A Time To Mourn

It turns out it’s true that mourning is a winding path and not a straight line. We experienced a busy April and May, up and down and all around! Then things quieted down, ya saben, a calm before the storm of wedding planning pelts us. A quiet house is rare for the Greene home, but we’ve had a couple of days of it, bien nice! Pero, every time I slow down, even just a little bit, I start looking back, wrapping up all the events in sweet memories, but somewhere along that wrapping I feel the absence of my loved ones. I get emotional and the void in my life accuses me. If Patty were here, she’d approve of Emery’s choice. My apa wouldn’t be able to make the long trip for the wedding. Y mi ama? What would she say about my hijos? Lupe, my big sister, she’d scare Emery’s girl with her piercing Zepeda gaze. 

It all started on Memorial Day when I counted my amas, 33rd year gone to her rest. Then, that night I read a blog about caregiving, y ahora I was looking for a picture and I got caught up rereading a string of family emails about my apas care.  Tengan paciencia,  I need to go through this process, my therapy, I went back to a time when my apa was a young man of 90.

Following In His Grandfather’s Steps

(This was when my apa was still able to live in his own home with caregivers)

It was my turn to take Dad to the doctor for his neurology visit. I drove into town early and thought that I would pull him out of his adult care program early and go have a treat. I had to wait until his full four hours were complete, the program was not going to bend the rules for Don Manuel! Maybe their funding was on the line?  No choice but to wait. When my apa saw me, he knew the day was over. The ‘junta’ was over and his work was done, ‘la mesa directiva’ had made no decisions in that meeting. Many times he was frustrated with that “board of directors” for wasting his time in these meetings. You see, every weekday when my apa was picked up for his adult care program, he believed that he was going to work. A day full of meetings, like when he was a young man in 1970 working for a program called Campesinos Unidos. Asi es, for a short time my apa didn’t work out in the fields.

He was ready to leave, but we had to wait, so we made small talk. I had to keep redirecting him. He asked about my family, and his usual focus was, “Y tu hija? Valentina, ¿Ya se caso?” For some time dad had been calling my daughter Daniella, Valentina. She must have looked like a Valentina to him, so I quit correcting him. Back to Daniella’s marital status. “Si Apa ya va a cumplir 3 años de casada.”  “Como? Cuando?” He was as always very shocked to hear the news that she had already been married for a short while. I asked about his day and the response was usually, “The director stood up there and talked and talked, but I didn’t know what he was getting at” Then,  “Y tu hija, como esta? Ya se caso?” This time, although he was shocked at my answer,  he remembered, and reminded me very apologetically that he wasn’t remembering things very well anymore.  That’s when he asked again why he was going to the doctor. I explained his dementia issue. He was diagnosed with short term memory loss, the new memories were lost immediately. However, my sister and I suspected that his memory loss was very selective. I explained that his struggle with memory loss  might be helped with medication.  Suddenly he remembered his grand- father who lived to be 101 and also suffered from dementia.  

Don Manuel waiting to see the neurologist

Young Manuel with His Abuelo

His grand-father was old and frail, housebound, confused about his past and present. He lived in the past. One day as his abuelo looked out the window he saw the sky heavy with rain clouds. Manuel knew that it was a beautiful clear day, blue skies and sunshine. He listened as his grand-father worried out loud about the dark heavy rain clouds.  He turned to him and said “those clouds are heavy with rain, it looks like an ugly storm coming in.”  Manuel knew his grand-father was confused and said nothing, it happened often. Gone was his strong grandfather who had sat erect on his horse and gave orders. 

My Apa

Then Dad paused and looked at me, “It looks like I might be taking after him.” I said, “Quizas, since you’ve only got 11 years before you’re 101!” Again, shock registered in his voice, “Que tan Viejo estoy?! He didn’t remember that he was 90, he was sticking to 80. Interestingly enough, it was that year that he officially entered the ‘needing care and supervision” stage of his life.  All I could do was ask God to hold back that dementia as much as possible.   As I situated him into the car to go to the doctor, he casually asked “Y tu hija, Valentina? Como esta?”

Daniella aka Valentina 🥰

At The Appointment:

Sitting at the doctor’s office was a sad unveiling. It was crowded. Chairs too close to each other, before covid of course, when all the world stood paralyzed. Men, women, young and old people all with some kind of nerve damage or muscle injuries, looking pained, angry and entirely restless. Hijole! I cringed at what I saw, heard and imagined. Most of them were there just for refills, they needed the temporary relief from the pain. Dad wasn’t in pain, why was I there anyway? And as if dad heard my thoughts he asked “Porque estamos aqui?” 

The appointment was to see the much demanded neurologist in Imperial Valley, in which I hoped the evaluation would determine a solution, a goal… something. After an hour of waiting, dad was called.  We walked slowly to an examining room, when we sat down, my apa was suddenly clear minded and present. As we waited for the doctor to enter, he asked if he was sick? He wanted to know why we were with “this” type of doctor. He looked at me knowingly, “estoy loco.” That’s when the nurse practitioner stepped in, the doctor wasn’t available. He  greeted us, shaking dad’s hand, and both men stared at each other. 

Nurse: ¿Cómo está señor Zepeda?

Apa: Bien, con un poco de dolor en la nuca.

 He was always fine except for the pain in the back of the neck which was his usual complaint. The nurse looked at the back of his neck, determined that it was probably arthritis.

Nurse: What is your name and birthdate? 

I guess if he knew those answers he must be fine verdad? Really, a long term memory, ingrained into him after 90 years.

 Apa: Manuel Zepeda Solano, 12-15-24. 

He stared at the doctor, dismissing him with his eyes. The nurse looked at me.

Nurse: Ok, I’ll  write his prescription for a refill, doesn’t seem like there’s any changes.  Que?! Por supuesto que things were changing! Why were we there? Was the medication helping? How could we help him? And us. When we got in the car dad pulled out the $5 that was always in his wallet and said “Vamos a una nieve.” So we went for an ice cream and I enjoyed hearing more about my strong bis abuelo, Solano.

En Conclusion:

Hijole! I do miss my sisters and my parents, I don’t know when I’ll see them again. It is my prayer and hope for that reunion. Pero mientras, it helps to pull out the memories and enjoy la familia I have here on earth. 

Almuerzo con mi Apa

Once again I’ve been stirred by my niece, Cassi Maria to write about mi apa, her Tata. Claro que si!  She didn’t have to twist my arm, it’s always a comfort to me to share these memories. Reader, do you know the cancion que dice “Rosa Maria se fue a la playa”?  When Cassandra was a wee little girl I loved singing that to her, por su puesto que I changed it to Cassi Maria, she recently told me that she believed it was my own created melody, confession is good for the soul. 

Tata and Cassi

When Cassi visited her Tata and me, she always loved to watch me prepare breakfast for him.  She said that he got ‘special treatment’. Pero, I will clarify that at the time I didn’t believe it to be special, it was simply the way he liked to eat. He loved a nice hearty breakfast, which almost always included frijolitos bien fritos and tortillas. Sometimes I added meat, otras veces just blanquillos. The eggs would either be scrambled or fried, this did not impress Cassi. Pero, when I made a torta de huevo with all the fixings her eyes would light up as she appreciated my handiwork and she was happy for her grandpa.

I would scramble a couple of eggs and pour them over a hot skillet with oil. Luego, I’d cut up the egg patty, give it a quick and gentle stir fry with slices of onion and simmer it in a roasted tomato and dry chile sauce that mi ama taught me to make. Sometimes, if Cassi came in just as I was simmering la torta de huevo,  she’d inhale the spices from the sauce; el comino, the garlic and pepper and the chiles all made her hungry for Tata’s breakfast. 

As I’m writing this, I’m picturing my apa at the table, hands laced together, patiently waiting for his almuerzo. First his orange juice with Metamucil mixed in and his pastillas. He would always count them, and say, “Tantas pastillas?” In reality, he actually took minimal medication, compared to most 90 year old people. But still, he eyed me suspiciously. While I filled his plate with the beans and eggs and served his coffee, Cassi chatted with him and watched me, then chatted with me and turned to him.  My apa was always one to appreciate a pretty face, and his eyes always lit up when he saw Cassi, almost always saying to her “que guapa” and Cassi would blush and smile. At that stage in his life, dementia did confuse him. The conversations circled in the same questions. He wondered about Cassi’s connection to him, then he’d be surprised that “Chicha” (my youngest brother) was her dad. This might be a good place to explain that cultural habit we Mexicans have of using quirky nicknames. We create funny names and stick to them, maybe it’s just my family? Here’s one version of that conversation:

Cassi: Hola Tata como estas? (Hug and kiss)

Tata: Buenos dias! Que guapa! (my apas eyes always had a teasing twinkle in them) 

Cassi: Gracias Tata, si te acuerdas de mi? (remember this generation doesn’t know much about the proper use of “usted” so in Spanglish fashion she wanted to make sure he knew who she was.)

Tata: Parece que tu eres la Senora del Chicha? 

Cassi: No Tata! Yo soy la hija del Chicha (doing everything to restrain her indignation at being called her dads wife and not daughter ☺)

Tata: Su hija! A pose deveras que ando mal! (embarrassed that he made such a blunder, he’d blame his memory loss)

Cassi: It’s okay Tata (and Cassi would quickly forgive him)

When breakfast was served, my apa always waited til we were all seated so he could pray. I can still hear his wonderful prayer resounding in my ear like a sweet melody:

Gracias te damos Señor por estos alimentos que no nos hacen falta…”

En Conclusion:

Hijole! Now I see how right Cassi was, those breakfast days with my apa were muy especial

This Easter weekend, I am reminded of the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for without his sacrifice and gift of salvation I wouldn’t be able to see him again. 

Have a beautiful Easter y que Dios los Bendiga! 

When Dementia is Present

Recently I’ve heard two stories about older people dealing with the difficulties of aging . Ray Bradbury’s short story: “A LITTLE JOURNEY: and  “Rewinding The Big Picture” from the Adventures in Odyssey Library from Focus on the Family. Each story immediately brought me back to those days when we would experience the most peculiar conversations with my apa and still, even now that dad is resting in peace, that confounding dementia grabbed my emotions! It shook out more tears and unnecessary “what ifs.” 

How was it that we were always surprised when dementia showed up? Most times it came at sundown, but slowly it creeped in more and more at random times of the day. Aver, see if I can share my story without offending.

 My father was a darn good looking man and well groomed always. He prided himself in looking sharp. It was a very humbling thing for him to face the fact that his teeth were weak and deteriorating. Still, it took a lot of convincing, to get him to agree that it was time for him to replace his own teeth with dentures, at this point he was well advanced in age. Eventually he adjusted and included a careful cleaning of his teeth to his morning grooming routine. 

Keeping His Independence

Then the season of caregiving began for him. We manipulated our lives and the hired caregivers to accommodate his life as much as possible without taking all his freedom. My apa who was in his 90s, fought to keep his independence. He insisted on having his space to do things on his own, especially his morning routine. On days we weren’t present he could manage by himself, most of the time. On those days we were “on call” for any emergencies that came up.

One morning, Marina was making her daily morning call to dad. That morning I happened to be visiting her for her birthday. He didn’t answer. Ok, no problem, maybe he was out of bed and getting ready. She dialed again, but he still didn’t answer. We went through the drill, keeping ourselves calm. She called relatives in town or his neighbor across the street to check on him. Meanwhile I kept trying. Finally he picked up the phone.

Case of the Stolen Teeth

“Bueno”

“Apa! Que pasa?” He sounded agitated and I could tell he didn’t have his teeth in.

“Pues anoche vinieron los rateros y se llevaron mis dientes!” 

“Que?!” He proceeded to tell me in colorful language that during the night two thieves had entered the house and had taken his teeth! 

“Esos, M—- buenos para nada! entraron a media noche y se me dejaron sin dientes! Y de que les sirvió hacer eso?! “Those good for nothing rats came in the middle of the night and took my teeth! Why would they do that?!

At that moment I held my chuckle since he firmly believed his conclusion. I wondered at his reasoning. How could he understand that stealing someone’s teeth was a useless and stupid thing to do? Yet he absolutely believe it happened to him, while he was sleeping. His teeth had disappeared. Not on the nightstand, nor in the bathroom on the counter or on the floor, vanished. When the caregiver arrived to make and serve breakfast for him she found him still in the bathroom, angry and looking very much his age without his teeth in. Marina got on the phone with her while she looked again for his teeth, she went as far as checking under the bed but did not find them. Her time was ticking, she hurried to make him breakfast. Avena, Cream of Wheat should be easy to eat without teeth. Dad didn’t eat, his whole morning was ruined. The entire morning he sat in front of his tele, very conscious that his mouth was sunken in. When the caregiver returned, he asked her to get his teeth, forgetting they were lost. Dementia played those tricks on him, instead she tried getting him to eat something soft.

Meanwhile over at our end we too fretted over the missing teeth. Dad had to eat something other than jello.  We brought the case to the God of the Universe. Asi es, we had been desperately praying, asking God for his help in this matter. The caregiver came back again in the afternoon determined to help us find my apas teeth. Did someone take those teeth? Marina was once again on the phone coaching her to look in the oddest places. Quien sabe, maybe, just maybe they’d appear in the fridge, or in the kitchen sink. She meticulously searched in the medicine cabinet and found them sitting in a white suppository container. It was exactly the same color and shape as the one dad used for his teeth. Mystery solved, case closed. But it wasn’t. We were confronted with the reality that our apa was losing his independence and so were we. 

Silly Stories

In the afternoon when I called to check on him, I recounted the whole episode to him and he laughed. He was amazed that he had spent half his day without his teeth! He also laughed at me for suggesting that he was blaming a thief, como pues?  He just couldn’t  imagine the whole silly story was true. “I think that living without my teeth  would be quite difficult” He looked at me with eyes that said “Hay Rosalba,  the things you come up with.”

Dealing with Dementia

That’s how it was with dementia lurking about, without rhyme or reason. It was incredibly confusing. We faced dementia everyday, equipped with our little ‘tools’ like redirection, counting to ten and using reason to diffuse it, but still It crept in and caused disruption. As suddenly as slipped in it would leave and sometimes we were left trembling with checked and unchecked emociones.  That particular episode had worried and checked us, but after it was over and dad was fine, we laughed out loud at the preposterous visual of the tooth fairy quietly sneaking in and taking his teeth without leaving money 😅

La tercera edad can be very difficult, I’m so thankful that we were able to help my apa through it and that we ourselves came through it ok.