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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Little Girl Christmas Picture

Yesterday I was designing a graphic to use on Twitter. I thought it would be nice to create a seasonal graphic, so I added a red background and a Christmas tree, then thought it would be fun to use a vintage picture from a Christmas when I was little. I love seeing vintage photos others post. The images always stop me in my tracks and make half a century dissolve.

I started skimming through old family pictures I’d scanned when moving Mom and Dad out of their home, with one in mind of my sister and me peeking around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, but I knew I’d used that in a blog post last Christmas. During the search I stumbled upon a picture I’d completely forgotten. I’m standing alone by the Christmas tree, my short hair wavy with a spit-curl right in the middle of my forehead. I estimated it must have been taken when I was about four. Then I thought, I should ask my sister how old I am in this picture. It takes my sister to nail down my age when we look back because she's seven years older and remembers more about my early childhood than I.

Often when we’ve poured over pictures, she’s said, “You were three years old in that picture because you were wearing a babushka to cover your scars.” or “You must have been between three and four because your hair is still growing back after your meningitis.”

When I was two and a half years old I became ill with spinal meningitis. I was one of three children in an isolation unit at Akron Children’s Hospital. Two tragically died. But, in a last-ditch procedure, doctors drilled three holes in my skull to relieve pressure. My dad fainted when nurses shaved my head to prepare for the surgery. Mom knelt at the bathroom sink and begged for the life of her baby. Doctors warned if I survived, I’d probably never be normal.

We lived in a very small town, 700 population. At that time, people owned one car, worked and shopped in that small town. They didn’t leave town much. I had an uncommon bloodtype and had lost a lot of blood during the procedure. People in my community who also had B- blood drove to Akron to donate in hopes of saving this little sick child. My name was whispered in prayers for healing in all three of the town’s churches.

This brush with near death impacted my family deeply and the story was repeated to me often. It was told with the expectation that I should be thankful and never complain, remaining aware that every day I could stand and breathe on my own was a gift, one I might not have had without the prayers and caring of my community as well as doctors willing to take a risk.

During my career as an elementary teacher, occasionally we’d encounter critical illness with a student. I’d tell my 3rd graders my story. I’d tell them how doctors had said I’d probably never be normal, but reassured them I was as normal as anyone else. Then I’d let them feel the dents that remain, now filled in with bone. I’d say, “Our friend can recover, let’s keep positive thoughts so we can welcome them when they return.”

To my sister, thank you for being my fierce protector when we were children and even as we pass through mid-life together. I hope the grateful attitude of our parents continues to live through generations.

Thank you, friends, for reading. Bountiful blessings to you and yours as you share your love and your stories with those close to you this holiday season.

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