Emotional Memories

More often than not when I arrive for a visit at the carehome where my Mama lives, she is either sleeping or simply staring out into space.

I usually put my hand under her chin and turn her head towards me in order to make eye contact and get her attention.  When she looks at me, there is no flicker of recognition in her eyes. I’ve come to terms with that – knowing I’m her daughter is a memory that dementia stole long ago.

I always begin with a smile. Establishing eye contact is our initial point of connection.  Everything proceeds from there.

When I am able to make eye contact during our visits, it is easier for her to make a connection between my speaking to the noise she is hearing.

A famous quote from Maya Angelou, an American poet says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A recent study by the University of Iowa has confirmed Angelou’s statement. The results of the study concludes that caregivers can have a profound influence for either good or bad on the emotional state of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.finishing_well-in-life-connect

It’s called Emotional memory. It is the memory of the feelings associated with an event, as opposed to the facts of the event. They may not remember the details of recent visit by a loved one or mistreatment by staff at a nursing home, but those actions can have a lasting impact on how they feel.

One of the researchers in the study, Guzmán-Vélez, states,Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.”

So it turns out that even though Mama and others in her condition are not able to remember facts, their emotional memory is as active as ever.

I am not always able to achieve a good connection with Mama during our visits. Sometimes she is so far lost in the world of dementia that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” are unable to pull her consciousness back to this world again. But we are doing the best we can… and so is Mama.

Still the life of the party at 105

Even at the age of 105, Babe Gow isn’t the oldest living member of her family. That distinction is held by her brother, Larry Matthews. At 110, he is currently the oldest living man in the United States.

Born in Oakland on Aug. 22, 1911, she was the seventh of nine children. Her given name is Clairbel, but you’ll get ‘the look’ if you call her that – she prefers to go by the name ‘Babe’.finishing_well_in_life_babe

Babe married Andrew Gow, now deceased, in the early 1930s. They moved to Red Bluff in 1944. Having the opportunity to go into business, they opened “Andy Gow’s Donut Kitchen”.  Every morning the delightful scent of the doughnuts cooking drew folks in from nearby business – it was common for the line to reach down the block.

Later, they became the managers of the “Tremont Hotel” on Main Street. It was told that they never turned anyone away. During the busy rodeo season, even if they were completely booked, Babe was known to allow out-of-town cowboys to find a corner to get some much-needed sleep.

Babe’s managerial abilities were also put to good use as the manager of the Hope Chest on Grant Street – a position she held for many years.  Never one to sit still, she was also the secretary of the Auction Yard. If that wasn’t enough, she spent some time working in Rasco’s Variety Store and Sprouse Ritz on Walnut Street as well as selling Avon and Home Interiors.

Babe loved to be on the go. A full blooded Portuguese, she was pleased to have the opportunity to travel to Portugal for a trip of a lifetime with her family after the death of her husband.

In spite of her busy schedule, Babe always found time for her two favorite sports; Bowling and Golf. She was on a bowling league for several decades, and continued to play golf well into her late 80s. Ever spry, she was still climbing up on the house at the age of 90, but hiding her ladder put a stop to that.

Loving people is a skill that comes naturally to Babe, and she shines the brightest when she is with her family – especially the babies. Anytime the little ones arrive at Brookdale to visit, her whole face lights up. Babe’s speech is becoming limited, but her ability to communicate is still quite strong.

Andrew and Babe’s three daughters still live in Northern California, as do many of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

A party was held a few weeks ago to mark Babe’s 105th birthday. One of the cards on display said, “Happy Birthday to one hot Babe”. At the age of 105, she’s still the life of the party.

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

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Retired banker investing in his community

Everett McDonough is a man who never stops reading. He routinely reads about 200 books a year. He has settled on a favorite spot in his lovely living room surrounded by family portraits and mementos to enjoy all his books. There are plenty of regular books, but I noticed that a Kindle and smartphone were at his fingertips. Ev has certainly kept up with the technology of the day as attested to by the beautiful classical music courtesy of Pandora emanating from his Sonos speakers system.finishing_well_in_life_ev

Born in 1934, his family moved to Yonkers, NY in 1935. He was raised in the neighborhood of Bryn Mawr and attended public schools. Ev received his BA in Economics and History at Cornell University.

While at Cornell, he was in the Air Force ROTC. Ev served as a commissioned officer after graduation working as an Aircraft Navigator in the Air Force. After his discharge, he was fortunate enough spend a summer as a tour guide throughout Europe for the children of a close family friend.

Returning to the US, Ev earned an MBA at Columbia University and was immediately hired by Security First National Bank of Los Angeles. After graduation in the early 60s, he came out to California and eventually settled in the Pasadena area. More schooling was ahead as he attended Pacific Coast Banking School in the University of Washington, Seattle on behalf of the bank. He graduated with honors from the three-year summer program.

Ev’s father, who has a PhD in Organic Chemistry instilled into him the importance of giving back to your community. Taking it to heart, Ev became involved with the Pasadena Jr. Chamber, and both the Los Angeles and Pasadena Rotary Clubs. His boss was the National Chairman of American Red Cross and Ev was fortunate to work closely with him on several projects.

Ev loved his work and had a successful career in banking. He was told once that his successes were not from luck, but that he was able to use experiences that came his way. He retired from Security Pacific Bank as a Sr. Vice President.

After retirement, he stayed in the Pasadena area until he discovered Red Bluff while visiting friends. He moved north shortly afterward. Ev immediately jumped into activities and associations with both feet. In fact, he began attending the Red Bluff Rotary Club meetings before he even moved to the area.

Other areas of interest include the Friends of the library, SIRS (Seniors in Retirement), St. Elizabeth Development Committee, Tehama Concert Series, P.E.T.S., Board member of The Grove and my personal favorite – where I became acquainted with Ev: Tehama County Tax-Aide program, that he has headed up for the past several years. He is also very active in the Presbyterian Church.

Knowing Ev, there are probably many other involvements as well. He did mention that it might be time for him to cut back and slow down a bit – we’ll see how that goes.

In 2008, Ev was named ‘Senior Citizen of the Year’ at the annual Farm/City night. Ev loves animals and is the personal valet of his three cats. He thinks he owns them, but the cats know better. Everywhere Ev goes he changes and enriches the community around him.

When asked why he is so involved, he responded, “There’s no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. I appreciate the opportunities that are here and I feel an obligation to give back to the community.


Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook