I’m Beyond Happy For a Man I Never Met!

If you know me well you know that the only thing I’d change about my life would be to meet my dad just once! Who wouldn’t want to meet the man who literally brought them into the world after my mom couldn’t make it to the hospital in a blizzard? The one and only reason I never met him was because he was gay and my outraged mother made him promise to never attempt to see his children again. How sad, given that most everything about me I inherited from this man I never met. His friends shared with me that to know  my dad, Lorenzo Anthony Woodward, was a gift because he was always so joyous.

But was he really? I can’t imagine feeling forced to marry a woman when that’s not the person you loved. 

 
Though I’m happy that my sister and I were born, it would have been wonderful if my dad would have been able to marry the man he loved. Dad wrote me letters that I received after his death which confirmed his love for me and his wish for me that I have a wonderful and happy life. 
So today I say Thank You to the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States for deciding that ALL states MUST allow same-sex marriage!! When I read the news flash I almost couldn’t believe my eyes!! I danced around my desk and even shed a few tears because I know that my dad would be dancing and crying too!! I’m so happy for all of the same-sex couples in the United States, but I’m beyond happy for the man I never met! Love you dad!! 

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Many Bright Spots in The Longest Day!!

I woke up on The Longest Day feeling very tired and queasy. Not the start I was looking for, but my commitment to the day got me out of bed anyway! 

I was still reeling from the fact that a miscommunication had prevented me from giving the presentation I was scheduled and planned for to the AKAs and sharing in their day’s activities, but Plan B was the new goal I would be carrying out.

After the tragic and hate-motivated shootings on Wednesday, I decided to begin my day at the Martin Luther King Memorial, and I stayed there alone for more than an hour, reflecting on the quotes and wondering what MLK would think and feel about the many instances of hate and injustice against African-Americans over the last couple of years in the USA. After my hour, I felt a surge of energy. I had fun taking some selfies and continued along the National Mall for a few miles. I received more than 20 comments and questions about my shirt along the way, which was very motivating!

 In the US Against Alzheimer’s Facebook Support Group, I’m one of four co-moderators who give a ton of time and energy to the Facebook page providing tips, advice, articles, comfort and even some humor too. Two of them I had not met in person, though we’ve gotten very close online. That changed on The Longest Day when I met the wonderful Mara Maitlin Botonis, who was in town to receive an amazing award for all of her extraordinary work in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease. We made the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental hotel feel like our living room as we hugged, shared stories and took pics. Our time together was brief, but inspiring and life-changing. Mara makes you want to do More in this life!

Then it was on to one of the best parts of the day. I picked up Mom’s best friend Mrs. Vivian Adams and together we went to get Mom for our afternoon of family togetherness. I love Mrs. Adams and consider her my second mother. She hasn’t had the greatest life, with her husband dying before his 50th birthday more than 30 years ago and her son doing everything but the right thing throughout his adult life. So Mrs. Adams has always said that being with us brings her joy! My Mom through her relationship with Mrs. Adams taught me how to be a true friend. EVERY year, Mom and I would do some activity with Mrs. Adams on both the anniversary of her husband’s death and on her birthday so she wouldn’t be sad and alone. Since Mom’s dementia diagnosis, Mrs. Adams has been front and center in our lives doing any and everything she can to help out. Yesterday was no exception. They are true friends for life.

  
The Longest Day is about doing activities, and the three of us (and Tim for a short while) did that in high style!! We did Tai Chi moves in front of Mom’s group home, toured our camper Memory Maker, laughed at old family photos and marveled at the amazing photos of our recent trip to Utah. 

But the highlight of our afternoon together was Mom and Mrs. Adams playing with the LEGO fidget toys I made to help keep Mom’s hand busy, which could possibly cut down on her many repetitive actions. When Mom and I build together, she always uses door and window pieces saying that she’s building a home she can go to. So one of the toys I built was a small house that fits in one hand that has doors and windows that open. Mom loved it, and the other pieces too! Mrs. Adams also gave rave reviews of each of the toys! I’ll keep building pieces to determine if they’d be of help to other Alzheimer’s patients in the early to mid-stages of the disease! 

We then headed to Mom’s favorite hangout,  McDonald’s for a late lunch! They had a ball and we finished off our fabulous time with caramel sundaes!! While we were eating a woman who had clearly been observing us for some time commented on how wonderful a job I was doing with my Mom and that she hoped that when she needed help later in life someone would be as wonderful with her and I am with Mom. Mrs. Adams echoed her sentiments about my being an incredible daughter. 

After dropping off my two favorite women I arrived home at 5pm just in time for Tim and I to head to Kendal’s 6pm recital. I was more than tired by then but I wouldn’t have missed Kendal’s recital for anything. Though Kendal was only in one dance number she was too cute, and did her own thing out there on stage!! The rest of the show was energetic and inspiring and featured every type of dance. My only regret was that it wasn’t held earlier in the day so I could have taken Mom too. Dancing and attending dance recitals was always something Mom and I did together. Unfortunately, her “sundowners” prevents me from taking her to any show that starts later than 1pm. But I cheered for Mom and myself at the end of every dance. I gave Kendal a huge hug for Mom at the end of the show!! Many people at the recital also asked me about my shirt, and shared their Alzheimer’s related stories with me. 

 
I went to bed last night exhausted, not so much from the activities, but from the emotion tied to the entire day, but I was still able to briefly bask in what I had accomplished for The Longest Day in 2015! I know Mom was proud of me too because as we were saying our goodbyes at the end of the afternoon, Mrs. Adams pointed to me and asked Mom “what do you think of this woman?”. With a very loud voice Mom looked at me and said “I’m proud of her!!”. WOW! Does it get any better than that? When you’re up against this disease, I don’t think so and it’s a moment I’ll treasure forever!! Love you Mom! 
 

Two Coasts, Two Events, One Cause! 

At 2:30 this afternoon, I was introduced to an audience at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA and rose to the podium. At the exact same time in Tacoma, Washington my cousins Willette, Wellington and Winnie were burying their father, my great-uncle Walter White.  

When I share that I was wearing a purple dress during my speech that tells those of you who know my story that I was speaking about Alzheirmer’s Disease and our journey with my Mom’s dementia. When my uncle Walter died of Alzheimer’s Disease at the end of May at the age of 98, his passing left my Mom as the only person in our family battling this dreaded disease. 

I dedicated my presentation to my uncle Walter and my cousins and the audience of 150 people immediately connected emotionally with me. All those in attendance at the Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Conference clearly have a connection to the disease and felt my pain. Uncle Walter was one of our relatives Mom was close to and she still remembers him to this day.

I put everything I had into my presentation and together we all laughed, cheered and cried! I was only emotional at the end when I talked about Mom’s beloved doctor leaving her MD practice and my worry about what comes next. At the end of the presentation the audience actually lept from their seats to clap for me. I was amazed and even took a few pics to show Mom. I had announced that I was going to donate half of my book sales from today to The Longest Day Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser that will occur on June 21st. I had shared with the audience that like last year, I’ll be spending the 15 hours of daylight doing activities in honor of Mom and uncle Walter. People immediately began forming a line at the book table, so I hurried over to begin signing!!

It took me more than an hour to sign books and I raised almost $300 for The Longest Day fundraiser. I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many people in an hour, some of whom were in tears. I’m thrilled, proud, mad and sad all at the same time! This disease impacted our family on two coasts today, but I see three good things that have come from it.  My uncle is no longer suffering, and because Mom no longer remembers how to grieve she won’t miss him. Lastly, I raised a nice sum of money for the Alzheimer’s Association.

So I wish my cousins peace, and I hope my uncle Walter will rest well knowing I’ll continue to fight against this disease even though it didn’t benefit him and may not help Mom either. I hate this disease too much to stop fighting! I’m in it til we find a cure. 

   
 

All Great Things Must Come to an End!!

I’ve been dreading this day since I learned the heartbreaking news 10 days ago. My Mom’s beloved doctor is leaving the Neurology practice in Maryland and moving to Denver. I’ve been in absolute denial and have even prayed that the announcement of her departure was some sort of a cruel joke. While this may not seem like such a big deal given that Mom doesn’t recognize me or her doctor, it’s actually a huge deal for us. If you’ve read my book “Being My Mom’s Mom”, the name Dr. Katherine Coerver may sound familiar. I wrote several pages about her, proclaiming her to be the best doctor on the planet. And for good reason I believe. She cried when I showed her the pages I had written in order to get her approval before the book was published. She couldn’t believe that someone would actually mention her in a book, but that’s because I don’t think she has a clue about how exceptional a doctor she really is.Mom may not remember Dr. Coerver, but from the moment she walks into the exam room a sense of calm and contentment comes over Mom that not even I can duplicate. She doesn’t just hold Mom’s hand when she talks to her. She looks into her eyes, and smiles and for the length of our time with her, Mom is her one and only patient. When my sister died in 2011, I called Dr. Coerver from LA and she confirmed that my sister’s death was not news Mom needed to know. The very next visit to her office, Dr. Coerver gave me much more than the normal “I’m sorry for your loss”. She gave me one of the best hugs ever, and told me that I was an amazing daughter who always made the best possible decisions for her Mom. At the moment, I feel woefully unprepared for what comes next. How do you replace a doctor like her?

In my presentations, I encourage caregivers to always be prepared and to have a plan and a backup plan. I’ve failed to heed my own advice and I never saw this coming. I have no plan and definitely no backup plan simply because Dr. Coerver’s shoes will be almost impossible to fill. I’m praying that I can strike gold twice and find the care and compassion in a doctor that I want and need for Mom.

Our last visit this morning was as sad as I knew it would be. My impression of Dr. Coerver’s impact on Mom was confirmed within two minutes. Mom hasn’t spoken a complete sentence in a few months. Her responses are typically limited to “yes”, “no” or her all-time favorite “ok” repeated over and over and over again, no matter the question or topic of conversation. When Dr. Coerver asked Mom if she would come to visit her in Denver, Mom thought for a minute and then said “Nooooo, I don’t like to travel!!” Pretty Amazing!! We gave her a thank you note with our picture in it for the 8 outstanding years she was Mom’s doctor, and after a little help from me with the letter D, Mom was able write the rest of her name on the note by herself. 

We all hugged, took pictures and fought back tears. Dr. Coerver began to read our note as we left the exam room. Mom asked “we done?” “Yep Mom”, unfortunately, we are done, yet we’ll keep moving forward, and quickly get a new plan. We couldn’t have survived today without Tim picking Mom up, waiting for us and then driving Mom back home so I could quickly return to work. Thank you Tim!! Team Doris was in Full Effect!!! Now all we need is a new neurologist!

  

I LOVE Experiencing the National Parks!!

As my second book nears completion, the reason for its title “In Case I Don’t Remember” is probably obvious to those who know me best. I hope to remember all of the important and amazing experiences of my life and avoid the dreaded dementia that has all but robbed me of my wonderful Mom. That said, for the life of me I  can’t remember the date of my first visit to a National Park with my family though I know I was pretty young. I know I fell in love with National Parks right from the start!! Growing up in a row house in Washington DC, I loved going to National Parks where I could run free, make as much noise as I wanted and not have to hear conversations my neighbors were having. My favorite DC Park was the C&O Canal where we rode our bikes as a family. I thought the locks were cool too, and my Mom explained how they operated so well, especially since she was raised in Foggy Bottom and was always on the Canal as a child. Having picnics and riding bikes were some of my favorite memories with my Mom and sister. At the time, I don’t think I ever paid attention to the fact that we rarely saw anyone else who looked like us during these trips. All I knew was that I had a blast, learned a lot and always hated when our visits were over. My Mom told us almost daily that we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted to in our lives.

Because my Mom didn’t drive, we either had to ride the bus to the many National Parks or Monuments in DC or went to those further away with my Aunt Diane who was absolutely a significant presence in our lives. So exposing us to the National Parks in MD, PA and NY was quite the challenging feat for my Mom, but that never stopped her. My favorite park at the time was Shenandoah National Park which of course includes Skyline Drive, a local favorite to see the fall foliage. No matter how many times we went, it never got old to me.

When Tim and I started dating, we went camping and visited National Parks but never discussed the historical importance of doing so. We just loved them!! Kim wasn’t much for the battlefields and history, but we did get her to the Grand Canyon and a few other amazing parks in Nevada and Arizona when she was a teenager. I had by then started to “notice” that we rarely if ever saw any other African-Americans. “They’re missing out!!!” I always thought to myself.

Last month I wrote a blog about being asked if black people actually go camping. That blog generated quite a few comments. I referenced an article that detailed a 2015 National Park Service initiative to attract more African-Americans to the Parks. I can honestly say that for our entire 18 day stay in Utah, we could count the African-Americans we saw on one hand. Half-way through the trip in Zion National Park Kim was so excited to see a couple of young African-American girls that she went over and introduced herself.

I felt great about the National Park initiative, and I was very happily surprised to  learn on Friday as we drove to Gettysburg, PA that June 6th and 7th was the 3rd annual African-American Nature and Park Experience weekend. I had accidentally stumbled upon their Facebook page encouraging African-Americans to get out and Experience a state or National Park this weekend and then to post a photo on Facebook. The creator of the Facebook page had the same goal as the National Park Service, to create more interest in the beauty and history of National Parks among the African-American population when she established the weekend three years ago. I sincerely admire her efforts and hope to volunteer in some way next year!! Since Tim and I were already going to Gettysburg National Military Park to hike and get my Passport book stamped, I was thrilled to post my pic of our Experience on the Facebook as well. I didn’t see as many photos up as I had hoped, but it was great to see groups of African-American folks enjoying a National Park near them! I can’t wait to participate in next year’s Experience!! Even if I don’t see another African-American in a National Park between now and then, Tim and I will still be going and enjoying them!! My Mom would be thrilled that the lessons she taught us early on have not only stuck with me, but that we are also passing them on to Kendal! I was in Awe of Gettysburg, and learned more than I ever did in history class and more than I could possibly write in this blog. I’m ready for my next Experience!!

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