Saturday, July 14, 2012

Still Adjusting

As I went through the grocery store on Saturday morning, I saw the cupcakes.  They were chocolate with brightly colored frosting and sprinkles.   They made me sad.  I am not a fan, however my mother was.  Bringing home a special treat was always fun for me.  Her eyes would light up as it was brought to her.   Sometimes she ate a little, sometimes the whole thing.  There weren't a lot of things I could do for her, so treats made me happy.

I am also still carrying her medical information.  I have her social security card, her medicare supplement insurance card and the document granting me health power of attorney.  I'm just not ready to take them out yet.  I think they have been with me for almost 6 years.

I'll get there.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


My mother was a spitfire. For a woman who was so versed in manners and protocol, it is amazing she survived her own childhood. From my own parenting, it’s important to carefully select the stories from your youth to share with your children. If this is true about the stories she told me, I can’t imagine what she did not tell me.
The “ravines” is a beautiful stretch of Sheridan road that winds north from Wilmette. The road is carved into the landscape and is loaded with blind corners. It ascends gently so that it is possible to drive downhill entirely in neutral. Drive it carefully and stay in your lane. My mother did it in roller skates; metal roller skates. I cannot imagine how fast she was going.

She told me how she loved Halloween as a child. However, she never had time for a costume because she was too busy with the eggs she had amassed.

She chased the ice truck down the street, jumped on it, and sucked on ice chips as she rode along.

My mother always had time for me. She listened to me and was ready to listen at any hour of the day and night. She always provided perspective and made me feel better. I felt wanted and loved. Every word I know in French was on a list she quizzed me. She listened to hours and hours of practicing with nothing but kind words to say.

I often hear my mother’s words come out of my mouth.

• I remember as I’d leave with a date to do something competitive, she’d whisper “let him win.”

• On the bigger events, she gave me “mad money.” If I got mad, I could go home.

• She coached me to “be an actress…” to go bravely into situations where I was not feeling too brave.

• She told me “Girlfriends are important, nurture those relationships.”

• The best lesson is one I have repeated to my daughters. Pain and loss teach you empathy. Empathy empowers you to be a better friend.

We are losing witnesses to a history we can never forget. She would talk about the depression, the holocaust and Pearl Harbor with such passion. My mother left Northwestern early. She said she could not sit in her sorority house and classes when we were fighting such an evil force. She had to help.

We cannot forget.

I can’t ignore the elephant in the room; Alzheimer’s and dementia are horrid diseases. They steal your loved ones in little teaspoons. As she slid away, I could always see her locked inside trying to come out. This will not be the woman I remember. I will remember the woman who cared for me, who helped me build my courage and showed me that you can’t be brave unless you are truly frightened.

Lord, thank you for all the beautiful things you give us. Thank you for your love to us and the time we are given to love each other. Thank you for the gift of salvation through your son. Walk with us now and we start the rest of our lives without her.

The Last Hug

Grace's struggles ended Saturday night, 9:00 April 28, 2012.  The Thursday before I called my daughters to tell them it was time.  She slipped into a deep sleep.  We sat with her, we slept in her room, we played all the music she loved.  Hospice came and went.  Our minister came and prayed with us. My nephew came.  John and Greg were there. 

At the end, we held her, talked to her, prayed with her and sang to her. 

We really don't sing well.

After she was gone, suddenly the only Grace I could remember was my mother.  She was strong and vibrant; her thoughts were clear and clever.  She was my friend, my confident, my support.  The weak woman with the disintegrating mind was hard to remember.

I thought I was ready and the wave of grief surprised and engulfed me.   My daughters stepped in to support me.  They stayed with me and they watched over me.  Most of all, they grieved with me.  They understood the pain because it was in their hearts as well.  The Lord waited and took my mom when He knew I'd be supported.  He is a merciful and loving God.

The service wasn't until May 12.  My daughters spent the time scanning photos and building a memory book for the service.  It was beautiful.

Her dog is miserable.  For the first few days he went into her room repeatedly, searching and crying.

Grace Cobean Harrison, 88, longtime Glenview resident, formerly of Evanston, passed away April 28, 2012, beloved wife of the late Joseph; loving mother of Laine (Martin) Cobb, Jeph (Jo) Harrison and Edie Harrison; proud grandmother of Dan (Christina) Martin, Kit (Janet) Harrison, Marc (Christi) Harrison, Ellie (Randy) Harrison Bly, Tessa Harrison, Mandy (Greg) Friend, Carrie Muehlbauer and Tom Harrison; great grandmother of Olivia, Isa, Alistair, Agatha, Jimmy, Rosie and Isla. Grace is survived by her dog, Blackie. She attended Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University. She was a member of PEO, AOII and the bridge club that didn't play bridge. Memorial Service Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m. at Glenview Community Church, 1000 Elm St. (at Glenview Rd.), Glenview. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to ASPCA at, or Alzheimer's Association at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breathing Easier

All houses make sounds.  To those who live there, the sounds become rhythmic and soothing.  A small change, and the balance is disturbed. 

There’s a new sound in my house.   It is mechanical but subtle.  I’m getting used to it.  I can hear it and it changes from room to room.

It’s oxygen for Grace cleverly stuffed into the bathroom with the tube winding around to her nose.  It’s interesting that she doesn’t swipe at it.  Months ago, I guarantee that would have been yanked out. 

She is so passive and peaceful slipping from wake to sleep with ease.  When awake, she is sweet and loving.  Give her a kiss on the forehead and she smiles.   Show her the sign for “I love you” and her hands start to sign back.

I thought I was all cried out.  She has been leaving me a little bit at a time.  I thought that would make me adjust.  I am learning that I compensated for the little slides.  I didn’t adjust.  It didn’t soften the blow.  My mother is in there trying to get out.

I always wondered which would take her.  Would it be the Alzheimer’s  or her body?  She is in there.  She still loves.  She still is comforted by a touch.  She still loves to hear that she is loved.  She still tells me that I am loved.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Last week, Grace had a fever of 101.6. The minute I hear that news I know it’s not good. She is so tiny and weak. How can she possibly fight this? I made a stop to get a thermometer that does not need to go under her tongue and some aspirin. In better days, she could not swallow pills so she chewed the aspirin. It still sends chills down my spine.

The fever was gone the next morning. How does that happen? She has no signs of being ill, but I warned the caregivers of her famous rash she would get on her arms with any illness. The next day, there was no rash on the arms. I know Grace would have been disappointed. It was her badge; her proof she had been ill.

Grace has a different rash a bit south of the arms. The caregivers give me updates as they have been working with Hospice to get it under control. I dutifully listen and try to synthesize all the information. They have been letting her ‘air’ dry by piling up pads on the bed and building a blanket tent. It’s quite clever. I have two very good caregivers and I am thankful every day for them. Yesterday they showed me where the rash was so I could see it was gone. Yes, the skin is healthy. But she is so thin. She looked like the pictures I had seen of the Nazi death camps. Her pelvis was draped with a layer of pale skin. Her legs are so tiny, you can trace the bone to the knee with no interruption. I knew she was thin, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw that.

I walked out of the room. I’m sure the caregivers thought I wasn’t interested. But I was and I am.