People diagnosed with dementia lose bits of themselves over time. All of the traits that make them dynamic and vibrant and, well, them, are stripped away and they eventually become just a vessel. The body still works but the brain does not. Today, dementia is very present in my mom’s brain. Perhaps, if you saw her, you wouldn’t know the difference, but if you try to engage in conversation the only one chatting will be you. But, that’s okay, we have navigated our way around that and SHE SURE DOES SMILE! Our amazing mom was diagnosed with FTD at 63, and about 6 months after her diagnosis, it was apparent June Bug needed some help. Our mom’s wishes were to be taken care of in her home. So, we just moved her into a brand new one (stay tuned for the big reveal) and she is better than ever. Her new, bright and happy home that was made out of love has been an instant burst of awesomeness for my mom as she is responding incredibly well to the transition. However, that transition wouldn’t have been seamless if it wasn’t for two key people. This pair of women are June Bug’s care giving dream team. In many ways these ladies represent a lot of the very components that made my mom the incredible person that she is. These gals quite literally came from different corners of the earth yet they share one giant common bond. That bond is with my mom. My mom and these women communicate without words. They understand her. They stimulate her. They cook for her her. They live for her. They are the reason my mom is doing more than just existing with a degenerative brain disease. They are the reason I have not been shipped off to the nearest nut house. These women are instrumental in my mom’s very high level of care and my entire family has transitioned into the acceptance phase of this process because of them. I have been wanting to share them with all of you for some time. Now is the time. Meet Flora and Zina.
Our Dream Team. (From left to right. Anita, Flora and Zena)
I shall begin with Flora as she has been with us from the beginning and when she swooped in this family was pretty damn near broken. We were scared and tired and completely lost and my mom needed so much more than we could give her. I will never forget the day we met Flora and introduced her to June Bug. My mom and I watched as she walked to the front door. My mom was nervous and I was exhausted. You know when you meet someone for the first time? Instantly, my gut said, “This is a good one.” I can’t be totally sure what my mom’s thoughts were, however, I think she may have been thinking something along the lines of, “Who in the hell is this spunky little Asian chick?” Flora came in and understood my mom’s needs and respected the notion that she was going to have to earn her trust. It took some time, but not much. In my opinion, Flora came in at the hardest time as we were still in shock and I was about to entrust this woman with my mother’ s life. My mom was still talking enough to tell us she didn’t need help. We knew Flora was going to have her hands full. But like every obstacle I imagine this woman has encountered in her own life, she took the challenge head on and has built a relationship with my mom that is pretty damn adorable if I do say so myself. There is something unique about my mom’s relationship with Flora that differs from the other ladies. If you recall, I had mentioned how these women have in many ways filled voids within my mom and for our family. To me, Flora embodies youth and energy. She represents me and my siblings. Flora is a symbol of life and I know that my mom’s connection with Flora lies within that ideal. If you knew my mom, you knew she loved being around her kids. We were her life. We made it bright. We made her laugh. Still do. So does Flora. Flora was a sign of hope for me and a light we so desperately needed. June’s life is brighter with Flora in it. My family began to heal when she walked in the door. My God this woman will never know how grateful I am for her. But like any great collaboration, there is no “I” in team and Flora needs a break.
Zena and my mom.
Flora goes home on Thursday and the reinforcements come in. The relief pitcher’s name is Zena. At first I thought she was going to be coined “Zena The Warrior”. But, that was too obvious and even though Zena is a GD Ukranian warrior, she has been given a different nickname. Zena is the Anne Sullivan of dementia patients. Remember the story about Helen Keller and her teacher? Yeah, that’s Zena. Zena has an innate understanding of cognitive function. She also happens to be one of the most nurturing women I have ever met. Zena came into this job and into our family’s life and she has only contributed to why my mom continues to thrive with dementia. She also happens to cook like my grandma. Zena represents a very familiar part of my mom’s past. Zena embodies June Bug’s heritage and culture as my grandma was Ukranian too. When this woman is in the kitchen, I know for a fact my mom is whisked back to her childhood or a time when her mom was still alive and cooking. The house smells of stuffed cabbage rolls and soup and all the good things my mom was raised on and loved. When Zena is not healing with food she is dedicated to stimulating my mom’s brain. She often times refers to activities with my mom as her “therapy.” She and my mom play cards and engage in conversation and for the love of Mary, even watch a little freaking Wheel of Fortune. A show our mom’s mom watched religiously. I know my mom loves her and it makes my heart happy. She is kind and patient but also has a wicked sense of humor. I look forward to seeing her as much as my mom and that feeling is incredible.
Flora has a way with her. Just look at the smile.
Lots of love always came out of my mom’s kitchen. Still does, just by a different hand.
There you have it folks. This amazing team of women have been a gift to my mom and in many ways become an extended part of our family. We have been through some tough stuff these last couple years and some major changes have been made. Our mom is in her new house back in the town she has always known and loved and she is thriving. Yes, we so very much miss the old June, but this is life and we all have to keep on living. Our mom is surrounded by an immense amount of love and laughter. Flora and Zina make my mom’s world one where it is worth living.
Flora and Zina from the bottom of my entire family’s heart, we thank you and we love you.
We are The Sister Project.
Love it. Live it. Share it.