Alzheimer’s Disease

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My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg lived a long life. The last five years were spent in Shepherd of the Valley Care Center with Alzheimer’s Disease. Her time at Shepherd was far from sad and miserable, as many people would have expected. Mom lived in her own little world, as Alzheimer’s patients do toward the end of the disease, and I’m here to tell you that her world was quite interesting. Her stories and her life in the past were very vivid in her mind, and she would happily tell those who would listen, all about it. I was one of the privileged few who got to hear all or most of her stories.

Mom did live an interesting life for sure. From her early childhood living in a sheep wagon in Montana, while her dad, Robert Knox tended the sheep; to her married years in Wyoming, raising her six children, Marlyce Schulenberg (who passed away in 1989), Debbie Cook, Bob Schulenberg, Jennifer Parmely, Brenda Schulenberg, and Ron Schulenberg; there was never a dull moment. She kept busy knitting, crocheting, sewing, canning, or in her later years, thinking she was still doing these things. There were certain things that she always thought were very cool in her life. Birthdays were always an important thing, and she loved the fact that she shared her with her first great grandson, Chris Petersen. Just like her mother before her got to share her birthday with her great granddaughter, Corrie Petersen, who is Chris’ mom. Those things were considered a “big deal” to her.

While she was at the nursing home, my mother-in-law was really quite the comedian. She would tell us things like she made the dinner, and that she did the laundry and the dishes. She was completely convinced that these things were true. Of course, no one argued the point with her either. What good would that have done? Her Alzheimer’s convinced her that she was right, and that was ok. She felt useful, and that was all she ever wanted. My mother-in-law always loved doing things for people. Her sweaters and afghans were stunning and meticulous. She spent so many years knitting and crocheting, that I’m sure she could do both in her sleep. I think if she made a mistake, she would know it for sure. She could probably locate the mistake and fix it without waking up. She just knew every stitch that well. It makes me sad that her hands are stilled now, but I know that she is in a better place, and she has her full memory now too. Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom. We love and miss you very much.

My husband’s aunt, Esther Hein really likes flowers. She loves gardening and watching her creation bloom. That is a talent that I just don’t have, but Esther does have it…and many others. She is an artist, and has painted great landscapes, which is my favorite, and on a round saw blade, which is very cool. Esther also enjoys making quilts and sewing other things. She made a set of curtains for my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg, and while she had Alzheimer’s Disease, and didn’t remember many things, she always remembered that Esther made those curtains for her. I always loved that my mother-in-law kept Esther in her heart. I even remember the time that I was helping her get ready for bed, and she didn’t want to go. Suddenly, out of the blue, she said to me, “Don’t Esther!!” Of course, it had a funny connotation for me too, because my mother-in-law often tried to get out of going to bed so early, but I had to work the next day, so she had to go to bed before the 10:00pm news. The funny thing was that for once I wasn’t the one getting in trouble for making her go to bed. She blamed Esther that day.

I’m sure that over the years Esther has had to carry some heavy burdens. She raised three children mostly as a single mom, and did a great job of it. They are all responsible members of society and great people. Esther has taught them the way they should go. She has been active in her church and she loves the Lord. She loves the outdoors and camping, but I’m not sure she has been able to do that very much in the last few years. She loves animals and people. She loves helping people, and in fact, lately she has been helping by delivering food boxes to needy people. There are always needy people these days, from job losses, to home losses, to fire losses, people have needs, and Esther is our there helping to fill those needs. Even though her area of the country, Oregon has been inundated with wildfires this year, just like California, and the smoke was heavy at times, but Esther’s daughter Vina Frye assured me that Esther was safe, and so was she. In fact, it was Vina who told me that Esther was delivering the food boxes. Vina is so proud of her mom and her giving heart…and so am I. Today is Esther’s 80th birthday. Imagine that 80 years old, and she is still helping other people. Happy birthday Esther!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

It seems impossible to me that my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg could be gone now for two years. She was such a fighter, when it came to her health. There were a number of times that we thought we had lost her, but she always bounced back…until she didn’t. The end of her days had come, and with it, there were no parents in our lives again. My parents, Al and Collene Spencer and my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg were gone, and now my mother-in-law had joined them in Heaven. It felt empty here on earth. The loss hit hard with each of my four parents, but with my mother-in-law, there was also the finality of it. We had no more parents. We, their children, are the matriarchs and patriarchs of our families now, but it feels like we are orphans. The knowledge that you have no parents, really brings that orphaned feeling home.

My mother-in-law, was a homemaker for most of her life, and very skilled in things like cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and canning. These were things she passed down to her daughters, and to me. Of course, my own mother taught me part of these things too, but we didn’t can often, other than making jelly, and the things my mother-in-law cooked were different from my own mom, so that added variety to my abilities. My mother-in-law, was probably best known for her sewing, knitting, and crocheting. She sold many of her crafts at craft fairs over the years, adding to the family budget and to her craft budget as well. She also loved to bake, and her “Murder Cake” was a family favorite.

My in-laws lived in the country for most of the time I knew them, but they moved to town in the last years of their lives. While she preferred the quiet of the country, my mother-in-law did enjoy watching all the activity that took place near their home at the corner of two busy streets in In her later years, my mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Casper. After she had to be moved to Shepherd of the Valley nursing home, she enjoyed the activity there, especially at the nurses station, because she was a “people watcher” all her life. She liked to see what everyone around her was up to, and figure it all out, even wondering why they spoke to the people they did, or did the things they did. I was glad that her curiosity never left her. It made her time in the nursing home must more interesting. Finally, on January 4, 2018, she lost her health battle. Like most Alzheimer’s patients, it was not the disease that took her, but rather that her kidneys gave out. She passed peacefully that evening, after having her family around her earlier in the day. She simply went to sleep, and went home. While we were so sorry to see her go, we knew she was tired of fighting. We love and miss her very much.

My cousin, Shirley Cameron is what can only be call a Modern Pioneer Woman. Not many people were living off the grid when she and her parents and brother moved to their mountain top in Washington state. They built 3 cabins. Her brother later moved to town, but her parents, Ruth and Jim, lived there for the rest of Ruth’s life and until fire destroyed their cabin, and Jim, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease had to be moved to a nursing home, where he lived out the remainder of his days. That left Shirley and her husband Shorty, and their grandson Tyrel living off the grid on the top of Wolfe Mountain.

After Shorty’s passing, in 2016, Shirley and Tyrel live up there alone. Oh they have neighbors, down the mountain, and Tyrel’s mom lives not too far away, but in town. Shirley and Tyrell just like living in the wilderness far from civilization. I really don’t think Shirley will ever leave her mountain. The views up there are breathtaking, and she gets to see lots of wild animals. Nevertheless, winter can be long and lonely. There are times when getting off the mountain just isn’t going to happen, because the snow is too deep. They have to have enough food to last for a very long time, because running out of food would be bad. There is a well, so water is not a problem, and they use a generator for electricity, so they do have to have enough fuel to run that. Still, summer will come around again, and everything is renewed.

These days, more and more people are living off the grid. It has become almost “fashionable” for people to get away from the city and all of its ties to utilities, phones, and water. With cell phones, people can still be connected to a degree, if they choose to be, but they can also shut it off when they don’t want to be connected. I think Shirley likes to be disconnected sometimes. It gives her time with her own thoughts. Being a modern day pioneer woman is not a way of life for the faint of heart. A person has to be comfortable in their own company. I don’t know if it would be something I could handle, but Shirley has done well with it, and I commend her for it. Today is Shirley’s birthday. Happy birthday Shirley!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My husband’s aunt, Margee Kountz is the kind of person that you can always count on. When people need help, she will do everything in her power to help them. Margee has always been a hands-on grandma. While her kids worked, she was there to pick up the grandkids from school, and when her daughter-in-law had cancer, and then passed away, she stepped up to help her son Dan raise his two children, Zech and Stasi. I remember those years well. Her sweet little grandchildren were just 4 and 2 years old, and they didn’t know what was going on. Their mommy was gone and their daddy was very sad. Their grandma became their rock. Stability is a time of chaos. Her sacrifice is something none of them will ever forget. They always knew that she would always be there for them. She was also there for her daughter’s children, Brian Kountz, Nathan Avey, and Destreyia Cannon. They spent lots of time at her house, and she picked them up from school and took them to things they needed to go to. They all love her dearly.

When my mother-in-law, Margee’s sister, Joann Schulenberg developed Alzheimer’s Disease, Margee was there to sit with her when we needed to take my father-in-law, Walt to the doctor or other appointment. We always knew that she would be there for us. The=at period of time was so important, because while her memory was failing her, it was so important to have her family around to help her hold on to the memories she could. Margee talked with her about the old days from their childhood, and about their parents and grandparents. Those memories and the talks that kept them going, were a gift that Margee gave to her sister, and they were a treasure to me, because I knew how much they meant to my mother-in-law. Truly the worst thing a family member can do to a patient with Alzheimer’s Disease, is to simply remember them they way they used to be, and never go to see them. It doesn’t matter if they remember that people came to visit, because that person knows, and the patient knew at the time of the visit. Kindness doesn’t get more perfect than that, and Margee visited her sister as often as she possibly could. We knew she was always there for her sister…even when it was difficult for her to get there. We knew.

One of the coolest moments of her life was when she became a great grandmother to Destreyia’s little Brody Thomas Overby on March 8, 2017. Margee loves being a grandma, and now a whole new generation of babies was starting to arrive. The future looks very bright indeed, and Margee will always be there for these new little ones too. Today is Margee’s 70th birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

This past summer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson; my cousin, Pam Wendling; and I went to visit Pam’s dad, our Uncle Bill Spencer at the nursing home where he lives. Uncle Bill has dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease, and so how the visits go, depends on the kind of day he is having. The day of our visit was a really good day. Uncle Bill may not have known who we all were, and even some details about our lives, but he had some funny stories to tell us…one of which was how his brother, our dad, Allen Spencer had never gotten married!! That one was new to my sister and me, who are the eldest of Dad’s five daughters with his wife, our mom, Collene Byer Spencer. I guess Uncle Bill’s mind went back to the pre-Collene era of Dad’s life.

Uncle Bill also told us about the days on the family farm. I think my sister and I always thought of it as a small little patch of land…maybe 5 acres or so, but Uncle Bill told us that the farm was actually 80 acres. The farm was big enough to grow enough vegetables to sell them exclusively to Stokely Foods Inc. Stokely foods is a large company and it was founded on August 18, 1943, later merged with Van Camp’s, and then sold the Stokely brand to Seneca Foods in 1985, and the Van Camp’s brand to ConAgra in 1995. I guess you could say that the Spencer farm got in on the ground floor of Stokely Foods, Inc. This was really interesting to us, because it was confirmed by Uncle Bill’s cousin, Les Schumacher. I suppose Cheryl and I should have assumed that the farm was bigger than we thought, because they grew hay, and it took days to get it all stacked, but when you didn’t grow up on a farm, I guess you don’t really have a good way to gauge such things. I think we should have had some inkling, however, because the pictures we have seen should have told the tale…to some degree at least.

As our visit with Uncle Bill came to a close, we found ourselves very sad about the speed with which the time had passed. We don’t get to see him very much, and he is such a precious person in our lives. He was really in rare form, laughing and smiling a lot. There were no awkward moments when no one knew what to say, and Uncle Bill carried much of the conversation, which was absolutely wonderful. Our only regret is that we can’t get up there to see him more often. Today is Uncle Bill’s 97th birthday. That’s amazing…97 and going strong. Happy 97th birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg, like her mother before her was blessed to be able to share her birthday with her first great grandchild, Chris Petersen. It was something the two of them really liked, and over the years, many joint birthday parties were held in their honor. It was a tradition that started when Chris’ mom, Corrie Petersen, my oldest daughter, shared her birthday with Joann’s mom, Nettie Knox. The pictures we have of those moments are something Chris and Corrie will treasure forever, just as their were treasures for their great grandmothers.

Unfortunately, that tradition will not be carried on through the next generation, because while my grandson Chris and his fiancé, Karen Cruickshank are making my husband Bob a great grandfather, they will miss his birthday by at least a month. Nevertheless, Chris will be the great grandchild who will make my mother-in-law a great great grandmother, but she did not live to see that day, something that makes us all very sad. She lloved being a grandma, and loved those sweet babies, so I know she would have loved this next level of her ife, and totally loved the little girl who is on the way in early June.

When his great grandma was in the hospital for the last time, we all went up to see her, and Chris wondered if it would be ok to take pictures with her, the baby’s ultra sound, and him, so that there would be a picture for his little girl. He had been hoping for pictures of her with the baby, and also for five-generation pictures with her, his grandpa, his mom, the baby, and him. After Chris asked me about the pictures, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg suggested the same thing, so we all decided it should be done. That visit was hard, because his grandma was in and out, and Chris wasn’t sure he would be able to understand what we were trying to tell her. When the visit was over, we all left her room, except Chris. He wanted a few minutes to officially tell his great grandma that she was going to be a great great grandma…even if she wasn’t awake to hear it. Then, a little miracle happened. As Chris was talking to her, she opened her eyes and looked right at him. Chris didn’t wait another second, but told her, “Grandma, I just wanted to let you know that you are going to be a great great grandma. My fiancé, Karen and I are having a baby girl in June.” His great grandma looked right at him, and she smiled with delight! Chris knew that she knew, and it brought tears to his eyes. It was the ultimate gift for both of them, and I am so glad that she got to know this great news before her passing just a few days later. Today would have been her 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Mom. We love and miss you very much.

My husband’s aunt, Margee Kountz is his mother Joann Schulenberg’s youngest sister. When Joann developed Alzheimer’s disease, Margee was a vital part of our team of caregivers for her. Whenever I had to take my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg to the doctor, Margee happily gave of her time to come and sit with her sister. People may not realize just how vital their visits can be. When a family of caregivers are working hard to keep their loved one in good health, the caregivers can find themselves feeling exhausted. That visit, while it make seem such a little thing, allows the caregiver time to get necessary things done, and a little bit of time to take a break from the work, and at least a little bit of the stress of caring for their patient. Caregiving is about love. You do it because to love your patient, but it is not without it’s stresses, worry, and exhaustion. The nice thing about the Respite Care worker is that they are a huge part of the team of people who perform two services…companionship for the patient and time off for the caregiver. They are priceless, and Margee always stepped up to help.

My mother-in-law, Joann passed away on January 4, 2018. We are no longer caregivers or respite care workers. She is at peace, but we are left behind to mourn her loss. For Margee, it means that she is the oldest member of the family…something she did not want to be. Not because of the age, but because it has been so hard for her to say goodbye to her older sisters. I think that in many ways she feels like “the last of one standing,” and that’s not what she ever wanted. I know the feeling. It is not so very much different from being orphaned, which happens to all of us when our parents pass away. Still, we hope our siblings will live, at least, close to as long as we do, because when your parents and your siblings are gone, you feel truly alone. Of course, Margee isn’t really alone. She has her children grand children, and a great grandson too, but there is just a strange feeling that goes along with being the last of the original family.

While Margee was a big part of taking care of her sister, and the caregivers who worked during those years, I’m not entirely sure she ever knew just how important she really was. She was, sort of, an unsung hero. I’m sure I could have taken my mother-in-law to my father-in-law’s doctor’s appointments, but it would have been a huge undertaking for one person. Margee took half of that load off of me, and gave my mother-in-law a much needed social session too. She can to visit, and it gave my mother-in-law a new perspective on life. Their conversation stimulated her mind some. They talked about the old days, their kids, all the fun they had. They didn’t share their growing up years, because just six months after Margee was born, my in-laws were married. Nevertheless, there was much to talk about. Each could compare their childhood to the others, maybe. It wouldn’t really matter what they talked about, because after all, the visits were Margee’s gift of love for her sister. And that is what makes respite care priceless. Today is Margee’s birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg has always been a tough lady, and I suppose that is why we found it so hard to believe that she would not win this final battle in her life. She bounced back so many times, when we all thought she was going for sure, but in the end, it was not the things we expected to take her life, like COPD or diabetes, that actually did so, but rather kidney failure, complicated by congestive heart failure. Through all of the many episodes of illness in her life, we were amazed at the strength she displayed while fighting her way back to where she had been before getting sick. This final battle would be different. She was tired, and she was ready to go home to Heaven. And while we were very sad and hated to let her go, we could not ask her to stay. She had suffered long enough.

Throughout the years that Joann was my mother-in-law, she was an inspiration to many people. She had the ability to do so many things…knitting, crocheting, sewing, canning, and oh, her baking!! Mom could make a “Murder Cake” that could easily destroy any diet, because it was irresistible. “Murder Cake” was a chocolate cake with so much gooey, yummy fudge that the frosting became a part of the gooey cake. Maybe it was called “Murder Cake” because it murdered your diet. It was also my mother-in-law who introduced me to Squash and Pancakes, a dish that sounds like it should be awful, but one bite, and you are hooked. My husband, Bob; daughter, Amy; and I look forward to summer just for the squash and pancakes.

Having been raised in the country or small towns, the country was where Joann felt mostly at home. It was where she raised her children, and where one of them still lives today. She felt like it was easier to keep track of all those kids, if she had them out in the country, and when the family lived in Mills while the older children were in grade school, she finally told my father-in-law, Walt, that he needed to get the family back out in the country. And so he did. For the first 23 years of my marriage into the family, that is where they lived, and then because of health issues, they made a trade for a house in Casper…right on one of the busiest intersections in town…13th and McKinley Streets. While my mother-in-law said she hated the noise of the traffic and many emergency vehicles, she sure loved to look out the window to see what was going on out there. She secretly enjoyed the flurry of activity that was always going on out on the busy streets, and while Alzheimer’s Disease might have taken her most recent memories away, she always had her favorite pastime…people watching, whether they be in traffic, walking, or on television. My mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s Disease was the kind that kept the funniest things in life in the forefront of her memory, and she could say the funniest things. While she might not remember our names, she always knew that her children and grandchildren belonged to her, and for that we are forever grateful. Rest in peace Mom, we miss you already, and we love you forever.

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg passed away. Of course, if you asked my mother-in-law, his wife, Joann, he is still here. Alzheimer’s Disease has taken away the memory of his loss, for her anyway. Sometime I think her loss of that memory clouds my own feelings about to too. She often calls my husband, Bob…her son, Walt, and of course, he pretends that he is. Or she asks about him, and we tell her that he went to Walmart. In many ways, her loss of the memory of his passing has kept him closer to all of us. Pretending that he is still here makes is seem real somehow, because the mind makes it seem so.

Dad was the glue in the family. Mom might have been too, had Alzheimer’s Disease not taken that spot from her. Dad’s passing brought a different family unit with it. We don’t get together quite as often now. It makes me sad, because I know how much he loved his family, and how important it was to him that we stay close. We have stayed close, just not in quite the same way as it was when he was still with us. Family was everything to him, but of course, he understood how busy people can get. The main thing he would have wanted us to do, is to be there for the love of his life, and in that respect, I know that he knew before he ever left, that we would take good care of her, and so we have.

My father-in-law, was a sweet loving man who loved to joke with the family. He loved it when everyone was together and having a great laugh. It made him feel good to know that no matter what, our day had been like, we could come together and enjoy each other’s company. He was a great dad, grandfather, and great grandfather. He loved those babies. I suppose that is why they had six kids of their own. Dad loved to see the kids playing at his house, and he was never too busy to get in there and play too. The years since his passing have flown by, and that makes me especially sad, because I miss him very much. I wish we could go back in time and have our loved ones back, but that just can’t be. I know you are happy in Heaven Dad, and that we will see you again, but I sure miss you in the here and now.

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