Shifting Traditions in Uncertain Times
I used to own a restaurant that we would open on Thanksgiving to feed anyone who had nowhere else to go. But since those days, things have changed. In 2017, I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I had been leaving items like coffee cups around the house in strange places, and my husband Ricky noticed that I wouldn’t leave my office while working, which meant that I would forget to eat all day. Another time, I left a pie in the oven and left the house. It is an understatement to say that relinquishing my baking and cooking role over the past few years has been incredibly difficult. It is hard to get me out of the kitchen, especially my own! But I know my limits.
Through the support of my loved ones, I’ve been able to make some adjustments more easily than others. This Thanksgiving, instead of traveling to Charleston or Rhode Island to see my daughters, I will be staying home. But staying home doesn’t mean the holiday spirit is cancelled! I am THE holiday person, a massive fan of everything that screams ‘holidays!’ We will find a way to bring the magic this season, like we always do.
This year, Ricky will be taking on most of the preparations, including making the stuffing the night before Thanksgiving. My sister, her husband and two close friends will be here for a more intimate gathering due to the uptick in numbers we have been seeing in COVID cases. We have preordered a meal to make things easier, but we will be having prime rib as a treat, because I am far too particular about my turkey!
These days, when I am in the kitchen, Ricky oversees me like a hawk, making sure I set timers and that the oven is turned off after I use it. I never wrote recipes down in the past. I didn’t even have to use measurement cups, because everything was in my head! But now I forget steps to a recipe, or an ingredient. I will try my food after I make it and realize that something is missing. There is nothing more devastating than making a dish you have created 1,000 times and have it not taste quite right. And now my daughter and sister are asking for family recipes, like my Great-Nana’s peanut butter cookie favorite, which I can’t fully remember.
One thing I have found helpful in mourning my shifting duties in the kitchen is to take a breather while others are cooking. I'll get emotional because of the things I can’t do, and I know when it is time to remove myself from the situation, I take a walk with my grandchild or have a little break in another room of the house.
I get overwhelmed more easily because of my disease, so smaller scaled-down gatherings are a good option, and that is the best choice during the pandemic we are all facing. In the past, I have booked a hotel room with Ricky instead of staying at my daughter's. That way, if I am overwhelmed to the point of needing to escape her house, the hotel is just down the road. No matter where we are, if things feel like they are starting to close in on me, I just need somewhere to have some quiet time away. My family understands, including the children. If you are living with Alzheimer’s and need to get away for a bit of quiet and relaxation, have a loved one take you on a drive, listen to soft holiday music and look at the holiday decorations. These simple things can be so relaxing.
Keeping The Holidays Magical
This really is the most wonderful time of year. When I was younger, I did not have an upbringing that included that magic, so I was determined that my own kids and grandkids would have the best of everything. My ex-husband and I divorced young, and we knew we wanted our girls to grow up in a loving atmosphere where they never felt alone. My ex and I spent every holiday together when the kids were growing up, and they knew that we loved them no matter what. Love is where the magic begins.
Before I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I talked to my one daughter on the phone about once a week. Now she calls every day. My son calls me multiple times a week. Then there was one day months ago when I was shutting the garage door, returning from dinner with Ricky. A car was pulling into our driveway. It was my brother, who had driven 16 hours from Massachusetts. “I just wanted to say I love you,” he said. My disease has made my close family stronger and helps me appreciate every single day.
There are so many people living with Alzheimer’s that do not have anyone, and who are left alone, sometimes because people have abandoned them due to their disease. I want those people to know that people like me, who are living with Alzheimer’s, are trying their best. Give your aunt a second to relax. Take a moment to understand how you can make your grandma more comfortable in a loud atmosphere. Even scaled-down holiday celebrations can be stressful, even for people without Alzheimer’s! Patience and love can go a long way in quieting the noise.
I thank my husband Ricky for everything. We were best friends for 15 years before we got married, and we've been married for 16 years now. 11 years my senior, I was always going to be the one to care for him, but now cares for me. I am very fortunate to have him as my nurse and my personal comedian: he is everything that you could ever want, and why I continue to stay strong and fight this disease. And I know that we already have the best gift anyone could ask for: love.
My greatest hope is that each person living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers get to enjoy the 2020 holiday season. We're not guaranteed next year. One day, my symptoms will advance. But while I am here, we are going to make memories together. My advice for others: Put down your phone. Look at each other. Listen to someone with Alzheimer’s, and don’t speak for them. Allow them their moment to feel in control. We are still here, and we just want to be loved.
What are you most thankful this holiday season? Tell us in the blog comments.
About: Originally from Massachusetts, Laureen (Laurie) Waters, 54, currently lives with husband Ricky in Clover, South Carolina. Laurie owned an HVAC company, then a bar/restaurant, then worked as a patient rep for a pharmaceutical company. She has also been a lifelong volunteer with domestic violence shelters. As a member of our Early-Stage Advisory Group, Laurie advocates for the benefits of early detection and diagnosis.
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