by Skip Cohen
This is going to be a different kind of Throwback Thursday post. I love hunting for old photographs. So this morning, when I went off searching for something to share, I ran across the images here. I might have even shared one of them a few years back. They're from 2012, and while they still make me smile, they also bring back pain and sadness. But that doesn't mean they're not special moments to be cherished.
Sheila and I moved to Sarasota in the fall of 2011. I could live anywhere my computer could plug in, and Sheila was able to take early retirement from Akron Children's Hospital. My Dad was caring for my mother, who was fighting Alzheimer's. For the first time in my life, I could be where my folks were, and Sheila was willing to join me.
My Mom met Sheila a couple of years before Alzheimer's tightened its grasp. They hit it off immediately, and no matter how much of Mom's memory would be attacked over the next few years, she locked in on Sheila. In later years, she'd tell people she and Sheila had done volunteer work together and known each other since they were kids. The story's accuracy didn't matter - it was the love Sheila felt for Mom and how my mother lit up every time Sheila came into the room.
My mother passed away in 2013, but we had almost three years with her before that. And there are no words to describe how precious those memories have become.
The images above were from Mom's birthday in February 2012. At some point during dessert, she had a moment of clarity and grew incredibly sad. Sheila hugged her, and Mom said, "What's going to happen to all my things!" Sheila responded with the assurance that we loved her things and would take care of them. Seconds later, Mom was relaxed - the crisis had passed - replaced by one of Mom's favorites, pineapple upside-down cake.
But my point isn't so much the memories right now but a suggestion to many of you who are living the same nightmare. Alzheimer's is a horrible disease that robs you of your loved ones as you watch. And while feeling helpless is natural, you don't have to do it alone.
My Dad and I joined the Caregiver Support Group here in Sarasota, part of the Senior Friendship Centers. Every Thursday morning, we'd head off to group, and Dad would join in the conversation circle as husbands, wives, and adult children shared their frustration. For my Dad's generation, expressing your innermost feelings and sadness was something you just didn't do. Yet, he opened up, participated, and through the group, learned new ways to cope.
So, two suggestions today...
First, if you know somebody who's losing a loved one to Alzheimer's, encourage them to get into a support group. One call to a senior center or the Alzheimer's Association, and you'll be on your way to finding them a little help. Second, pick up "The 36-Hour Day." The book was so helpful to me in understanding what was going on and learning how to better cope with Mom's illness. (Click on the thumbnail for more info on Amazon.com)
We lost the battle, but those last years gave us moments we still cherish today. And on those days when, as we used to say, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, my Dad would say, "I'm going to take every moment like this and squeeze all the joy out of it and savor it!"
Just because a Throwback Thursday photograph isn't filled with laughter - doesn't mean it isn't chocked full of love.
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.