Barbara Louise Foraker, 73, passed away during the early morning hours of 21 October 2017. Natural causes, stemming from her ongoing battle with Lewy Body Dementia, contributed to her death. She endured a rapid and unexpected decline in her health over the past month, after experiencing a fall. Continue reading
While my friend shares many traits and characteristics with her dad, she shares just as many with her mom, including, to name a few, her mom’s Southern charm, her grace, her kindness, and her generosity.
Helen Garrison was a beautiful lady inside and out. I’m thankful that both Mama and I had the honor of calling her both family and friend.
In tribute to Helen, and with the family’s permission, this profile in dementia is written by my friend about her mom and her dad, who faithfully and lovingly kept his in-sickness-and-in-health promise as Helen’s primary caregiver during her long journey through dementia, and their lives together as husband and wife.
“I’ve always been so thankful for the blessing of my devoted, loving, godly parents. And this week I’m thankful to have been with them for the final days of my mother’s life. In the past few days my dad has been recalling and sharing so many stories and memories of their life together. They were a very special couple who worked together to keep their promise of for better or worse, til death. Together they brought up two children and are the grandparents of six and great grandparents of nine. Now my dad is trying to figure out where to go from here. After 64 ½ years of marriage, he has to change his mindset from “we” to “I” – quite a challenge for him at age 87.
My mother was born February 20, 1930 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. At the age of twelve, she moved with her parents and sister Blondie to Sheffield, Alabama where she finished her schooling. In 1952 she graduated with every honor from Florence State Teachers College, now the University of North Alabama, with a teaching degree.
Three months later she married Lloyd Garrison, and they moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming where he was stationed at the Air Force Base. When he was discharged, they returned home to Alabama where my brother and I grew up.
Mother taught elementary school for decades and was much loved by her students and their parents. After retiring from teaching, she ran the office for the very busy Garrison Electric Company which my dad started. She was energetic and full of life, love, and joy which she radiated to her family, students and friends. Also, she was an amazing hostess and cook, and she thrived on having groups of friends and family over for meals and fun. She hosted many family Thanksgiving, Mother’s and Father’s Day and anniversary events! For our pre-wedding dinner for family and wedding party members, she killed, skinned, and cooked a dozen chickens in addition to all the side dishes and dessert!
Interestingly, my mother’s many strengths and talents were my dad’s growth or challenge areas, and conversely, my dad’s many outstanding talents were my mother’s growth areas. They relied on each other, and together they made the complete package!
Of course this is a bittersweet time for our family — the bitterness of the loss and void, and the sweetness that finally Mother is at peace, no longer struggling and suffering. We are focusing on the many cherished memories of life with such an outstanding loving and beautiful lady. And we rely on our faith in the promises of God that we will see her again.
Helen French Garrison died on January 29, 2017.”
Nelle Harper Lee wrote a seminal work of fiction in the 20th century: To Kill A Mockingbird. It would be the only published work the Alabama author would give to the world, but it was more than enough.
The book was ground-breaking in so many ways. Published at a time (1960) when the eyes of America, and indeed the world, were focused on civil rights in the South, where the shameful ugliness of racism was brought front and center into the living rooms of millions of people and its dastardly proponents – Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and the Ku Klux Klan, to name just a few – spewed their vitriol in thick-tongued, ignorant voices that I sincerely hope (a lot of this happened, including this book, before I was born) embarrassed and discomfited most Southerners, To Kill A Mockingbird showed a decent South, a fair South, a kind South, and a principled South in stark contrast to what was played out as the South in the rest of the media. Continue reading
I have been, over the last couple of months, reading a lot of books about the history of World War I – before, during, and after – and the last book I’ve read in this series so far gave intimate and detailed portraits of the four world leaders who were ultimately responsible for the Treaty of Versailles, which may have been the most-poorly and ignorantly (in some cases, deliberately) constructed end-of-war agreement ever made. Continue reading
Rockwell is best known for the 47 years that his iconic cover illustrations graced The Saturday Evening Post, but his body of work also included other magazines, several books, and prints for both the common man and collectors.
Growing up, I remember frequently picking up the oversized, hardcover edition of Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator that my parents had purchased and immersing myself in a thoughtful journey through the large body of his work. There were some that stand out in my mind still. A sampling of those include:
But the four-part Freedoms From… illustrations that Rockwell did in 1943 (during World War II to shore up and promote American involvement in the war) are probably the ones that tug, even today, at American heartstrings.
They invoke a nostalgia for our imagined past as a nation, as families, as people. And I suppose that we want to be those people is a good thing, but the reality that we’re not is, for me, quite disheartening.
But I still love the pictures even in my discouragement at how far we all fall short of the ideals they portray. My hope lies in a better fulfillment in another life, while my despair comes from knowing it won’t be this one.
Rockwell struggled with severe depressive episodes, as it seems most creative people do, throughout his life, but it rarely, if at all, is seen in his art, which is, frankly, amazing and admirable.
In the last decade of his life, Rockwell developed dementia and for the last six years of his life lost the ability completely to do any artwork or illustrations at all.
Rockwell died in 1978 at the age of 84 from emphysema.
Churchill was an alcoholic (during War War I and II, when the British needed strategic decisions to be made in the middle of the night, an inebriated Churchill was in the thick of things because even drunk he apparently was a better strategist than most of his sober peers).
Churchill also had chronic and worsening hypertension, in part from stress and in part from an unrestrained diet of much rich and artery-clogging food.
As early as 1947, Churchill’s physician, who was complicit in the lies about Churchill’s health all the years he held public office and who propped him up with amphetamines and calmed him down with depressants, noted in his diary that “[Churchill] is no longer fertile in ideas…his once-teeming mind has run dry.”
Beginning in 1948, Churchill began to regularly experience TIA’s in different parts of his brain. Accompanying the mini-strokes, at times, was temporary numbness on one or the other sides of his body, which resolved in a few hours or a few days.
Churchill would also experience the temporary dysphasia in the 30 minutes to an hour afterward that is characteristic of TIA’s, but the language center of his brain was spared permanent damage until his last major stroke in 1953.
With amphetamines and carefully scripted speeches, therefore, Churchill was able, at least from a verbal aspect, to hide the neurological damage and the cognitive decline that those closest to him were aware was progressing rapidly.
But the signs were everywhere in retrospect. Churchill’s speeches and governing were rooted in the first and second world wars. He was glaringly oblivious to post World-War-II politics, issues, and legislation.
He was literally in the-all-too-common vascular dementia time warp of the past and increasingly unaware of the present and had no concept of the future.
With his doctors and his staff carefully concealing his progressing dementia from the public, Churchill managed to limp along in office through continuous TIA’s and three major strokes, until 1955, when he finally resigned because his cognitive impairment and the physical effects of the strokes and dementia were impossible to conceal anymore.
Churchill lived for 10 more years, but vascular dementia was his constant companion and as it progressed, he retreated and regressed until he remembered no one and nothing and it was impossible to see the man he’d been at the zenith of his life.
I recently finished reading Sometimes Madness is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald – A Marriage. I highly recommend it, although it’s a harrowing book in so many ways.
Two of those harrowing aspects are Scott’s alcoholism and how he deliberately and consciously broke Zelda, who had her own demons and a genetic predisposition toward mental illness, for good.
A third harrowing aspect of this book is the barbaric state of psychiatry – diagnosis and treatment – in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Zelda, who was diagnosed in 1930 with schizophrenia (most likely an inaccurate diagnosis, since it’s highly unusual for schizophrenic’s first symptoms to not appear during adolescence), was repeatedly subjected to three types of treatment routinely used for schizophrenia.
Not only did they, in many ways, exacerbate Zelda’s mental illness as well as qualify for legalized torture, but two of them eventually caused irreversible neurological damage, including cognitive impairment and memory loss consistent with all forms of dementia.
The first of these that Zelda endured over the course of 18 years was insulin coma therapy. Begun accidentally by Viennese physician Manfred Sakel, it involved giving large doses of insulin hourly daily for several weeks to keep the patients in a comatose state. It was believed that this gave the brain a chance to rest and heal itself.
Of course, other than the obvious risks of not being able to bring patients out of the comas (happened regularly) or death (also happened regularly), the high doses of insulin produced a prolonged state of hypoglycemia, resulting in permanent neurological damage.
The second treatment that Zelda was routinely given was chemically induced seizures. This treatment, based on very iffy logic at best, was pioneered by Hungarian pathologist Ladislas Joseph von Meduna.
von Meduna made the unscientific leap with his observation that because people diagnosed with epilepsy rarely were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Therefore, he concluded that the epileptic seizures – and their aftereffects, which to von Meduna’s mind seemed to indicate blissful happiness – must be the reason for rare schizophrenic diagnoses. von Meduna then concluded that the seizures could cure schizophrenia.
By the time Zelda was subjected to chemically induced seizures, the original substances used to induce seizures – strychnine, absinthe, caffeine, and camphor – had been abandoned in favor of the drug Metrazol.
Given to schizophrenics in a regimen of 30-40 injections, with the injection rate of two to three times a week, the first injection produced such a powerful seizure within a minute of injection that torn muscles and fractured bones were not uncommon.
Beyond the high physical risks of violent injury, Metrazol also caused permanent memory loss.
Zelda died in a tragic fire at Highland Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, in Asheville, North Carolina in March of 1948, during the latest of on-and-off commitments to the facility she had from 1936 onward.
However, in many ways, Zelda was gone years before the fire took her physical life. Zelda spent the last several years of her life devoid of memory, devoid of personality, and devoid of any sort of intellectual spark.
Zelda’s physical appearance was so drastically changed that friends and acquaintances had a hard time recognizing her.
Even in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, where she lived with her mother when she wasn’t at Highland Hospital, Zelda was unrecognizable to people who’d know her and her family all their lives.
Zelda spent the majority of the daylight hours in Montgomery restlessly and aimlessly wandering around town in old, ragged, dirty clothes with no evidence of any care for personal grooming until her mother would find her and get her home before darkness fell.
It was a sad end of days for Zelda Fitzgerald.
Woody Guthrie was born into a troubled life and family in Okemah, Oklahoma. From an early age, life was harsh and unsettled and the instability affected Guthrie in profound ways and probably was responsible for his lifelong wanderlust.
Guthrie’s father, Charles, was, according to Guthrie, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was personally involved in the 1911 lynching of Laura and L. D. Nelson.
His mother, Nora, suffered from Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that eventually includes dementia among its late-stage symptoms. Nora is believed to be responsible for setting two house fires: the first killing her 7-year-old daughter, Clara, and the second severely burning her husband, Charles. After the second fire, Nora was committed to the Oklahoma House for the Insane where she died in 1930.
Guthrie married his first wife at the age of 19, but soon headed out to California during the Dust Bowl to try to find work to support his family. He began writing songs about the plight of the midwesterners he joined in the labor camps out west. The wages were meager, the living conditions awful, and the work hard and back-breaking.
In the late 1930’s, Guthrie finally broke into radio in California and was able to make a living to support his growing family (it appears he got back home just often enough to help create another child, and then was back out on the road again).
In the 1940’s, Guthrie moved to New York and it was there where he became famous. “This Land is Your Land” was written during this period as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which Guthrie believed was an elitist song that wasn’t realistic for and applicable to the common man in America.
The original lyrics are quite different from the sanitized version I heard growing up, so it might interest you to see how a protest song somehow got co-opted by America and became a standard in pro-American music. Guthrie, no doubt, had he been able, would have written an anti-“This Land is Your Land” in response.
It’s was also in the late-1940’s that Guthrie, already known for his fondness for alcohol, his general contrariness, his quick temper, and his scrappiness and eagerness for a fight, began to drink heavily.
Guthrie’s behavior became increasingly erratic around the same time, with the singer either not showing up for performances or when he did show up, often not being able to remember all the lyrics or music.
The memory loss was initially attributed to Guthrie’s heavy drinking, but it soon became clear during the early 1950’s that something else was wrong, as Guthrie began losing muscle coordination and he had trouble playing even basic melodies on his guitar.
In 1952, Guthrie was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, which he had inherited from his mother. By 1956, Guthrie’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he required permanent care placement.
After 11 years of hospitalization, as everyone but his closest family disappeared from Guthrie’s life because of the toll that Huntington’s Disease exacted on his brain, making Guthrie almost impossible to be around, Woody Guthrie died in 1967.
Two children died in car accidents.
Two children from Guthrie’s first marriage developed Huntington’s Disease and both died at the age of 41.
Guthrie’s three remaining children, of whom one is Arlo of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame, to date have not developed any symptoms of Huntington’s Disease.
With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I decided to make this profile in dementia personal, and so I write about one of the heroes in my life, my mama, Muriel June Foster Ross.
Mama is the reason that I wrote Going Gentle Into That Good Night: A Practical and Informative Guide For Fulfilling the Circle of Life For Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease and You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Mama is the reason the Going Gentle Into That Good Night blog exists.
And Mama is the reason why I created a Facebook support group for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, and other age-related illnesses.
My mama, Muriel June Foster Ross, was born March 2, 1929 in Erwin, Tennessee, a small town in the hollows of the Smokey Mountains in northeast Tennessee.
From the get-go, Mama had a life full of tragedy and triumph, successes and failures, bad times and good times, love and hate, deep-down sadness and uplifted-heart happiness and forgiving and forgetting, which I chronicled in the first book I wrote after her death, a memoir about my parents and us kids and our life together titled Fields of Gold: A Love Story.
My mama was a most remarkable woman in so many ways, because no matter what came her way in life, she persevered, she overcame, and she prevailed.
Mama left me with an incredible legacy and some pretty big footsteps – ironically, because Mama was a lady whose physical foot size was 4.5W while my own foot size was almost twice that big and even wider – to follow in and I see continually how far I fall short of the example she left me.
However, even in my failures, I see Mama’s legacy of prevailing and not quitting. I’ve finally been able to see that even trying and failing is doing something and that beats not failing because I’m not trying to do something any day of the week.
It’s still hard for me to fail over and over, but I find myself rehearsing Mama’s life and all the places where it looked like failure and she could’ve quit but she didn’t. And, in the end, not quitting brought incredible meaning and blessings to Mama’s life.
My mama was intelligent, curious, active, humorous, whimsical, outgoing, and loving. She had a lifelong love affair with learning anything and everything. Mama was a decent writer – she got her second Bachelor’s degree in English at the age of 54 – but she was an even better oral storyteller.
Mama’s twinkling blue eyes and her mischievous smile could light up even the darkest room. She had her dark moments, her fears, and her insecurities as well, but she reserved those for the people she loved and trusted the most: my daddy and us kids.
Mama’s journey with dementias (vascular and Lewy Body) and Azheimer’s Disease probably began in 2005. The real nuts and bolts of these neurological diseases didn’t really appear in full force and persistently until 2009. And the downhill slide was pretty precipitous from that point forward until her death (related to congestive heart failure) on August 14, 2012.
But I had the blessing of being beside Mama throughout the journey and through the end. That’s priceless. I also had the blessing that Mama didn’t live long enough to become completely uncommunicative and bed-ridden. That would have killed both of us. The journey was no picnic, but the blessing was that we shared it, and I am thankful for that.
It seems that each Mother’s Day since Mama’s death has made me miss her more than the one before. On the one hand, I’m glad Mama’s not suffering anymore. But, on the other hand, I miss her.
And not just the Mama I remember before these neurological diseases, but the Mama I remember after they appeared. There were moments interspersed with the chaos, the uncertainty, and the tough stuff that were some of the softest and gentlest and most loving moments Mama and I ever shared and those are etched just as deeply in my heart, in my soul, and in my mind.
Side by side with Daddy, Mama’s resting now in the peace that often eluded her in life until the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing in His wings.
May that day come quickly for us all. I love you, Mama. See you and Daddy soon.
I recently read Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, a compelling account of the interwoven lives of the Concord, MA literary giants of 19th Century literature and, with a notable exception (Nathaniel Hawthorne), the core members of both the Transcendental Movement and the Abolition Movement that saw John Brown as a heroic martyr.
This group of closely-interconnected writers included, among others (Edgar Allan Poe passed through as did Walt Whitman and Herman Melville), Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Despite all my college studies in English Language and Literature, I have never been able to really like – or even endure – most 19th Century American literature. (Yes, I’m American and, yes, I really loathe this period of American literature for the most part.)
My three exceptions are the three writers in this Concord, MA conclave who never quite fit in with the mindset and the groupthink of the rest of the writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson.
I won’t bore you with all the reasons – and there are many – why I like these three writers and don’t like the rest. If in another lifetime I decide to start a literary analysis blog, a post with those reasons will definitely make its appearance there.
Emerson, it turns out, was the financial support for these writers and their families, some for all their lives (Henry David Thoreau) and some until they published successfully (Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott).
Emerson was older than most of the other writers and was treated by them as a father figure and a mentor. Emerson was intelligent (a graduate of Harvard), thoughtful, and a practical intellectual who guided this group in both their literary endeavors and their personal lives.
So I was surprised to learn that Emerson developed dementia (Cheever, perhaps because she has not dealt with dementia in a more personal way, made the common mistake of calling it Alzheimer’s Disease, which is only one type of dementia), accompanied by aphasia during the last decade of his life.
Because aphasia was a key feature of Emerson’s neurological degeneration, it’s very possible that he suffered from vascular dementia, since aphasia is very often a feature of that type of dementia.
One of the devastating aspects of aphasia as it worsened for Emerson was that he had supported his family and, to one degree or another, many of the other Concord writers for decades by conducting a rigorous yearly schedule of paid speaking engagements around the country. Once his ability to communicate coherently was gone, Emerson’s income was gone as well.
In the last couple of years of Emerson’s life, he forgot most of the people and things around him in Concord, MA. Louisa May Alcott, whom Emerson had known for 42 years, watching her grow up from a nine-year-old spunky girl into an equally spunky woman, became a stranger to him, as did his family.
However, and this is fortunate, in the acclaimed PBS documentary, The Forgetting, Emerson is quoted as having remarked, when he was well into the disease, to a friend that, “I have lost my mental faculties but am perfectly well.”
I plan to make “Profiles in Dementia” a regular feature on this blog since I’ve got a lot of stories like these that I’d like to share and will give another dimension, in terms of personal interest, to this blog.
So, if you like this one and you like the idea, let me know by your likes and comments.
This blog’s for you, so you have a voice in what kinds of things are included here.
I appreciate you reading and hope that you will find the extensive body of information here helpful in your journey with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, whether that’s as a caregiver for loved ones or it’s you that’s walking the journey yourself.