The fall after my graduation Molly and I were married – on October 14, 1960. She had one more year to receive her BSN degree. It was natural that we would spend our first weekend together in Iowa City. The day after we got married we went to the Iowa/Wisconsin football game. It was an exciting game and Iowa won. We had a lot of fun partying after the game telling friends we had gotten married. I don’t think we paid for many beers that night!
We returned to our hotel very late, and received an unexpected surprise. I had a telegram from my military unit ordering me to return to the base immediately. Molly’s initial reaction to the telegram was, “you’re on leave, they can’t do this!“ I had my A-bag with me so I knew it was possible. The next day she drove me to the airport in Iowa City, which was still in service back then. The airline bumped a passenger to get me, and my duffel on board, and I flew to Memphis and caught a navy flight to fort Campbell.
It was a tough way to start a marriage, and it only lasted 55 years.
About This Post
This past weekend I attended the home opening SEC football game in Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia. My grandson had been asking me to do this since his freshman year. Now, he is a senior, and our granddaughter is a sophomore, so it was the perfect time. It was exciting to be there in that crowd for pre-game rituals as the team entered the stadium of 90,000 plus fans.
For me, it wasn’t just about the game. We toured the campus. I was able to see where they lived, and attended classes. I met some of their friends, and walked through Athens. We bought Bull Dog shirts for the game. We had a beer, played pool, and tail gaited. All part of those college football weekends. A big plus, Georgia won the game in style.
During the return flight to Los Angeles, I began to remember my college days. My senior year at the University of Iowa was quite special. I was beginning to date Molly. She loved football and the Hawkeyes. I knew several members of the team because I lived in the athletic dorm my freshman year. They would hang out with our group the night after games.
This is what The Memory Kit is all about.
We're building The Memory Kit to let people impacted by Alzheimer's and dementia connect and support one another by telling the story of their loved one's lifetime. One of the things we have been working on is my mom's playlist. We've been remembering and sharing her favorite songs, many of which she played masterfully on the guitar or piano, and sang with perfect pitch.
But a soundtrack is more than just music isn't it? Today I'm remembering our house on the weekends in the fall, and how my mom and dad loved to watch the games all day. Saturdays they watched the Hawkeyes and the Trojans, and when Max and Ginger went to UGA, the Bulldogs. For Molly, Sundays were all about her favorite quarterbacks - she just loved Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. For the last 26 years mom and dad lived on the west coast, so the fun started early. I loved being up at the house, hearing the game in the background, making food and margaritas, and hearing my dad yelling and clapping for big plays.
I knew things were really getting bad for mom when she couldn't tell her teams apart any more, and ultimately stopped watching because it frustrated her. She had lost one more thing that had given her great joy in life. As I write this the game is on at my house, but if I close my eyes I'm back at Firenze. Molly's in her chair with her feet up cheering for her Brady bunch, dad's sitting in a kitchen chair too close to the TV, getting really pissed off when there is a bad call. All of us on the edge of our seats when our team is behind and has a chance to win with one good drive.
When you lose some one there are so many "one mores" that you think about for the rest of your life. Damn, what I wouldn't give for one more game day together.
Often, it’s the action you don’t take that forces your hand. It was May 6, 2014, 12:06 AM, and in an instant, my life had changed forever. I had fallen and fractured my femur. A call to our daughter, and then 911 was the beginning of the most difficult chapter of our family odyssey.
I would have surgery, and weeks of rehabilitation. Our children put their lives on hold to care for Molly and me. We soon faced up to the reality that her disease had progressed to the point where she could no longer live safely at home, and within weeks Molly moved into the memory disorders community at an assisted living facility. I lived there as well, only two floors up, while I went through rehab.
Now, I had no choice but to let friends and family know about Molly’s Alzheimer’s disease. I called our inner circle: immediate family and our dearest of friends. There were lots of tears, and every one offered their help, yet by late fall of that year I still hadn’t told most of our friends. In a moment of inspiration or desperation, I’m not sure which, I decided to deliver the news in our annual Christmas letter; the first one that would be signed by only me.
I have decided to include a copy of the letter that I wrote below. Perhaps it will help someone who is struggling with how to share the diagnosis with family and friends.
Dear Friends and family,
Certain letters are difficult to write. I wanted to do this last December, but just couldn’t summon up the courage. There are probably those of you who wondered why you haven’t heard from us for months. Some subjects are tough to discuss, and dementia is one of those. It’s particularly difficult if it is affecting someone you love. Molly was struggling with it for several years, and last year was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I was her primary care giver along with several in-home care givers, and lots of help from Amy, Jeff, & Tim. It was very apparent that at some point she would need to be in an assisted living facility. We were all reluctant to make that decision. Unfortunately, that decision was made for us.
The first week of May I lost my balance and fell fracturing my femur. It required surgery, and several weeks of rehab. We moved Molly to the Alzheimer floor of Sunrise Senior Living facility in Beverly Hills. It’s a wonderful place and I moved there when I began my recoupment process. Now, six months later, I am walking quite well, although I still use a cane for safety.
There is no eloquent way to describe the affect this disease has on the family. Our hearts are broken, and that won’t change. There are many sad days for all of us. It’s particularly tough as we face the holidays. We did have a fairly nice Christmas last year, but knew it would be the last celebration with the entire family.
We spent the month of August getting the house ready to sell, and listed it in September. It went into escrow in October, and will close in early December. All of us have wonderful memories of our 26 years on Firenze Ave. I’m leasing the house back for one month, and am currently looking for an apartment near Sunrise so I’m able to visit Molly easily.
Molly was so great about keeping track of many of your birthdays, your children’s birthdays, and anniversary’s. Each month of every year she purchased the cards, and mailed them at the appropriate time. Unfortunately I have no way to capture those dates, and carry on her tradition. It’s just another of her wonderful qualities that will be gone, but not forgotten. She cared for all of our friends and relatives a great deal. She loved talking to you, visiting you, and hearing from you. Her love for our children, and grandchildren brought her great joy. She supported all of us unselfishly continuously.
Even though this is a cruel twist of fate, our family will remain strong. We will continue to give Molly our love, and support. We will enjoy any good moments whenever they occur.
This Holiday Season enjoy each moment with your families and friends. Remember to help those less fortunate, and give thanks for your blessings
It sneaks up on you. In my case it started because I didn’t want my wife to be embarrassed. I was protecting her. When she could no longer respond to her emails I would type her reply, and she would click “send”. I would cover for her on phone calls from family and friends, and I started signing birthday and holiday cards for her (one dear friend told me later that she noticed this and knew something must be wrong).
Molly was an incredible communicator – she called, wrote, emailed every day of her life. As the disease took this lifelong passion away from her she became increasingly frustrated, and started to get angry when I was on the phone or at my computer answering emails. It got to the point where I had to close my business, and quit communicating with friends.
When she couldn’t be left alone I quit meeting friends for lunch or a coffee break. One day I realized I was very much alone. Isolated! My approach was absolutely the wrong thing to do. Informing family and friends early would have been much better for both of us. We would have had much needed support and understanding. But I didn’t do it that way and I ended up in a very bad place. I needed to let my extended family and friends in, but didn’t know how.
What did I do? I’ll tell you in my up next blog.
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