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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


We take pictures of everything. Sometimes I wonder if we miss the joy of a moment because we're grabbing our phones to take a picture and save a memory.

Don't misunderstand. I love my pictures. I collect them, organize them, run them as screen savers and remember with a giggle or a tear special moments.

But, even a decade ago this technology didn't exist. Prior to that time, we planned for a picture, had actual film developed, hoped for the best, and found out maybe a week later if we had taken a good shot. 

This picture was taken of my mother in 1943. It was planned. Maybe it was taken by a photographer. 

Googling took me to the pages of a 1943 Montgomery Wards Catalog showing the cost of average cameras at that time between $40 and $100 with flash attachment and bulbs. That was a huge amount of money after the Great Depression. I doubt Mom's family, small dairy farmers, could have afforded a luxury item like a camera. 

But this event, Mom sitting by her hope chest, with her bridal collection neatly folded within, warranted a picture. She was full of hope for the future and full of love for my dad. That hope never left either of them throughout their  66-year marriage.

They took a chance on a WWII romance and had the dedication to make it last. 

November 11, 1941

Dear Ed,

            I don’t know why––but it seems so much easier 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.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thank You, Lori LaBey and Alzheimer's Speaks Radio

Thank you so much to Lori LaBey, for her interest in Alzheimer's Daughter, and her advocacy on behalf of all affected by Alzheimer's and dementia.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I spend a large part of each day writing. Some of that time is spent connecting with others around the world who share an interest in Alzheimer's Disease. Also, I'm pouring time into a new children's series, Lexi's Triplets. Lexi is my granddog who helps her mom and dad take care of my two-year-old triplet grandchildren. I travel nearly every week from Cleveland to Columbus to assist Lexi and gather ideas to write her stories.

My life is full, never a minute of boredom. I squeeze time in for reading when my mind is too tired to create new material. 

Beyond writing, I crave time to work outside, play in the dirt, creating beauty in my own yard.

This weekend my local granddaughters, age 7 and age 3, had a sleep over. What joy.

Even if we love every day of our work, our lives become a list of tasks to complete........until a sleepover. Every schedule, every list, every predictability is thrown out the window. Nothing takes precedence.

I thought so much about my own mother this weekend––about how her world stopped for grandchildren. 

Both girls planted flowers. The three-year-old helped me plant geraniums and giant marigolds around a light post in my front yard. 

The seven-year-old planted Impatiens in a redwood flower cart that belonged to my mom. 

Later in the day, the seven-year-old asked me to dust off my forty-plus-year-old sewing machine to see if it still worked. I was amazed at her patience, stick-to-it-ivness, and lack of frustration while making a blanket for her younger sister from left-over scraps. 

I felt the spirit of my mom shining down this weekend as her traditions were passed on, many hugs given, and I love yous whispered.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dad, U.S. Army, Horse Cavalry

As a retired teacher there is no greater joy than to be remembered by a former student. This morning I had the pleasure of being invited to an honors breakfast by a young man I had as a student in third grade. 

When in my classroom, he was not even as tall as my shoulder, but now he's so tall, I don't even reach his shoulder. This young man starts college in the fall and will study to become a high school math teacher.

He reminisced about learning basic math facts, cursive writing, and how to run a vacuum cleaner in my classroom. But his most vivid memory was of meeting my father.

Our third grade classes were always responsible for the Veterans' Day assembly in early November. Our music teacher dedicated the first two months of school to creating the musical and speaking program which would honor our Veterans. Attending this program was a highlight for my dad. He had remained fit enough that he could still wear parts of his uniform sixty years later. 

My student remembered being reluctant to speak to these towering men in uniform, but he bolstered his courage and shook my dad's hand. Today——nine years after that handshake——that's what we talked about. 

I'm so thankful for the young students I was privileged to teach, and I'm especially touched that my former student brought my father to mind for me today. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mom's Favorite Flower

Mom loved all of nature. Dad planted vegetables, and she helped, but her true love was flower gardening.

Each spring, she awaited the blooming of the Bleedingheart. It's an old-fashioned flower, perfectly shaped like a dark pink heart with a drop coming out the bottom. Now, I wish I could ask Mom why she loved them so. It seemed her connection to them was deeper than their beauty. Had her mother grown them? Had Mom's heart bled with the loss of her mother, as mine bleeds for her?

My mother's mother, was the most important influence in my life. She was a humble woman, widowed in her early 50s. She cleaned other people's houses as her source of meager income. Her cookie jar was always full of homemade sugar, molasses, or peanut butter cookies. (I have that cookie jar now, but it's empty most of the time, or filled with Oreos.) I remember having conversations, just the two of us, while eating special lunches she prepared of favorite foods like chicken salad and cucumbers, with mayonnaise cake waiting in the icebox for dessert. After lunch, we'd play our favorite card game, Flinch. She wore simple cotton house dresses with a corset, and clunky black lace-up shoes with stocky inch and a half heels. Grandma never complained. Near the end of her life, she spent about two years in a nursing home because of heart problems. When I visited, she always asked about me, never speaking about her own health issues. Brightness and excitement filled her when I brought my own little children, her great grandchildren, to visit. At her funeral I remember visitors saying, "We never heard your grandma say a bad word about anyone." That thought, about the core of her being, stayed with me. I'm fortunate to have strong, compassionate women who have impacted my life.

I guess the Bleedingheart, because of its name, makes us think of those we've loved and lost.

I love you, Mom. I love you Grandma. Thank you for being role models for me to emulate. I hope I can pass your loving spirit on to future generations.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WWII Love Letters

I love this picture of my mom and dad. It embodies such hope for the future. They had a good life, a good marriage, 67 years long. 

Near the end of life, even when they didn't know me, and Mom had lost her ability to speak, Dad would wrap his hand around hers and repeat their mantra, "We've been so lucky, we're so happy."

Even after Mom passed, when I visited Dad he'd repeat the same mantra, still using the plural pronoun "we."

During the cleanout of my parents' house I found their WWII love letters. After their deaths, my sister and I stood over the trash can ready to throw the letters away, thinking it would be an invasion of their privacy to read words they'd written intending for only each other. But we peeked and became enthralled. 

I knew the letters must become part of Alzheimer's Daughter. The letters bring Mom and Dad's voices to the book by showing their budding love and devotion which held them together through their decline six decades later.

One reviewer writes:

"Lee’s familiar Alzheimer’s memoir format is elevated to a classic love story by the revelation of Ed and Ibby Church’s extraordinary courtship and marriage. World War II lovebirds, the couple’s timeless love letters are shared at the beginning of each chapter, written during their separation while Ed served in the Army. This touching correspondence adds a romantic element to keep the couple’s devotion, for each other and their family, central to their inevitable fate."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mothers' Day Thoughts

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in an authors' expo at my local library. The weather was beautiful, so beautiful that people spent the day mowing lawns and planting gardens instead of coming to the library. Attendance at the expo was low, but that facilitated more in-depth conversation with readers. 

I met an 87-year-old WWII veteran who reminded me of my dad, in part because he wore a plaid, wool, snap-brim hat which looked like it could have come from Dad's closet. (After a google search, I now know these hats are called 'newsboys' or 'cabbie caps.')  He married his first wife after a wartime romance. He still kept their love letters. He was an accomplished businessman and taught Science at the High School level for over 30 years. He has written and published eight books——one of which I am reading now—— about losing two wives to Alzheimer's. I felt humbled when he thought Alzheimer's Daughter sounded interesting enough to purchase and read. 

Later in the day, a lady leaned over to sniff my orange-blush roses. She was surprised that these roses were not lush and fragrant, but silk. This bouquet graces my book table at every event I attend, not just because they are pretty, but there is a story behind them.  After my sister and I moved our parents out of their home and into assisted living, I brought Mom and Dad  back to my house for Easter dinner. Mom gave me these roses to decorate my table. At the end of the dinner, I wanted her to take the flowers to add a bright spot to their apartment, but she insisted I keep them. Now these roses remind me of Mom's generous nature. When everything else in her life was crumbling, even her own mind and memories, she wanted to bring me something beautiful. 

On the day before Mothers' Day, it seemed appropriate to be at a book expo sharing memories of both Mom and Dad through Alzheimer's Daughter. As readers stopped at my table, I asked if Alzheimer's had touched their lives. I concluded these conversations by saying that we tend to see the demented in nursing homes as wheelchair-bound or glassy-eyed. We forget these people lived rich lives before they started down the dark tunnel of losing their minds. I hope Alzheimer's Daughter honors the lives my parents lived and reveals the people they were——the deep love they shared with each other and my sister and me——in contrast to the reality of the agonizing decline from the disease.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

          Throughout the years, I never remember my parents' house without bird feeders in the yard. They loved the birds. Mom bought bird books so she could identify all of the birds in her yard. They bought special seed to attract less common birds. They not only had one bird feeder, but at least three that they filled on a daily basis.

           Here's an excerpt from Chapter One of Alzheimer's Daughter, an account of my parents' last day living independently in their own home.

            "Back at home Ibby waved to her neighbors as they drove to work. On Orchard Lane, their dead-end street, everyone knew everyone. She struggled straightening her stooped spine to pour cracked corn and sunflower seeds into her bird feeder and slowly hobbled to survey her bleak fall yard. She lingered, marveling at the glistening, frozen dew encapsulating late-fall rosebuds. Frost soaked Ibby’s cloth shoes. 

Shivers hastened her back into the warm house. She passed through the cluttered kitchen looking for a snack, peeking in the refrigerator packed with leftovers. Some were edible, others spoiled, but Ibby couldn’t tell the difference.
She looked forward to the lunch and dinner she and Ed would eat at the local restaurant as they had nearly every day for the past six months.

Before Ibby settled in on the couch to wait for Ed she heated a cup of tea in the microwave. The stovetop was piled too high with pots and pans, as well as canned and boxed food, to use the teapot. She idled time away watching cardinals, blue jays and yellow finches flitting on the feeder outside the picture window, whistling to mimic their chirps."

Filling her feeders and mimicking the chirps of her beloved birds were some of Mom last actions in her own home.

Whenever I see birds, especially cardinals, thoughts of Mom and Dad visit me.

Is this the meaning of heaven? Is this eternity——the idea that we are remembered in the minds of those who loved us? Is that how our spirit goes on?

I thank God that I have pleasant memories of my parents. They taught me that life was about more than living in the moment. They taught me about loving others, being kind, loving nature, and seeking the truths of life.