Thursday, November 26, 2015

#Gratitude in a Time of Loss

This has been a year of loss for my family. A year of agonizing choices and heartbreak we simply weren't prepared to handle. At least not so soon. Although it was a painful decision, we chose to move my father to a nursing home in May 2015. We've been losing him for years thanks to a slowly advancing case of Alzheimer's, but keeping him at home any longer was too dangerous for my mother.

And then, completely unexpectedly, my mother died in September 2015. We're still in a a state of disbelief that she's gone, and here we are, at Thanksgiving. While I've come face-to-face with many of the firsts I'll have without her, this is the first holiday. It's been a hard one.

Grief is the price we pay for loving someone, and even knowing that, I'll choose to love. We are only one of too many families who are hurting right now, and who will struggle through this holiday season. My heart breaks for them, too. But there is no going back, so I'm moving forward and remembering the many things I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving.

My husband has been a rock solid support as we've moved through the changes in my dad's Alzheimer's and my mother's death. He handles my grief with grace and patience, bolsters me when I don't think I can bear to go to the nursing home, and makes my dad laugh. He's a beautiful human, and I'm grateful to have him.

One of my mother's greatest fears was that she would live long enough to experience severe dementia, as her mother and husband have. As much as I hate losing her, I am so thankful that she died lightning fast, and that her fear of a lingering death will never be realized.
I am grateful to be a Christian, and know that my mom is at home with her Heavenly Father. She's having a great time in heaven, setting up bridge games and singing in the angelic choir. (If cards were banned in heaven before September 12, 2015, you can bet they're allowed now. She's persuasive that way, and we're talking bridge, folks.)

From what I've seen, Alzheimer's manifests itself differently for each person. In my dad's case, he's lost his knowledge of who he is, where he is, who we are, and how to do so many simple things. But his fundamental personality, the 'who' of him, is the same. He's funny and sweet and forgiving. I'm so grateful that even though he can't speak clearly any longer, his smile and his laugh make him my dad again.

One of the best things that's come from my mom's death is that my brothers and I are closer than we've been in many, many years. Like most families, we've moved in and out of each others orbits as our lives have changed. We're working through the business of mom's death and dad's stay in the nursing home together, which greatly lightens the load.

I'm also grateful that at last, my writing mojo is coming back. It's been a slow process, but the words are there again, and this next Cass Elliot book? Hold on to your hats - there are some great twists coming.

Last, but definitely not least, I'm grateful to the many readers who have picked up a Cass Elliot novel and loved it, then demanded more.

To each of you, have a wonderful holiday season and when the turkey and family togetherness are just too much, go escape into a book!

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

#Alzheimers : The New A-Bomb

My dad has the A-word. Alzheimer's.

There. I've said it. It's out in the wide world. Do I feel better? Hell no.

Mom, Dad, and one Little Bro
It's an agonizing topic and one so many of us still find hard to talk about. Because dementia and hardening of the arteries and Alzheimer's and the dirty old man down the street with his fly open and the crazy old woman next door who screams nonsense at your kids are part of that ocean of topics so uncomfortable that they're best avoided, not just at dinner parties, but at all times.

I have one friend who giggles on the rare occasions she asks about my dad. Not because she's insensitive, but because she has no idea what to expect when I answer. And from there, what to ask next.

We're at that spot with Alzheimer's where we were with the C-word decades ago. Nobody talked about cancer back then. Now? You can't turn on the TV or go online without an ad flashing up promoting cancer awareness, a fundraiser, and treatment options.


What a beautiful word. To think that so many people who were doomed to death the minute they heard the C-word now have treatment options, and in many cases, a very good chance of not just survival, but regaining a normal life - wow.

Today, right now, late 2015, Alzheimer's cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed down. Hear that? In America, over 5 million people have the disease and the numbers are increasing (according to the Alzheimer's Association). World wide? The World Health Organization says 47.5 million people have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the leading cause. An additional 7.7 million cases arise each year. Each year. What do these numbers mean? If you don't know someone who has Alzheimer's, the odds are extremely high that you soon will.


Who's at risk? Everybody with a brain. Yes, that means you and me.

Chew on that for a while.

Let's face it: most of the folks diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's as of today are beyond hope. My dad included. The science isn't there to help them. But science might grow to the point that those of us who look at the future with trepidation given what we know from personal experience, might have a chance.

Little will happen unless we talk about the A-word - that horrible condition when people who were previously rational and well-spoken can no longer find at least one word they want in every sentence. They can no longer find their way from the kitchen table to their comfy old recliner in the living room. They don't even remember they have a chair. Or a living room. Or even who they are.

Part of the problem is that we don't have a language around Alzheimer's. We know what to ask when someone receives a cancer diagnosis. We might not understand all the ins and outs, but we get the concept of biopsies, of chemo, of radiation, of surgeries to remove tumors, of reconstruction. We understand when the people we love are worn out or ill after a treatment and know that with time, hopefully the side effects will lessen.

Some people have the courage to ask how my dad is doing, and I'm so appreciative. But I have few words to describe how a man who still looks like he has a clue, has only a partial clue on one day, a pretty good clue on another, and absolutely no clue or ability to respond on another. How his eyes give away his state at any moment. That absolute blank look of no recognition. How they light up when he recognizes one of us, even if he doesn't know how we fit in his world. How some days he can pick up a glass of water and drink it, and others he doesn't know what water or a glass is.

I need to find those words. Not just for me, but for him and everyone else who struggles with a loved one who has Alzheimer's. So please keep asking.

Bobbie Sue Cammack Woods

Why this bleak post from a banker turned crime author who usually sees the bizarrely funny in everything? Why now?

Because my dad's Alzheimer's killed my mother on September 12, 2015.

She was a relatively healthy seventy-five year old woman who should've lived to be in her nineties. Her death certificate cites some blah blah about cardiovascular issues, but my dad's Alzheimer's took her out.

She died from the grief of watching the man she was married to for fifty-five years disappear by inches, losing himself, her, and every bit of the world they'd built together. She died from the guilt of moving him to a nursing home when she could no longer make him understand "stand up", or "get in the shower" or "eat your breakfast". When he could no longer tell us where it hurt and when he forgot how to put his socks on, or even what socks are. She died from the hope and exhaustion of trying to heal him, when now, today, there is no hope.

What do I want by publishing this post? I want this f*cking disease to die. To stop dead in its tracks. But I can't have that. Not yet. So for right now, I'll take courage and compassion. For those with the disease and those who care for them. Because Alzheimer's kills them both.

I want the conversation around Alzheimer's to change, to get to the point where we are with the C-word. For people to have the courage to ask: what stage of Alzheimer's is he in, and what does that mean? Is she still eating solid food or has she moved on to blended meals and thickened liquids? Can he still walk? How's her speech? Did he know you today? Is she still continent and if not, have you found the right kind of diapers to help her stay as dry as possible?

I want people to listen to the answers. And then ask what they can do to help. Offer something as simple as sitting with an Alzheimer's patient so their caregiver can take a break. Offer to run an errand. Stop by the nursing home to visit a friend or relative with Alzheimer's. Take the time to talk to them and listen to the answers, garbled and nonsensical though those answers may be. Show them compassion and humor and respect for who you remember them to be (even if they don't remember who they are).

Stop being afraid of the dirty old man down the street with his fly open and the crazy old woman next door who screams nonsense at your kids. Look at them through compassionate eyes and wonder if, rather than simply being nuts, they have a need. And then have the courage to ask how you can help.

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