Joyce’s Story

Crazy familyI want to tell you a story – about Joyce.

Joyce was born in 1931 in Camden, MN. She sewed, sang in the choir and was inseparable from her best friend, Jean. Joyce wanted nothing more than a happy family life raising a bunch of kids.

She got the bunch of kids (two girls and two boys), and worked hard to make it a happy family life raising them on her own. And it was a good life even though it was back in the day when divorced women didn’t raise kids alone. But with the help of her mother, she did just that – raised 4 kids to be solid, productive, faith-filled adults while putting herself through 6 years of college. She was the first social worker on the Bone Marrow Unit at the University Minnesota Hospitals. And she was a very good social worker.

But approximately 2003, dementia began an insidious infiltration into her life. Over the next eight years, it robbed her of her short term memory, then her long term memory. It confused her words and jumbled her thoughts. It took away her ability to swallow, to make decisions, to have the conversations she loved to have. What it didn’t take away was her spirit, her strength and her sense of humor.

Joyce was my mother. And she had Alzheimer’s Disease.

On June 4, 2011, surrounded by her four children, one of her two cherished daughters-in-law, and two of her beloved grandchildren, Joyce lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. We will miss her spirit, her laughter and how she modeled her faith. But she taught us well, so we will continue the good fight for her.

Is someone in your family or circle of friends dealing with Alzheimer’s? You are not alone. The statistics are staggering, and a bit frightening for those of us who fear the genetic connection.

* Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 5 million people are living with the disease right now.
* Today in America, someone develops Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds. By 2050, it will be every 33 seconds.
* In 2013, Alzheimer’s will cost our country $203 billion. By 2050, it will be approximately $1.2 trillion.

I once heard someone say that if you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s. Having lost both my mother and my darling mother-in-law to the disease, I know that’s true. They had completely different journeys. While both were just as heart-breaking, frustrating, and frightening. their paths looked vastly different.

I know many people who have been or are now the hands-on caregivers for their loved one. It’s an exhausting, expensive, painful, and thankless job. Imagine a toddler in an 80 year old body. Others, like us, weren’t able to care for their family member at home for a wide variety of reasons. Every one of them has given it their best, even to the point of jeopardizing their own health.

There are countless services available to help both the person diagnosed with the disease as well as their family and friends. Professional caregivers, support groups, testing, medications, adult programming, respite services, etc. In the coming weeks I’ll highlight those services here in Minnesota. For today, I offer this.

elderly handsWhen I am Old

When I am old and not my original self,
Please be understanding and be patient with me.

When I spill the soup on my own clothes,
And forget how to tie my shoelaces,
Please think about how I had taught you, step by step, to tie your shoelaces.

When you are tired of the words, which I am repeating,
Please listen patiently and don’t interrupt me.
When you were young, I had to repeat the same story again and again until you fell asleep.

When I need you to shower me,
Please don’t blame me.
Do you remember how I had to coax you to take your shower?

When I am helpless with new technology and things,
Please don’t make fun of me.
Think about how I patiently answered every ‘Why’ you had.

When both my legs are too tired to walk,
Please stretch out your strong hand to support me.
Just as I stretched out my hand to you, when you were learning to walk.

When the topic of our conversation slip my mind,
Please give me a little time to recall.
Actually, whatever the topic of our conversation is of no importance.
I will be contented, as long as you are listening to me by my side.

When my time has come, please don’t be sad.
Understand me, support me,
Just as how I treated you, when you were starting to learn about living.

I have guided you on your life journey back then,
Now please stay with me until my journey ends.
Shower me with your love and patience. I will smile with gratitude;
The smile of unconditional love for you.

Check out the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care and support, and the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer research.
alz logo

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