Sunday, 30 June 2013

Getting Back to Basics & Healing a Broken Heart

Jordy and Naomi (2013)

Every now and then my journey as a daughter of Alzheimer's Disease takes an unexpected turn.

Slowly, over time, the dramatic roller coaster of emotions comes to a stop, and you find yourself gliding, almost coasting through your new normal.  New routines develop, and you begin to breathe again, relaxing and going on with life.  And then, out of the blue, the shocking reality hits you, and you realize that everything has changed, and you can never go back.  That's the kind of week I am having...I find myself suddenly drowning in an abyss of grief.  I know it's all part of the journey, but it doesn't make the experience any easier to bear.

I miss my Mom so much it hurts.  I feel the tears, welling up in the back of my throat, just waiting for any opportunity to escape.  She was my very best friend.  Granted, she was quite smothering, and it drove me crazy (probably everything I am with my girls now), but if I could just have one more day with her, I would spend it in her arms, cocooned in my mother's loving embrace.  It was the most comforting feeling I have ever known, and now it's forever lost to me.  Sometimes, when the hurt and longing overwhelm me, I take myself back to specific memories of her holding me, cuddling me, and I can almost feel her.  Eventually, like a form of meditation, it brings me some serenity. 

It's at these times that I replay a moment in time, over and over in my head:  when Mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer's she would spend Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday with Becca and me, and then with Sara when she was finished her school day.  On one of those days, as I busily rushed around my kitchen, preparing snacks or dinner, my mother looked at me and said "Nomi, remember how much I love you.  I need you to know this because there will come a time when I will no longer be able to communicate, and I need you to always know how much I love you.".  Time stopped and we quietly looked at each other, tears in our eyes and our hearts breaking.  At that moment I couldn't know how much pain and anguish was to follow.  I could not know how, in years to come, I would cling to those words and the image of that memory.  Oh Mama, I know you love me, and I love you too.  More than I ever knew was possible.  More than I can put into mere words.  And I miss you so so much.  

I try not to dwell on the sadness, it doesn't help to wallow in pity parties, and I am thankful to be blessed with a compliment of family, friends and acquaintances, who are loving, and supportive, and make my life wonderful.  And most days, these connections are all I need.  

Which leads me to my theory of why I am suddenly back on the roller coaster again. 

One of my dearest friends, Aviva, moved to Calgary yesterday.  She has walked every step of this journey with me, living similar experiences to mine, as dementia has ravaged my mother and her mother-in-law.  Last November her husband, our friend Joel, received the job offer of a lifetime...the only catch (for me) was that it was in Calgary.  He moved there at the end of January, while Aviva stayed on in Toronto give her son the opportunity to finish off his school year, and herself the opportunity to prepare for the cross-country move.  It was all surreal, though, and life went on.  And then, on Friday (2 days ago), it hit me.  I didn't know what was wrong at first, but tears kept surfacing at the oddest moments, and I felt like I was walking under a rain cloud all day.  And then it dawned on me, even though my brain wasn't letting me think about her leaving, my heart was fighting to be heard, and took the lead in this struggle....ergo the tears.  
Aviva and Naomi (2013)
I know this is just another chapter in our friendship, and that we will meet up with them in Banff, Vegas, etc.. I know that we always have Skype, Facebook, unlimited texting and great long distance plans to keep us going between trips and visits.  But that is all logical.  Doesn't change the fact that my heart is a little broken.  

We went for one last breakfast yesterday, before they got on a plane bound for Calgary.  Becca and Ross came, and thank goodness our friend Trish came too.  She can lighten the darkest situation, and she did.  We laughed and visited for an hour and a half, no tears, no sadness.  As we bid one another adieu, Aviva and I held it together.  Almost no tears (we choked them back), and we were out the door of the restaurant.  And then Joel hugged me goodbye and said something that opened the floodgates.  Tears started pouring, literally pouring out of my eyes!  I hugged my friend, told her to make it good, and walked to our car, not looking back for fear of completely breaking down.   This is how we closed a chapter that started some 10 years ago, when we first met at Hebrew School and I dragged her to a parent council meeting.  While my heart is a little heavy right now, I am excited for what the new chapter will bring and for the amazing life ahead of them in Alberta.  
Our final, farewell breakfast

In the meantime, I think my matriarchs were "up there", anticipating how hard this parting would be, and made some magic...

Weeks ago, long before I knew the exact date that Joel and Aviva would be flying out to Calgary, Jordy - my best best friend from high school, who remains a dear friend of mine to this day - insisted that we nail down a date to get our families together for dinner.  We settled on June 29th.  Jordy was my rock throughout my teenage years.  Whether it was an academic crisis or a social one, he was the one person who could cheer me up and make it better.  And believe me, being the drama queen I was, he had his work cut out for him!  I could not think of a better way to spend an evening than with Jordy, his beautiful wife Deb (and I mean beautiful - she is the nicest, sweetest and most gracious person, much like her husband) and their adorable kids.  

As I was preparing some baking to take to Deb and Jordy's, I got a text that my cousin Connie (Michael's sister, Jack's aunt) was in town for a couple of days and was next door visiting, inviting me to pop over.  So I left Sara and her friend to keep decorating cookies (bless them, they are gorgeous - check out the photo below) and I went over for a visit.  

I think I keep myself busy and always running because it helps me to avoid stopping, and thinking, and feeling.  It is emotionally easier for me to keep running a never-ending marathon.  But I stopped, for a while, and just visited.  And it felt good.  I looked around me at my family...Paul's kids and grandkids and Louise's granddaughter.  Together, laughing and visiting.  Connie and my mother grew up together, cousins in a close-knit family.  She is vibrant, bright and beautiful...everything Mom would be if the Alzheimer's didn't consume  her.  And it hit me...this is the circle of life.  I thought about how happy Bubbie Lou, Uncle Paul, Bubbie Gertie and Mom would be to see the closeness and connection continuing into the next generation, and a sense of serenity and peacefulness washed over me.  My heavy heart started to lighten. 

Then we went to Jordy and Deb's.  The stories kept coming, and the laughter never subsided.  But it never does with Jordy.  He is the most fun-loving, optimistic, kind person.  My parents love him...always did.  My mother especially adored him.  Really, truly, she did...he could do no wrong in her eyes.  They loved the same things - steak, gin & tonics (once he was older, of course!), House of Chan....the list goes on.  He even came on family vacations with us, and I with his family.  

Mom and Jordy on my 19th birthday
He went to see Mom at Baycrest a few weeks ago, and even though she could not open her eyes, she responded to his voice, trying to speak and moving her leg (one way she still has to let us know she's there).  And what was Jordy's reaction?  Ever the positive-thinking sweetheart, he told me that she looked good, and he was so happy to have had the opportunity to see her.  I think I can still learn a thing or two from Jords.

But back to our visit...we talked about how he taught me to drive - and almost got ejected from the car (he never told me to brake before throwing it into park!); how his older brother still blames me, to this day, for their car dying on Old Forest Hill Road in the dead of winter - I wasn't even driving, but he could not be convinced of that; and how this same brother insisted I was the mastermind behind their car ending up on the top of a 6 foot high snowbank (really, do you think I was strong enough or smart enough for that?!?).  Through it all back then, we laughed and never took life too seriously. 

Jordy and Naomi ...25 years ago
Jordy and Naomi (2013)

I looked around the my dear friend, his wonderful wife, my beloved husband and these 4 incredible, funny, sweet kids of ours and my heart started to heal.  I listened to his kids tell funny stories, and while it was momentarily weird to watch my past and present collide, I was amazed to see my 16-year-old bonding with my high school best friend much like my mother used to.'s that circle of life...
Sara and Jordy (2013)
Suffice it to say, an evening with good friends and a long shared history together was exactly what the doctor ordered.  We spent the night laughing and reminiscing and before I knew it we were all yawning and it was way past my bedtime.  

And the moral of this story?  Life hurts sometimes, there are bumps in the road, and heartache around some corners, but life does go on.  Cherish every minute, live in the moment, and hold on to those special people in your life...they make it all worthwhile.  

And  now, I plan to peruse my Golden Recipes and find the Jello Mold dessert (yes, I have mangia cake roots) for Connie - a favourite of hers from years ago.  We figure no-one but she and I will eat this dish, but what the's just another cobblestone on my culinary trip down memory lane.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends, fantastic food and a little peace and serenity too.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!