. Whether being on the right dose of medication will help or not is yet to be determined; I’ve read mixed reviews. Although I did read that it can be reversed with proper medications.

The truth of the matter is this: I already find myself having “brain farts”. This isn’t made up because of my findings; for a few years now I’ve been blaming my forgetfulness on “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain.” And maybe it is. But every time I think of that evil disease called dementia, my fears settle in. When I see “thyroid” and “dementia” used in the same sentence, I feel even more uneasy. I know that fear is no way to live life, but how can I not fear that I will share a similar fate as my mom?

For every time I walk to the cupboard only to stand there with a blank stare, unsure of what I was looking for; for every time a name slips my brain; for every night I forget to sign my son’s homework packet; for every time I just don’t have it altogether, I worry: am I headed down the same road as my mother?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Knott’s Berry Farm

One of my fondest memories as an adult was a trip my family took to Disneyland about 11 years ago. I was dating my husband at the time; none of us (siblings) were married or had kids yet. Life was carefree and easygoing. My mom loved going to amusement parks, especially Disneyland and my parents thought it would be fun to go together as a family. We spent the day laughing, cracking jokes, taking funny pictures and just having a great time. There are a few moments, in particular, of that day that really stand out in my mind. One memory, which I will always cherish, was at the end of our day. It was probably close to 11:00 at night, and the crowd was thinning out. The roller coasters had no line and we were determined to walk on as many as we could before we left the park that night. I will never forget my dad’s excitement as we ran through the empty line of Space Mountain, hopping over bars and rushing to get on that coaster. I felt like we were all big kids. We had no worries. What a fun day we had.

I think back on that memory with great fondness; it is one that I will always hold dear in my heart. But with it also comes a certain sense of melancholy. Life will never be like that again. We will never again have those moments have as a family.

For months, mom has been wanting to go to “that place that we went to so many years ago with Jeff and Starla and it has that really big thing that goes up high….” After delving a little deeper, we discovered that mom was referring to Knott’s Berry Farm-an amusement park here in Southern California. At the beginning of the year, my siblings and I all bought season passes to Knott’s. Dad had already taken mom to Disneyland a few months ago and it wasn’t a grand adventure; he really didn’t want to take her Knott’s Berry Farm. So he tried to talk us into taking her without him. As it happens, we had been planning a “family day” at Knott’s for the day after Halloween, since my brother would be in town. I had this bright idea that it would be fun to have the entire family together for a day. But…my dad was less than enthusiastic about my plan. In fact, he wasn’t planning on coming at all. For an entire month, I tried to convince my dad to come along. I promised him we would all help with mom and that he would have fun spending time with his kids and grandkids, just like the good ol’ days. He was resistant, up until the morning we were planning to go. At last minute, he decided he would bring mom along with us and fulfill her wish, as well as mine.

I knew it was going to be a lot of work with mom. I know all too well how she is and how she’d behave. I was under no false illusion that we would have a perfectly magical day, as we had so many years before. But there’s a part of me that is still clinging to the idea of making as many meaningful memories with mom (as a family) that we can and I sense that time is running out. If mom wanted to go to Knott’s, then, in my idealistic mind, it would be perfect for us to all go together.

I could sit here and write to you about everything that went wrong throughout the day. I could tell you that my mom was very self-centered, that she was on her own agenda, that she waited impatiently for the kids to get through their rides so that we could follow her around the park to find what she was looking for. I could tell you that, despite our walking around the entire park, mom never did find what she was looking for (her memory doesn’t allow her to recognize the very things that were before her that she was so frantically searching for). I could tell you about how we finally found the roller coaster she wanted to ride (her favorite from times past) and how, at the front of the line, my sister and I had to physically restrain her from pushing through the group ahead of us to get on the coaster. I could tell you how she became so irate at our holding her back that she was yelling and smacking me and broke my necklace in the process of trying to get free. I could tell you about our fruitless efforts to get mom on rides that we knew she once loved, her refusal to eat her lunch, the tantrums and the exhaustion of keeping her where we wanted to go.

I could tell you all of those things and more. I had originally intended on sharing those things in great detail. Instead, I want to focus on the highlights of the days; the memories that will keep us smiling long after mom is gone when we look back at this family trip together.

Highlight #1: Riding Ghostrider (mom’s favorite roller coaster)

ghostrider After finding the ride and convincing mom that this was the roller coaster she was searching for, and after calming down from my anxiety at the tantrum she threw at the front of the line, this was my best memory of the day. In those few moments before the ride started, I started to fear that mom might freak out once it got going. It’s a pretty steep ride, and it goes really fast. However, when I looked over at mom, all fears began to fade away. As the ride started it’s uphill ascent, I looked over at mom to see an excitement in her eyes and a grin at the corners of her mouth. She looked like an eager child, going on her very first roller coaster and trying to hold back her excitement.

“Are you excited mom?” I asked her, matching her grin.

Mom wordlessly answered me with an expanding grin and sparkle in her eye. As we went down that first hill, mom couldn’t hold back any longer and the smile spread across her entire face, showing teeth and all! At one point, she put her head down, still smiling, and shut her eyes. And then something amazing happened. There was a tiny moment, which I will forever remember, when I glanced over at my mom and I swear I was looking at the “old mom”; the mom who loved roller coasters and knew how to let loose and have a fun time. To have that moment for even one small second made the entire day worth it to me.

Highlight #2: Moments like these


At one point, mom became anxious and was practically running ahead of us all to find…whatever it was she was looking for. I suggested to my nephew, Jeremy, to go ahead and walk with grandma. It was such a touching sight to see that I had to take a picture.



1441245_10201490694041716_747885294_nIt took almost all day for dad to finally let loose and have fun. He sat off most rides with mom (despite our efforts to get him to ride while we took a turn with mom). But at the end of the day, he couldn’t refuse Big Foot Rapids, which is my favorite ride. I got completely soaked and dad laughed his head off so it was totally worth it.


Mom was pretty resistant about going on The Log Ride, even though it used to be another favorite. She was worried about getting wet. My sister and I laughed as we reminisced about how it used to be mom coaxing her into riding the log; now the roles have reversed.


Highlight #3: The Bumper Cars

Mom kept talking about those “things that go and go like this, bump into each other…” Bumper Cars. Telling her that it was called Bumper Cars held no meaning for her. We had to visually show her. She peered over at the cars and her memory was sparked. I thought she’d love to live out her dream of driving again, but she was a little apprehensive of how to “work” them. She seemed content to ride alongside dad in the car.


As we left the park that day, a sentimental feeling settled over me as it really hit that was likely our last trip all together to an amusement park, as an entire family. As our challenges grow with mom, so do our opportunities of getting out and taking trips. I wanted to preserve this memory forever and take a group picture, but mom was very anxious to leave. My mind took me back to that happy, carefree memory of going to Disneyland years ago (and the countless other happy amusement park trips). And then it hit me why it was so hard for dad to come that day. Though it is physically exhausting to venture out with mom, the overwhelming emotions that come with it are far more difficult; it is looking back on the good times that have past and facing the harsh realization that things will never be the same again; it is the missing and the longing for those times that hurts so much. The good days are gone. Yet, though they are gone, I know that someday I will look back on this day with some sort of fondness of the time we were able to spend together.