Monday, August 4, 2014

Making Memories: Part One

Danskin Family
Sherriff Family
Both of my parents grew up in the 'burbs of Boston.  The lifestyle of the 40's and 50's were embraced by the community.  Family was a primary focus and gatherings were important.  Mom's family was small and distant and she wouldn't build those relationships until later years in life.  Dad's family was amazingly close.  Tons of photos are proof of the importance of these relationships and it is a value that Dad still carries and projects to this day.

After his mystery duty with the Navy, Dad returned to the Needham Fire Department where he excelled at his work.  But the violence towards those in public service grew and the tension was too
much.  They sought out new work and found a unique opportunity almost on the other side of the country.  It could not have been an easy decision but Dad's family was confident that this new start was a positive one and they supported them as always.

In the early 70's, Mom and Dad packed there three kids in to a VW hatchback and hit the road.  The destination?  Glasgow, Montana. Dad was part of a brief reactivation of Glasgow Air Force Base. The base was reactivated as a SAC dispersal base from 1971-1976.  Dad was part of the safety team that would secure the closing.

Let me tell you about Glasgow, Montana.  We lived in housing on the air base.  Montana - big sky country - but in Glasgow it was flat.  Flat flat flat and cold.  1972 was historic in the weather books for Glasgow.  on December 8, 1972 it was minus 35F with winds whipping around 36 mph.  That led to a wind-chill factor it reached minus 59 below zero.  We were locked in the house and we knew it was cold when Dad reached for the door knob on the inside of the house and his glove stuck to the frozen knob.  I remember being scared for him as he left that day to do some work.  When he came back, just 20 minutes later, his mustache and beard were doubled in size by icicles.  We couldn't wait to get out of that area and would then head to Lewistown, the exact center of the state.

It's important hear to recall Dad's involvement with the fire department.  When he wasn't working for a department he was volunteering.  It was so ingrained in our minds that even to this day I double check to make sure the toaster is unplugged.  But this didn't stop us from being kids.

It was a nice summer day in July and Dad was working.  Mom was visiting with a friend next door and that friends' kids were joining all of us in the playhouse in our yard.  Then we noticed our oldest brother head to the side of the house.  For the next 45 minutes he and his friend worked diligently to fill the hose with gasoline.  They were successful.  And when they draped it in the yard and lit a match - well - that would be the end of his privileges for the next three months.

These are stories we share with Dad.  We had many adventures across the country (we would drive from Boston to Montana twice, once in 1971 and again in 1976) and we never regretted any of it.  Mom and Dad ALWAYS made the best of whatever situation was presented them and Dad continues that even to this day.  He accepts things he cannot change and always has.  He thanks God for his blessings each day and patiently waits to be reunited with his love.

It's tough to tell if his memory loss is accelerating. From 2008 to 2010 we saw rapid loss and it seemed he was taking a nose dive in to Alzheimer's.  There were moments of grace and now he seems to be on cruise control.  Coasting along, oblivious to the reality that those around him are witness to, but comfortable and happy in his reality. And we know, and I've often shared, that when your loved on is in a state of dementia/memory loss, it is no longer about us or the reality in which we exist.  We must work around their reality.  We must affirm them where they are while we dance around to keep our reality balanced.  The details of our life are no longer important and often just adds to the confusion in their mind.  It can make them socially uncomfortable and it pushes their sense of self-worth farther into the abyss.  We must be focused on them when we are in their midst whether physically or on the phone or in letters.  We share stories and we make them smile and we affirm them as the important person they are.  We love - simply - no strings attached - no agenda - we simply love them.

Don't ever stop making memories and don't ever stop taking photos.  For we see the elderly as distant from us but we are not so far from being  'them', ourselves.  So embrace every moment and embrace everyone.

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