Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day By Day in Douglas, Alaska


As I help my parents meet everyday needs in their small town of Douglas,Alaska, I help with laundry, cooking, organizing and cleaning. I help..... because I can, because I love them so dearly and because they not only need it but have asked for it and are so grateful, afterwards.

All of this is done while visiting, listening, talking and sharing. As I work, day after day, helping to lighten the load on my father's shoulders by giving him a rest and a reprieve from care taking so that he can work on some of his own projects. He is 90 years old and in the two weeks that I have been here, he has installed two windows in a little shop wall, worked in his basement and burned piles of debris outside. Today, he plans on moving his aging motor home down to our street and replacing a fender on it!

I have also witnessed the most amazing dedication shown by my 90 year old father to my 82 year old mother. . My mother and father have been married for 58 years. He drove 5,000 miles from Alaska to Louisiana during WWII just to meet, fall in love and marry her. He had to break through the language and cultural barriers of his Finnish Heritage and her Cajun French one. He unfailingly supported her and their five children through the trials of and hardships of living in Alaska with limited access to stores or other conveniences....this when Alaska was a Territory,not even a State!

Now, in their later years,he supports and encourages my mother with all of her needs. My mother has faced fragile diabetes, legal blindness, a battle with severe inflammatory breast cancer...and now the tangled web of Alzheimer's.

Each and every day, is one of sheer and absolute exhaustion. My mother will need something from upstairs and I will think...I just can't walk up those stairs again...and my father will do it, instead. It literally brings me to my knees with admiration of his endurance and strength. I look to his example for my own guidance. I take time to read, to watch a movie on TV and to work on my Alzheimer's Art Quilt project, by hand. I give myself a couple of hours to rest and to attempt to recuperate. Then, as I work once again, it gives my father a chance to do the same.

My mother does the best that she can. She attempts to swallow pills that she hates to swallow. She gives herself, her own shots of insulin...two to three times a day. And amazingly, she maintains an honest awareness of increasing memory and understanding losses. She is still able to joke about it and say..."I'm stuck. What am I supposed to do next?" She can ask "What will happen to me?" "Who will help me when I get really bad?" and even, " I'm afraid. I need your help." Those simple honest statements bring me to my knees, as well.

I look at these two dear, dear people through my own worn out eyes and all I can think is "How do they do it?" How do they keep going on day after day with multiple insulin testings, shots, pills, help with all aspects of daily life....over and over and over. Something simple for you or I, may take hours and hours for her. The day ends after it has barely begun. It is a progression of endless taking up of time to do the simplest things.

But we are a team, as my father says. The three of us are now working together, even for the three weeks that I am here. And on many days, we share such good times and wonderful experiences. It might have taken 4 hours to get ready to leave the house for a two hour activity or drive, but oh, the fun we have, together!

Yesterday, we drove out the Thane Road, which is on the Juneau side of the Gastineau Channel. We watched eagles and waterfalls and wide open beaches. We saw sailboats, and cruise ships and then, tourists filling the Juneau streets. We gawked and gaped, like tourists ourselves, at all of the new stores filling our Juneau streets...gold, diamonds, platinum, furs, art, sculpture and of course......Alaskan t-shirts!

We drove out to the end of the road, and then back again to Sheep Creek. I had packed some Diet Pepsi for my Mother, and a regular one for my Dad and we sipped them in the quiet and peaceful air, feeling the bright warming sunshine on our faces.

"This is a good day!" exclaimed my Mother. And she was right. It was.

shown above:
Douglas Island as seen from Thane Rd. in Juneau, Alaska

9 comments:

  1. I am so glad you are getting to spend quality time with your parents. Your parents have such a gifted relationship. The magic you describe is that, magic, it is there, but special between them, words just don't seem to even give them the fireworks of celebration they deserve! You too! I wish you the best in the time you are there. I love the descriptions of your travels too! You are such an inspiration and you get that from your parents, they should be proud!!!

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  2. Ah Michele, one wonders how the heart can expand and expand and expand with the joy, pride and amazement displayed in your parents home. And then alternately cringe at all the challenges, trials, and obstacles that my younger eyes see before them, and you. But it is a beautiful thing, their love and devotion, and what a rare opportunity you are having to bear witness to it, and be able to find the words and share your awe and amazement. Love truly runs deep in your family. My heartfelt prayers and best wishes to all of you, Big hugs, Finn

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  3. Now we know how it is that you happen to be so special.
    I read something once that sked why one mother could take care of 4 small children, but 4 adult children couldn't take care of one aged mother. It's haunted me for years, and you've done a LOT to help get that out of my head.
    I have to agree with Finn - you're blessed to be a part of their lives, and we should all be so lucky to have a love like that.

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  4. What a beautiful testament to your parents.

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  5. What a beautiful post. You are all very lucky to have each other.

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  6. What a beautiful post. Both your parents are wonderful people, and it is easy to see why you turned out the way you did. Your father has much more energy and strength than I do at half his age! The scenery is beautiful as well.

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  7. You are so poetic.

    It is comforting to see your thought process about your parents and their challenges. I wonder about my own experience and know that in maybe the not so far future that my mother's life will be like this too. I don't think she is at the stage of wondering what is happening to her. And that surprises me. How can you say tens of times a day "I don't remember." and not notice yourself that something is amiss?

    Your mother is blessed with your father's love and care. Although my sister-in-law is caring and loving, she has her children to think of first. I wish I could be around to help more...but I am first my husband's wife... in Japan no less! Many prayers for your parents and you. Look how they raised you! They have shown dedication to each other and have passed that on to you! Your dedication to them is wonderful.

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  8. Such wonderful memories for you act as keeper of. (ok, that sentence sucks -- but you get the drift). Hold tight to those memories and know that your love is what will give both of them strength -- as well as their love for each other! Hugs to you in Alaska from my little corner of the cornfields.

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  9. How wonderful that you can all hold some "good days" in your hearts!

    Jeanne

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.