Alzheimer's Daughter

The Story

Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.

Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.

I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.

I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mom's Apple Pie

My mother wrote this letter to my dad in 1942, a year before their marriage, while they were separated during WWII.

My Dearest Ed,
Our love has grown during our separation. Our life together is my constant thought.  
Your faith is so strong and sure. You are such an optimist about the war ending soon. 
You are so good to me––so considerate, kind, thoughtful. It just seems as if I could thoroughly enjoy cooking, washing, mending, cleaning, baking and doing all the other things a devoted wife does for a prince of a man like you.
I love you, yours forever,

Mom's words at the end of the letter sound contrary to a woman's role in today's marriages, but she kept up her end of the bargain, and did enjoy cooking and baking; washing, mending, and cleaning, not as much.

During most of the 37 years of my own marriage, I haven't enjoyed cooking and baking. Truth be told, during the years I worked full time and my children were involved in after school commitments they consumed their share of fish sticks, hotdogs, and our family favorite––peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In the two years since my retirement, my kitchen and I have become better friends. My favorite home-made comfort food is Mom's apple pie. If you have five apples, you can make pie. All of the other ingredients are in your pantry.


  • Peel and slice five apples (any kind, mixed varieties make the best pie)
  • Add 1/2 cup sugar to apples
  • Add 2 tablespoons flour to apples
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
Stir this mixture and let rest while you make crust. 

In a small bowl combine,
  • One cup plus two tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup oil (this can be any kind––corn, canola, even olive oil)
  • Two tablespoons water

Stir the above ingredients together with a fork until they're crumbly. Form the mixture into a ball with your hands. Lay a piece of waxed paper on your counter and flatten the crust ball on the paper. Lay another piece of waxed paper on top of the flattened crust ball. Use a rolling pin to flatten the crust ball (still squashed between the two pieces of waxed paper) to the approximate dimensions of pie pan. Peel off top piece of paper, and (here's the tricky part) turn the crust over––like you're flipping it upside down, into the pie pan with remaining bottom piece of waxed paper now on top. Now that your crust is in the pie pan, with the bottom piece of waxed paper now on the top, carefully peel off the last piece of waxed paper.

Pour your delicious, juicy filling into the pie crust. Dot with butter.

Repeat crust procedure for the top crust. Pinch edges. Sprinkle the top with a teaspoon of sugar and cut vents in the top of crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Then enjoy!! (It's best if it's eaten while still warm enough to melt a scoop of vanilla ice cream.)

When I put my pies together I always think about the "yummy" it will elicit from my recipients, while wondering just how many pies my mom made in her 66 year marriage. I don't think I can match her number. She had a head start.

Baking a pie is an act of love. Thanks Mom.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Cabin

My son, daughter, and nephew, their spouses, young children, and babies spent time with us at a family cabin in the woods last weekend. Fifteen people in all, ranging from the itty bitty (size of two sacks of sugar) to the small (weighing about as much as a bag of topsoil) to the full-grown crammed in one small place.

Before family arrived, my hubby and I worked in a flurry, fixing food, mowing the yard, doing laundry, and vacuuming mouse droppings and dead bugs out of the corners.

It occurred to me that my parents, must have scurried around like this thirty to forty years ago, anticipating the visits my sister and I and our families made to the cabin. I remember meals of sweet corn, green beans and tomatoes from the garden, along with burgers and hotdogs sizzling over the fire pit. After somemores, we'd load sticky sweaty kids with dirty feet into the car to sleep on the way home. As we'd back out of the drive, Mom and Dad would lean together, her head nestled into his shoulder, waving goodbye.

I felt the warmth of Mom and Dad's spirits hovering as their great grandchildren created a hullabaloo at the cabin. Adults heaped love on the new little ones they'd not yet met. Babies crawled, babies wailed, toddlers and preschoolers pretended to fix things with a toy tool kit, imagining they camped in tents under the dinner table, all while blowing bubbles and having tea parties.

As my family packed sleepy kids into the cars, while waving goodbye, I spotted a brilliant red male and muted female cardinal flitting around the yard. I tried to catch them on camera, but they were too shy to be photographed, instead I whispered, Thanks, Mom and Dad, for teaching us that nothing is more important than time for family.

Friday, April 5, 2013

From the Ancients to the Saplings

I've been absent from Alzheimer's Daughter for a few months, but my memories of my parents have only been set aside, as though I stood at my kitchen sink and placed the parcel of them on the windowsill beside their picture.

Today is the second anniversary of my dad's death. Mom died three years ago. Three days before Dad died, he spoke two words to me, and repeated them three times. With his eyes squinted because his cheeks were raised in a smile, he reached his shaking hands to mine and rasped, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Dad was a gracious man and anyone who knew him well would say this phrase was just his mantra. But I think back to his dying words, wondering how much cognizance he had as he spoke.

I'd like to think Dad knew me at that moment. I'm humbled that he thanked me for being with him, holding his calloused, feverish hands. More so, I need to believe his last words were meant to be the balm to heal me from the guilt of moving he and Mom from their happy lives in their hometown, thanking me for making tough decisions to preserve their safety.

Sadness and joy intersect throughout life like a scenic, rambling country road, crossing back and forth past clear streams and lush forests, underpassed and overpassed by the racing rage of the interstate. When we take time for the country road we see what once were mighty trees lying on the floor of the woods. These gnarled trees shaded the younger from countless July sunny days and the August droughts, while swaying and swirling, taking the brunt of brutality of spring tornados and winter blizzards. Eventually the ancients toppled, sheered quickly from storm trauma, or fallen slowly from decay. Either way their demise created fertile soil for the saplings. Aren't our lives as families like this? My mom and dad's trees have fallen. Now I am the tall tree, the oldest generation of my bloodline. I carry the DNA of my parents, passing it on to their grandchildren, the younger trees. I ponder the potential in the lives of the tiny ones, their nine great grandchildren, the saplings.

I realize Alzheimer's can and likely will happen to me if I live long enough. I don't need genetic testing to validate. If Alzheimer's does lower its hazy veil, I pray I can retain a loving spirit and graciousness even if I lose my mind. I give permission to my children to do what they must to keep me safe. Do what is hard without guilt. I give permission to tell the beautiful, ugly truth of Alzheimer's. Share the story. Give and seek help from others on their own paths through the deep woods of Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Ed and Ibby

Today would have been my parents' 69th wedding anniversary. I envision them reunited and restored, celebrating together in heaven––Ed's arm protectively around Ibby's shoulders, her head snuggled into the crook of his neck.
This is one of my favorite pictures of them. I believe it must have been taken when they were dating. When I cleaned out their house, I found the photo stashed in the front of a ripped cardboard box, with a gold foil paper-covered lid, which might have once held Hallmark cards. Inside that box, I found my dad's WWII dog tags and Mom and Dad's early love letters from 1941 to 1944. I felt like a spy reading something so private between my parents. In fact, my sister and I nearly threw the envelopes away without ever opening, thinking we were invading their privacy by reading. But, as I started reading, I couldn't stop. The terms of endearment used at that time reveal much about the way lovers talked to one another. Some of the mundane events spoken of remind me a little of today's texting. In a few, their desire and longing for one another is palpable, yet written discretely.

Each chapter of Alzheimer's Daughter begins with one of their letters, showing Ed and Ibby's love written in their own words––the beginning of the devotion which allowed them to hold tight until life's end, even as Alzheimer's devoured and ravaged.

I'm going to begin sharing the letters as blog posts. Today's is Ibby's first letter to Ed. I almost didn't recognize the writer as my mother, because every letter is formed so perfectly and stiffly. It's obvious she's nervous to write it. As a little background, they attended high school together, but never dated until post graduation. This letter was written shortly after Ed left for the Army.

November 11, 1941
Dear Ed,
I don’t know why––but it seems so much easier for me to tell you in writing how much you mean to me. You know there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. In these uncertain times everyone needs someone to live for, to dream about––without this we’re lost.
Ed, I love you with all my heart. I’d consider it an honor if you’d allow me to wait for you until the war is over.
Why couldn’t I have realized, and told you about my feelings in person, before you left for the Army? I am so very sure now.

 This letter was the beginning of a relationship lasting 66 years. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!