Meet Susan Cushman, author of “Tangles and Plaques”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Susan Cushman

“The upside of Alzheimer’s; new mother.” (Smith’s Six-Word Memoirs)

My mother, Effie Johnson, was second generation Alzheimer’s. Her mother, Emma Sue (for whom I was named) died from Alzheimer’s when she was 87 years old in 1986, in the same nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi where my mother would spend the final eight years of her life. I remember watching my mother care for “Mamaw” and wondering what our future might bring. Twenty years later, in 2006, I moved Mother into assisted living. My father had died of cancer in 1998, leaving Mother alone. After eight years of watching her gradual decline and taking on more of her day-to-day responsibilities, especially her finances, I offered first to move her in with us—which she declined—and second to move her to Memphis to an assisted living home. She begged me to let her stay in Jackson, which I did. This meant I would spend the next ten years making the 400-mile round trip to participate in her caregiving, although she did have help, first in assisted living, and finally in a nursing home. I never regretted leaving her in Jackson, where friends from her church would visit her, as well as friends of mine whose parents were in the same nursing home. In Memphis, she wouldn’t have known anyone but my husband and me.

Up to this point Mother’s story doesn’t sound very different than any story of a daughter dealing with an aging parent. But what’s different here is that the tangles and plaques that destroyed Mother’s brain weren’t only in her brain, but also in our relationship. Mother had been verbally and emotionally abusive to me for most of my life. Her abuse was the catalyst for many of my mental health issues, especially eating disorders, depression, and addiction. Thankfully I am healing from most of those disorders today, at age 67. And the silver lining behind Mother’s Alzheimer’s is that at some point the disease took away the part of her memory that was abusive. She forgot how to judge and criticize, and became very loving in the final stages of the disease. I had these words published in Smith’s Six Word Memoirs during that time: “The upside of Alzheimer’s; new mother.”

During the years that I was making those trips to Jackson to visit Mother—first weekly, then every other week, and in the final years, monthly—I was also starting a late-life career as a writer. I was publishing essays in various journals and anthologies, and working on a novel. In 2007 I started a blog. For a number of years the blog followed themes: “Mental Health Monday,” “Writing on Wednesday,” and “Faith on Friday.” I wrote about everything from sexual abuse and eating disorders to spirituality, art, and writing. And yes, about my mother’s Alzheimer’s and our relationship. In fact, I published 60 posts about mother between 2008 and 2016, the year she died. I received a lot of positive feedback on the blog, and one reader suggested that I publish the posts about my mother as a book.

Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s is ultimately a love letter to my mother. It’s about forgiveness—which I was able to give before she forgot who I was, thankfully. Of course it contains sad stories about difficult struggles, but it’s also full of humor and grace. Mother died in May of 2016. No more tangles and plaques. For her.

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Susan Cushman is not only an accomplished writer, but she tackles a brutal topic with candor and honesty. Madness awaits us all. I pray I can confront it with equal faith and vulnerability. —Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

Cushman has written a new kind of love story, one that speaks to the very real concerns of a generation. In this true story of a daughter’s love for her aging mother within the daily trials of caregiving, we read ourselves, our families, and the ways that our losses shape who we become and how we choose to remember. —Jessica Handler, author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss

About the Author

In addition to Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, Susan Cushman is author of a novel, Cherry Bomb(2017), and editor of two anthologies—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be(2017) and Southern Writers on Writing(2018). Her essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She is a regular workshop leader and conference speaker. Susan has three grown children, four granddaughters, and fifteen Godchildren in the Orthodox Church of which she is a member. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she has lived in Memphis since 1988.

Susan’s website: http://susancushman.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sjcushman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sjcushman/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SusanCushman.

Susan’s blog: http://susancushman.com/author/susan/

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Meet Robin Gail, author of “Dementia or Alzheimer’s?”

Reprinted with permission of AlzAuthors.com

By Robin Gail

When my husband and I began the long journey taking care of my mother, we had no idea what to expect. We had no experience, knowledge, or help from anyone.  When we first suspected Mom was ill, I began research how to help her travel through the relentless disease of Alzheimer’s.  I found quite a number of books, but they were most often written from a medical point of view.

After my beloved mother died in ’09, I felt a strong urge and need to help others going through what we had gone through with caregiving.  I wanted to write a book from a personal point of view, a book full of tips and ideas from someone who had actually traveled this road with their ill loved one.  I felt very motivated to try to ease the burden that I know from firsthand experience others feel when being a caregiver.

I wanted to write the book shortly after Mom’s death, but it was too difficult to relive everything so soon after experiencing our caregiving journey.  So, as I recalled things we did, I would jot them down on Post-it notes and put the notes away for a later time when I knew I would be ready to write.

In my book, Dementia or Alzheimer’s? I outline many methods and techniques we used to attempt to give Mom’s life (and ours) some semblance of normalcy.  Much of it was trial and error, but for the most part, things were much easier for Mom, as well as us.

I have received many thanks for writing this type of book.  People have told me numerous times there really is not a good book from a hands-on caregiver that is so personal and chock-full of helpful information and resources.  The feedback from others is phenomenal.  The reviews on Amazon are excellent.  My book ranks quite high on Amazon, reaching an Amazon Best Seller status in the first week of publication.

There are so many desperate caregivers today with nowhere to turn, many with no one to provide assistance and respite for them.  My heart is heavy every time I hear of someone going through this dreadful disease with their loved one.  It is my hope and prayer that my book will help to make the journey a bit more tolerable, a bit less stressful and maybe less lonely.

About the Author

Robin Gail grew up in Texas and continues to live there with her husband and beautiful Cocker Spaniel. Robin is certified by the Supreme Court of Texas as a Certified Shorthand Reporter, aka, court reporter, and has owned her own court reporting business for thirty years.

With over thirty years’ experience working in the legal profession, she is now focused on writing and learning to blog.  Robin perseveres to accomplish her goals and realizes the importance of honesty and integrity in reaching those goals.

She is delighted to have her first book, Dementia or Alzheimer’s? published.  Robin has always been extremely dedicated to the task at hand and works hard to help others in need.

In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, playing the piano, cooking, photography, reading both fiction and non-fiction, and writing.

www.justperfectlyimperfect.com

www.robin-gail.com

robin@robin-gail.com

Facebook – Robin Clark Samrow

Twitter.com/RobinGailSamrow

Pinterest.com/robingailsamrow

Linkedin.com/in/robingailsamrow

Meet Liza Nelson, blogger of “Alice in Memoryland”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Liza Nelson

Before my husband was diagnosed, I had never heard of MCI. Before my husband was diagnosed, we teased each other about our failing memories. Yes, he was weirdly forgetful, but I was worse at names–speaking of which, on my blog www.aliceinmemoryland.comI have changed our names to Alice and Ralph at the request of my husband, a private man. He is a man with a sense of humor, a fondness for“The Honeymooners,” and a not infrequent desire to send me to the moon.

In the two years before my husband was diagnosed, as his memory and mood deteriorated, our joking with each other dried up. I was increasingly scared and embarrassed for my husband, more often angry with him. Our long marriage had been passionate, but often out of kilter as our two strong personalities engaged and clashed and re-engaged. Then, in our late fifties/early sixties, we seemed to have found a happy equilibrium and began enjoying our marriage in earnest. Now here was Ralph ruining everything with what I saw as his inattention and disinterest in me and our lives.

Then came the diagnosis: MCI verging on Early Alzheimer’s. It has frankly been a relief to have a name for the still subtle but profound transformation in Ralph’s mental process affecting his behavior and our relationship. For the last five years, since a spinal tap showed the plaque build-up that predicts Alzheimer’s, the changes have been incremental but profound as we wait for his condition to slide into full blown Alzheimer’s, a disease that will strike more and more couples in the next decades.

Every case of memory loss or dementia, or any irreversible illness for that matter, is different. I cannot speak for anyone else going through the early stages of memory loss with a spouse. But having read other blogs and several books, I wanted to do something slightly different in sharing our experience. Starting from the beginning of Ralph and my journey down the memory rabbit hole, I have tried to use both key moments and the smallest details of our life to explore my own reactions, as a caregiver and also as a woman and a wife. After all, marriage is a relationship based on choice and commitment, not to mention the emotions and intimacy of love that poets and philosophers still struggle to understand.

Although I have published in the past as a novelist, poet and journalist, writing the truth about my past and present life with Ralph has been an enormous challenge. While I write about the moments of joy—and those moments do still happen—I also write frankly about my darker moments and feeling. I am frequently afraid that I am going to disgust readers in exposing my selfishness, my lack of patience, my resentments, and sometimes my fury. Instead, whenever I think I may have gone too far, readers respond with enormous support. They seem to appreciate putting a truth they recognize into words, however unpretty it may be.

It’s an incredibly lonely business caring for someone on the Alzheimer’s spectrum. I am so glad I have found a community in which I can speak my truth and be heard, that in helping others I have found help in return.

About the Author

Liza Nelson, who writes her blog https://aliceinmemoryland.com under the name Alice Cramdon, is the author of the novel Playing Botticelli and co-author of the James Beard nominated The Book of Feasts. She has worked as a journalist, dramaturge, real estate manager, wife and mother. She lives on a farm outside Newnan, Georgia.

Connect with Liza:

Facebook

Author web page

Twitter:

@LizaNelson1

@AliceMemoryLand 

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Meet Malia Kline, Co-Author With Her Sister Diane Stinson, M.D. of “Sisterly Shove”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Malia Kline

When our mama was diagnosed with infiltrating pancreatic cancer and given three-to-six months to live, she was the sole caregiver for our 87-year-old father “Papa,” who was in the early stages of dementia. Over the next 13 years, my sister Diane, a pathologist, and I shared care of them from opposite coasts and opposing viewpoints, often engaging in hand-to-heart combat over what constitutes quality of life. Sisterly love turned to https://sisterlyshove.comin the new book we co-authored.

After hearing the news that Mama had pancreatic cancer, Diane proclaimed her “a goner.” But after she became dissatisfied with both the home care I arranged and the health care system in our hometown in North Carolina, Diane took Mama against doctor’s orders to live in her home in a California beach town. She quickly discovered that the wild card of having someone like Papa with dementia in the mix made cancer care and practicing medicine impossible for her.

Papa ping-ponged back to me in North Carolina and lived in a memory care facility I loved for five years.But after he broke both hips, Diane eldernapped him from the facility,quit practicing medicine, and doctored him by herself 24/7 for more than seven years at her home in California.

The story my sister and I tell in “Sisterly Shove” reflects a new kind of sibling rivalry among baby boomers: Which sister, or sometimes brother, is best willing and financially able to care for and make life-or-death decisions for elderly parents, especially in light of their own obligations to young children? Is it possible to share care among siblings, especially in a strong-willed and highly opinionated family like ours with a both a sister and brother who are doctors calling the shots long distance?

The Alzheimer’s Association says that 1 in 3 seniors now dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In the case of Papa and his siblings, dementia snatched the memories and daily lives of 4 out of 5 of them. Since we are part of an extended family predisposed to living long lives, most of our cousins have also experienced Sisterly Shove. Since the book came out, we’ve learned that three once-close female cousins who all work in health care and battled over care of their mom have now been estranged for years.

We’ve also found that many of our readers have experienced similarly heart-wrenching family caregiving battles and can totally relate. Family relationships have clearly become an unintended casualty of the Alzheimer’s and dementia epidemic. We are working to share our story, not only in our book, but also in person at conferences and within caregiver support groups in order to help siblings work together in a spirit of compromise.

My co-author Diane went to medical school in the days when health care was a fee-for- service world. She believes that if we don’t support research and change our approaches to eldercare under the new value-based medicine model, we will pit one generation against the next and compromise our ability to be competitive in a global economy. That’s one perspective and hope for our society that the two of us certainly will not fight about.

About the Author

Malia Kline, the younger sister in “Sisterly Shove” is a copywriter who studied journalism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was formerly a writer/producer at a CBS-affiliate TV station. She was also the scriptwriter on videos in the Duke Family Series. One of them, It’s Potty Time, was named “KidVid of the Year” by Roger Ebert and became available in nearly 700 libraries worldwide. Malia now owns her own copywriting business and shares her word-obsessed perspectives in MaliaMania, a comedic grammar blog. She lives in Charlotte, N.C. with her husband Steve and has one daughter who has followed in her sister’s footsteps as an M.D., recently starting her pediatric residency.

Follow Malia Kline

https://sisterlyshove.com

https://www.facebook.com/MaliaKlineAuthor/

http://maliamania.blogspot.com/

https://twitter.com/Malia_Kline

www.instagram.com/maliakline/

Buy the Book Links:

Amazon 

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/sisterly-shove

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Malia_Kline_Sisterly_Shove?id=uU9aDwAAQBAJ

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Meet blogger and author, Heidi Hess Saxton

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Heidi Hess Saxton

When the Unthinkable Becomes Inevitable: The Awful Dawn of Dementia

Up to this point in my life, most of my blogging has been for parents of adopted, foster, or special needs children. Back in 2002, when my husband and I first became foster parents (and later adoptive parents), we really had no idea what we were in for. Which was probably a good thing, because I’m not sure we would have had the courage to move forward with it, had we known.

Now, as I’m entering the sixth month of caring for my mother, a dementia patient, I’m realizing that this is a lot like that. Lots of dirty laundry and temper tantrums, interspersed with moments of sweetness and delight. The tumultuous relationship we had during my teen years is gone. These past six months have been the sweetest, yet in many ways also the hardest – for both of us. But even the hard times are not without their rewards. For instance, when my daughter is being her snarky teenage self, she will do for her “Mammy” what she would never do in a million years for “Mean Old Mom.”

Best of all, I don’t have to make those bi-monthly trips to Georgia to visit her in that godforsaken place (Grace House, my Aunt Fanny), where the residents sat slumped in the half-light like so much castaway furniture. She spent most of her time on her bed, exhausted from writing notebooks full of gibberish, trying to work out why she had been deprived of her freedom, her marriage, and most of her life. My sisters and I would take her out as often as we could from our respective homes in Indiana, Washington State, and New Hampshire (plus the youngest who lived nearby but was trying to balance the demands of caring for her family, a full-time job, and both my parents), but it grew harder and harder to bring her back to the facility. More than once I begged God to take her in her sleep. I was sure I knew where she was going, and it was an infinitely better place than this.

Finally, one day when I realized that there really wasn’t any reason for her to stay where she was, I broached the subject with my father, who readily agreed that Mom would be happier with me. Just before Thanksgiving, we decided – so she could go back by the end of Christmas if it didn’t work out.

But in my heart, I knew there was no going back. “How’d you like to come home with me, Mom?” Her dull expression brightened for just a moment. “They won’t let you take me,” she said. “The judge won’t let me go.”

Somewhere in her clouded mind sat a cantankerous old geezer who called the shots. “It’s okay, Mom. Dad said I could take you – and the Judge has no jurisdiction in Indiana.” And so, her friends all gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on that last day before we left. “I’m so happy for your mom,” each of them said to me. “She’s going to be so much better off with you.” They gave her warm track suits to insulate her from the Indiana winters, and posted pictures and letters regularly both in the mail and on the private Facebook page where I keep everyone informed of her comings and goings.

Then we got on a plane and … she was free. It wasn’t like her old life, with the man she’d loved for more than fifty years. Instead of a spacious, well-kept home she had a room in the basement with a little half-bath near my office, and she struggled to climb a flight of stairs a couple of times each day.

But how she smiled. In photograph after photograph, her eyes alight as she once more made cookies, beat us at Scrabble, sang at birthday parties, and sported a pretty Easter dress. She had been given a second chance at life. And I was going to make the most of it, for as long as I could.

There’s still so much to learn, so much I’m still figuring out. But I decided I want to keep track of the steps along the journey, in case there was someone else out there who, like me, just needed someone who could say, convincingly, “Me, Too.” So, if that’s you, welcome. Pour yourself a cup of… well, whatever strikes your fancy. I won’t judge. And let’s take the time to encourage each other, in good days and bad. Because when the unthinkable becomes the inevitable, the steadying hand of friendship can make all the difference in the world.

About the Author

Heidi Hess Saxton and her mom, Sandy, live with Heidi’s husband Craig, their teenage children, and two energetic dogs in northern Indiana. In her spare time, Heidi is a writer and editor, and blogs as often as she can at “Life on the Road Less Traveled” (for adult caregivers), “Extraordinary Moms Network” (for parents of adopted and special needs children), and “Ask the Catholic Editor” (for non-fiction writers). Her latest book is Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta(Franciscan Media).

Facebook: Heidi Hess Saxton (https://www.facebook.com/heidi.hess.saxton)

Twitter: hsaxton (https://twitter.com/hsaxton?lang=en)

Instagram: heidihesssaxton1999 (https://www.instagram.com/heidihesssaxton1999/)

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Meet Catherine Hodder, Esq., author of “Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation: How to Help Your Parents and Protect Your Kids”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Catherine Hodder, Esq.

I was a corporate and banking attorney when my father began experiencing mini-strokes and having difficulty with his memory. We didn’t know at the time he was embarking on a ten-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. And what a battle it was.

Even though I was well versed in law and finance, it wasn’t until I faced my father’s illness that I understood the importance of having proper estate planning documents. The more I learned, the more I realized there is a great deal of information most people (even attorneys) don’t know.

Before my father’s decline, he would mention from time to time about how to handle his affairs when he died. He also made it clear on many occasions that he did not want any artificial means to keep him alive. Knowing full well my mother would not be happy with his decision, I asked him to meet with a lawyer and put his wishes in writing.

As a result, he consulted with a seasoned estate planning attorney who drafted a last will and testament, revocable trust, health care power of attorney, financial power of attorney, and living will.

It is hard enough to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. It would have been impossible if we didn’t already have these documents in place. Because of my father’s planning, the financial, healthcare, and probate matters were handled seamlessly. It allowed us to focus on our father’s care.

Seeing first-hand how proper estate planning helped our family, I wanted to help others in a similar situation. After my father’s death, I changed my focus from finance to estate planning. I wanted to use what I learned from the front lines to benefit others.

I went into private law practice in Florida with a partner, whose father, incidentally, had terminal cancer. We lived the issues that many caregivers face. It was our mission to help caregivers understand how estate planning could help them. We especially reached out to those families in the “Sandwich Generation” who had young children they wanted to protect and who had real concerns about their aging parents.

Due to my husband’s career, we moved to California. I thought about starting another practice, but soon realized what I really wanted to do was educate others about estate planning.

I wrote Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation: How to Help Your Parents and Protect Your Kids to be a resource for caregivers. There are ten steps for creating your own estate plan and five talks you should have with your parents. It is my mission to guide others through challenges of aging parents and caregiving.

Robert H. Schuller said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” It is my hope that this book with help people during those tough times.

About the Author

Catherine Hodder, Esq. is an estate planning attorney turned author. She enjoys working with families who would rather be doing anything other than estate planning. Her Florida law practice, featured in the Palm Beach Post, made “house calls” to help families with their estate planning needs. She now resides in California, writing helpful articles for members of the “Sandwich Generation.” She is also co-author of Law Office on a Laptop: How to Set Up Your Own Successful Mobile Law Practice, an #1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in law office education.

Connect with Catherine

Amazon

www.HodderInk.com

Facebook:sandgenlife

Twitter: sandgenlife

Instagram:sandgenlife

Pinterest: sandgenlife

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Meet Lisa Wingate, author of “Tending Roses”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

The Gap

By Lisa Wingate

In every story I write, there are bits of real life, nibblets of sheer invention and  sprinkles of serendipity. Readers often ask me which parts are which. Sometimes, it’s hard to dissect. Our way of looking at the world comes from our experiences in it. Our passions, the things we care about enough to examine, do as well. Continue reading

Welcome back, Wendy Mitchell, author of “Somebody I Used To Know”

By Wendy Mitchell

My name is Wendy Mitchell and I was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia on the 31st July 2014. Who would have thought, on that day of diagnosis, over 3 years ago, that I would now be publishing a book, Somebody I Used to Know? But, on the other hand, why not?

When people hear the word dementia, they often think of the end stages. Well, it has to have a beginning and a middle and Continue reading

Meet author and blogger, Wendy Mitchell

By Wendy Mitchell

Wendy Mitchell at her home in York. 2015

Imagine yourself being given a diagnosis of Young Onset Dementia. Your life falls apart, you feel worthless, and of no use to anyone any more. Services are nonexistent, so you feel abandoned

That’s what happened to me in July 2014, when I was diagnosed with young onset dementia at the age of 58, and still working full-time in the NHS. I retired at the age of 59, due to ill health, thinking there was no alternative. Then I sat waiting for services to kick in, but, of course, nothing happened. There were no services.

I could have given up and gone into a deep state of depression, but I knew there must be more. We all had talents before a diagnosis of dementia; we don’t suddenly lose all those talents overnight when we get a diagnosis.

Opportunities started to come my way, first with research. That was once I’d gotten over the barrier of health care professionals thinking it was their right to deny me the option. Taking part in research gives me hope and I need hope. I could be helping create a better future for my daughters, so taking part in research was a no-brainer for me. Many people, when they hear the word ‘research’ have an image of men in white coats handing out dodgy drugs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Social and technological research is equally important while we await that elusive cure. I’ve taken part in drugs trials, but also social research to find the best ways to live with dementia and care for those no longer able to care for themselves. I’ve tested apps, I’ve commented on web sites. Yes, me a person with dementia. After all, how do the so-called ‘experts’ know they’re getting it right if they don’t ask the real experts – those of us living with dementia now?

My blog, whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com is for me, simply “my memory.” I couldn’t tell you what I did yesterday unless I read my blog. That other people all over the world choose to read it is humbling, plus it’s enabled me to raise awareness. All I’m doing in my own little way is to show others what can be achieved and not to give up. I also hope it will help others look at dementia differently.

Oh, and I’ve just finished writing my book, Somebody I Used to Know, which is due out in the UK in the New Year and America in May, along with a little “firewalking” in October for my local Hospice.

So, as you can see, I’m a great believer in concentrating on what I still CAN do and not dwelling on the issues that dementia throws at me.

About the Author

I was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia on the 31st July 2014 at the age of 58 years young. I might not have much of a short-term memory, but that’s one date I’ll never forget.

I have two daughters and live happily in Yorkshire.

Website/Blog: www.whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com

Twitter:  @WendyPMitchell

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Meet Peter Maeck, author of “Remembrance of Things Present”

0By Peter Maeck

The experience of writing a poem, play, or story, or creating a photograph, is like riding a train through wonderful, unexpected scenery. When I wake up in the morning I hurry to get to work because I never want to miss that train. My train derailed the morning of my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Dad hadn’t chosen a trip into dementia but here he was on track to forget his friends, his family, and even his own name. Dad told me to Continue reading