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, 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