After meeting Merida at Disney World during a recent vacation, we decided we would finally try to watch the movie Brave with our daughter.
My husband had gone out during his lunch break to buy the DVD when it first came out. He went to Target to buy a special edition that came with a book. He was so excited to present to her that evening.
She was interested in the book, but reluctant to watch the movie, having seen the trailer and finding the mean bear, “too scary for me.” Even after he read the book to her and she learned things all worked out OK in the end, she did not want to.
We didn’t force her. But after her positive response to Merida on vacation, we thought we’d give it another try.
This time, it wasn’t the bear that bothered her. And her response really took me by surprise.
At one point in the movie, she abruptly left the room, without saying anything. After a few minutes I went looking for her, and found her in our bedroom. She was under the blankets of our bed.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked.
Her voice was small; she seemed distressed, “Merida and her Mommy were fighting.”
“Yes, they were.”
“Well, sometimes when people love each other, they have disagreements. It’s a very normal part of a relationship. What’s important is that you respect and love each other, even when you disagree.”
“Buy why did Merida and her Mommy fight?”
“Merida didn’t want to get married, and she didn’t feel like her Mommy was listening to her. She was frustrated.”
“Do all childs (sic) fight with their Mommies?”
“At some point, yes, honey. You and I will have disagreements as you grow older, too.”
“I don’t want to fight with you.”
“It’s OK, honey. No one really wants to fight. But it happens. The best part about fighting is making up.”
“What does ‘make up’ mean?”
“It means you hug and say, ‘I love you.’”
“I do love you, Mommy!”
“And I love you. I always will. No matter what.”
She hugged me hard, holding on longer than normal. She said she didn’t want to watch any more of the movie, and I told her that was fine.
I was struck by how troubled she was seeing Merida and her mother fighting. It was so sweet. So innocent. If only she could stay that way forever…
They gave us a list. To make preparing easier, it read.
It included all the basics. Practical things: furniture, linens, toiletries, and clothing. Under each category there were specific items listed.
We were pressed for time. Rushed. We had known the day would come; yet when it arrived we felt unprepared. The circumstances were unlike anything we ever could have imagined.
There wasn’t time to process everything we were going through. We had to focus, work hard and get things ready fast.
I felt a heavy weight as we made our preparations. This was more than a room in a memory care facility. It would be his home for the rest of his days.
He needed familiar things. Items used in his everyday life before he became ill.
He needed favorite things. Items that bring him comfort and joy.
He needed reminders. Items to stimulate treasured memories and help him retain them for as long as possible.
But when those memories are gone, I want my father to be surrounded by evidence of a full life. A good life. I want him to see he was loved by many. Accomplished much. Laughed often.
I painstakingly compiled a photo history of his life. Family. Friends. Trips. Events…
It was a labor of love. But, if I’m truly honest, it was as much for me as it was for him.
The thing about dementia is, the grieving process begins long before your loved one dies. You lose him before you actually lose him. It is a pain unlike any I have experienced.
And, at a certain point you are relegated to the sidelines of your loved one’s life. Forced to watch the decent into madness and powerless to stop it.
In many ways, the man I have cherished all my life is gone. But he will forever be my hero. My role model. My dad. As long as he is alive, he deserves to be treated with love, caring, respect and above all, dignity.
And so I helped prepare a room for my father. Because it was all that I could do.
Spring has arrived and for many schools, spring break is just around the corner… which means that all across the country, minivans and SUVS will be hitting the road, packed to the gills with getaway gear, tense parents and excited kids. Our family is no exception. Our plans include a five hour ride to Washington D.C. and there’s no doubt our minivan (aka “Swagger Wagon”) will be bursting at the seams as my husband and I bicker about why we didn’t leave earlier or who forgot to pack what and the kids are all abuzz with a sense of adventure. As this annual “break” begins. here are a few of our survival tactics to ensure we arrive with our sense of adventure – and humor – still in tact.
- Pack plastic bags. And lots of ‘em. And then, embrace their many uses. A plastic bag is a mobile garbage can, containing everything from clementine peels to leaky juice boxes. It is a mobile diaper genie, containing dirty diapers or pee-soaked pants. It is a laundry basket on the go and, especially useful if you have a kid prone to get carsick. Not only is the baggie a great way to store soiled clothes, it can be a great barf-catcher, even at 65 mph. Believe me, I know.
- Pack snacks. And lots of ‘em. It’s rare that we leave our street without one of our five back-seat drivers claiming to be “starving.” Since we’d prefer not to stop at the gas station at the edge of our town — or anywhere else along the way, for that matter — we pack a lot of provisions. Pending the time of our departure, there may be “breakfast in a bag” (a “combo pack” of finger-friendly cereal like Cheerios, MiniWheats, Puffins, etc.), clementines, bananas, apple slices, grapes, Goldfish, granola bars, graham crackers, cheese sticks and more. A well-fed clan of kids is a happy clan of kids. And when you’re going to be trapped in cramped quarters for hours on end, you want – you need — happy kids!
- Play games. Believe it or not, we do not have a video screen in our minivan and we don’t pass the time in the car heads-down in the devices of the day. Sure, we dabbled with the Leapster and have been known to pass our iPhones to the backseat for a few minutes of screen time. But, for the majority of the hours we spend watching the world by, we aim to do just that. Watch the world go by. Play the license plate game. Talk about where you’re going. Name the capitals of each state. Play that silly “I’m going on a picnic” game. Tell knock-knock jokes. Sing songs. Even if they are One Direction or Taylor Swift. Anticipate the adventures that lie ahead and on the way home, relive them.
With these things in mind, you just might find that the miles pass by quickly… much like the childhood of the munchkins in the back seat.