Mom's Alzheimer's - A Long Slow Journey into Night....

Mom had Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's is called 'the long slow journey into night'. A journey that can be filled with confusion, pain, distress, caring, and love. For the person affected. For those who love them. It affects each person differently. Over 4 million people suffer from Alzheimer's in the United States. There is no cure. Here's Mom's story through my eyes....

Mom was born Pearl Marie Wolf on February 12, 1913. She grew up with 2 older brothers (Ken and Bill) and a younger sister on 444 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, New York. Between 118th and 119th Street. They use to get their Christmas trees at 8th Avenue and 125th Street. They spent summers in Collinsville, Connecticut. Mom had an older step sister. Aunt Laurel. A saint; I wish I could talk to her now. 

Mom with a Pony Tail!

Mom at PS 172, NYC, 1925

Mom at 15.

Mom Age 15.

The Two Wolf Sisters
Mom's sister and Mom in George Washington High School, NYC, 1930. The Wolf family moved to Seaman Avenue in Washington Heights section of NYC in 1926. Mom's pop, William Carl Otto Wolf, was a lawyer in NYC. Mom's granddad owned a saloon on 2216 1st Avenue, NYC. 'Happy Hour' consisted of stewed chicken and 5 cent beer served in a Pilsner glass.
Mom worked at 18 Pine Street for the Chase Bank. Then onto the Standard Vacuum Oil Company at 26 Broadway when she married Dad (Bill Davids) in 1939. Banks didn't allow married girls to work there. Many married women didn't wear their wedding rings. They moved to 207th Street in the Innwood section of NYC above Dyckman Street. Dad collected stamps.  
The Davids and Wolfs bought a piece of property in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania on Lake Teedyuskung in 1939. They built a Sear's prefab 3BR/1BA summer home (Dove Haven model). The outhouse was built by the WPA! Everyone enjoyed summers up at 'Lake T'. We'd open on Memorial Day and close on Columbus Day. We kept the lake house for nearly 50 years! Mom - The Bathing Beauty
Mom on the dock at Lake Teedyuskung. 1933.
On the Lake Front The Wolf Family
Dad and Mom at Lake Teedyuskung. 1946.   Mom, Uncle Harry, Nannie, Harry, and Aunt Lee up at Lake Teedyuskung. 1946.
Mom and Dad bought a house at 290 Concord Drive in River Edge, New Jersey, in November, 1949. A big 4BR Reese home right next to Van Saun Park in Paramus, NJ.
 Dad - 1913-1971 By the mid-1950s, we spent every summer at the Lake House. The lake was clear and clean. Lots of good fishing, swimming, water skiing, and friends. We'd go to the Coocoo's Nest every Wednesday and Saturday night and listen to Vinnie Engvaldsen call the square dances. I'd dance with Donna Robins and Patty Hughes. Eat 'Nuttie Buttys' and drink real birch beer and cream sodas. Summer night skies so clear you could see all the way to Heaven.
  Dad. 1959.  
Dad worked at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. One Madison Avenue, NYC. For 34 years. He was very good to us. There were never any arguments. He took care of us. Always drove us to the lake. Got us a boat for water skiing on Lake T. Car pooled into NYC with 5 other men in an old Ford Mercury. Got home every day at 5:30PM for dinner. I use to shine his shoes for work every Sunday night. He shopped at Packard's in Hackensack every Thursday night. Dad was very proud about his becoming a Deacon at the First Congregational Church in River Edge, NJ. It meant alot. He always spent a few minutes on the church steps talking to lots of people after the sermon by Pastor Gill. He died of a heart attack on October 6, 1971. It was the largest turnout ever at the Volk Funeral in Oradell. Two nights. People crowded outside to get in. Such was the man. Our Dad....
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Bldg.
Mom and Dad in Good Times.  
Mom and Dad. 1959.
   Happy Together - 30 Years!

Mom and Dad's 34 wedding anniversary at Aunt Laurel's home in Oradell, New Jersey. 1970.

They sure do look happy! Dad passed away the next year while I as in graduate school at New Mexico State University.

 Mom - Studio Portrait

Studio photo of Mom.


Mom and Aunt Lee

Mom and her sister, Oradell, NJ. 1988.

  When Dad passed away in 1971, Mom took care of the home at 290 Concord Drive and all the finances alone. Plus the summer house in the Poconos. She and her sister spent alot of time together playing cards, traveling, shopping. They had Sunday night pizza together every year for 20 years. They always called one another first thing in the morning to make sure everything was OK.
The Begining of Mom's Long Journey into the Night  
Both Ted and I moved to California in the 1970's. We called Mom every week. For 25 years, I returned to River Edge, NJ, every October to take Mom and her sister, Lee, on an annual vacation. I drove, chauffeuring them all around the Northeast. We saw New England, Canada, and the Mid Atlantic states. None of the cousins took them anywhere; they were all too 'busy'. No busier, really, than me or anyone else. It's just a matter of what you think is important. For 25 years, they just didn't want to spend the time or money with relatives. Our last trip was to Martha's Vineyard and Cape May, NJ, October 1995.

Mom first warned the family at a Thanksgiving dinner in 1994 that she was 'starting to forget things'. We rationalized the talk as just part of getting older. We all forget things. Although this type of forgetting is different. Mom was aware that something different was happening to her. But we didn't know and never suspected until it was almost too late.

Our aunt called in September of 1996 and said: "You'd better come home early this year." Usually, we went on our trips in October when the seasons change. No one in the family told Ted and me what to expect. It was the other family's little secret. They wanted us to see for ourselves how Mom had changed drastically in a matter of 3 months.

When I got home in September, 1996, Mom was different. Scared. Suspicious. Afraid of people she'd known for years. The drapes were drawn during the day. She had covered the windows with newspaper, so we learned later. She couldn't keep track of things. She couldn't use the oven or the microwave. She could not take care of the house. Our aunt had been coming over from Oradell 2-3 days a week for 3 months because Mom would feel 'woosey'. Mom expected her younger sister, Lee, to help her. We learned later that's how Mom described her confusion. This pattern of behavior started to take it's toll on the family relationships as we were soon to learn. To make matters worse, Mom had hurt her back. Her bones were so brittle from a poor diet that she dropped from 125 lbs to 102 lbs. She was extremely agitated. And wouldn't sleep. She'd sleep for an hour and then get up 'wired', just bonkers. I was exhausted after 5 days at home. I got no sleep. Both Ted and I slept in our clothes, ready to jump up when Mom would ring the bell or yell. She would curse and fuss if I talked to the neighbors or went anywhere. She wouldn't let us go food shopping unless someone stayed with her. She had gone from a saint to a maniac in a few weeks. I don't know where she got the energy but it would continue for 8 more years....

Mom - Not doing so well...


Mom had reverted to an old hair style she hadn't used in 60 years. Her idea of 'self' was altered, changed, as though her self image and past memories joined. She could not separate self from now.
Mom said to me in New Jersey: "Rickie, you don't understand. People are leaving me." Mom knew deep down that something was happening to her. She was forgetting people.
Unkind Acts

When there's a crisis in the family, strange things can happen. I learned the hard way. Right after I got home, our aunt Lee had Mom and I over for dinner in Oradell. The family had arranged the dinner to get us out of River Edge for a night and over on their 'turf' and into their control. The family ordered out: Boston Market. While we were having cocktails and hors de uvers, I sat right next to Mom. I was feeling very uncomfortable but couldn't explain it. But our aunt noticed. She laughed and said: "See how Rickie is protecting her; just like Bill (our Dad)! Ha, Ha.". Her laugh sounded hollow, insincere, nearly evil. Perhaps our aunt knew that I felt something just wasn't right.

After dinner, our aunt said: "Go outside and talk to your cousin, Doug. Go outside and talk to your cousin. Yes. He's waiting for you." I thought this strange but went outside anyway. Outside and out of earshot of Mom, my cousin, Doug, blocked the walkway and confronted me. He said: "You get her out of here or there's going to trouble! I want you to get her away from our mother!". I was shocked! My own cousin threatened my life and Mom! No sympathy, no advice. Just a blatant threat. After 45 years of growing up with your family, they turn into something you don't recognize. An inlaw, Ray, delivered the second punch. Having prepared for the confrontation, he said he had read alot about Alzheimer's and thought Mom might have it. No advice about getting a professional diagnosis. Just his uneducated, dispassionate, loose opinion.

I wish they had told us what they really knew and felt a lot sooner. They make mistakes. Maybe they were just reacting under stress. Maybe that's the way they really are. Our aunt, feeling remorseful, offered to look for a 'nursing' home near her in the northern NJ area. But you could tell her heart wasn't in it. She didn't want the burden. Besides, her family was completely against it. "You should be with your boys", she told Mom. That expression Mom repeated to us every day for 5 years. Over and over and over again. "My sister says: 'You should be with your boys. You should be with your boys'. What Mom knew was that her sister was really saying 'I don't want you to be with me'. Mom, although she was sick, knew she was abandoned by her sister.

I learned another lesson about the family. I remember a cousin's remark when Mom gave me Aunt Amanda's silver boudoir set. With a twinkle in her eye, she said: "Oh, give it to me - I can get a good price for it!" No consideration for the intrinsic value of a family heirloom. But with them it was always about the money. But we couldn't dwell on these old family matters and still do what was right for Mom.

We needed to get a professional judgment about Mom so we visited geriatric doctors in NJ to get a diagnosis. Mom had blood tests, examinations, and MRI scans. The MRI scans confirmed that Mom had Alzheimer's. The first time I heard Dr. Burkle say; "I'm afraid the diagnosis is Alzheimer's" - I cried. So did the nurse in the office. You always think it happens to someone else. Now Mom needed 24-hour a day care. She could not be alone. The rest of the family surreptiously turned there backs. Our only real choice was to get Mom out of New Jersey and take her to California where 'assisted living' is accepted and affordable. Nursing homes in northern New Jersey were all so dismal and depressing. And very expensive. $3K to $6K a month. It was a time of transition.

Moving to California It all happened so fast. In 30 days, Ted found Mom a wonderful assisted-living residence called the Palo Alto Commons in Palo Alto, California. We sold the house where we had lived for 49 years and packed up everything Mom would need for California. It was the right choice. And not a day to spare. Mom needed care immediately. But in a way, we ignored Mom. We made decisions without really asking her - even though we knew she was not cogent to make decisions. She still had feelings which we ignored. I'll never forget Mom saying to me: "Rickie, you never asked me if I wanted to be with you and Ted." That will burn in my heart until I die.

Mom took some time to get adjusted to her new home at Palo Alto Commons, Palo Alto, California. She took to the walker right away, realizing that it would save her from a fall. She accepted the fact that using a walker would save her from a trip to the hospital with a broken hip. Unfortunately, too many people don't adjust to using a walker and end up falling.


Mom using her walker, first time. Palo Alto Commons. 1996. Mom's eyes are coal black in this photo; she could smile and than rage would erupt. She would bang her walker up and down and pace back and forth like a demon. I got to recognize the coal black eyes very quickly....

Mom - In Good Spirits!

Bugsy (Ted's 18 year old Maltese) and Mom. June 1998. After living at the Palo Alto Commons for 2 years.


Bugsy has passed away. 2001.

It took Mom over a year to adjust to the apartment, her new life, neighbors, and a different routine. In the beginning, she would call each of us about 20 times a day. In the early evening, she would curse God, fuss, and fume about every thing. It's called 'Sundowners'. Something about a persons's reaction to darkness. To see your Mom like that rips your heart out. After 2 years at the 'Commons', Mom was a totally different person. Ted and I had dinner there 4 times a week. There was something going on every hour - cards, bingo, exercise, crosswords, entertainment. Great food. Reasonable rent. And she did the best she can. She use to say: "If there's any action going on, I'm there!" The 'long slow journey into night' had been slowed but not stopped. It never is. We just had a hiatus for a few years.
Mom and Ted in better times....

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