Semper Fi! To my Dad and All Veterans

Today is Veteran’s Day, and yesterday was the 242nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Because of these events, Daddy is probably on my mind even more than usual. I’ve written about how the USMC was so important to my dad (click here for more). He was such a patriot. He was also grateful to get such wonderful care at the VA Hospital and ultimately, in the palliative care unit. I was grateful for that, too. It certainly is not the case at all VA Hospitals around the country. And, I was grateful to have had the experience of meeting many veterans in that palliative care unit and feeling their dedication to this country. It fueled the pride in this country that I already felt, and as well as my devotion to the men and women who fight to keep us safe.

My dad was concerned about the young men serving in the military. He took such interest in the guys in our neighborhood who were returning after various deployments and were struggling to adjust to civilian life. I met some of these young men when I visited my dad and was amazed at how well my dad knew their stories. But, he genuinely cared about these “kids,” as he called them. He felt they were the disenfranchised, abandoned by the government and that the general public did not relate to them.

Since today is Saturday, Veteran’s Day, yesterday it was “observed” as a legal holiday. However, NYC public schools were not closed. My students asked me about it. I said my dad would be very upset. He would say that not keeping public schools closed is one more demonstration of the lack of respect for and appreciation of veterans. That makes me very sad and disheartened. It also bothered me because these public schools are places where military establishments target recruitment efforts. Over the years, I’ve learned that many of my former students joined the military. It would seem to me that the public schools would want to ensure that this holiday was honored, because many of their students will become veterans. Show and model respect. Encourage students to demonstrate respect for this country and for those who serve and put their lives on the line to protect it.

My thoughts are drifting frequently to my dad and his stories of days in the military. I know that he would be devastated by the state of affairs in this country under its current administration. However, he would continue to wear his USMC cap, proudly smiling if anyone thanked him for his service and eager to share stories. For that reason, with all of the patriotism that my dad instilled in me, I honor him and all veterans on this day, with a particular birthday shout on to the USMC! Semper Fi! Thank you for your service!

On “The Incredibles” and Protecting Your Identity

ALS, The Incredibles,Caregiving,Caregivers,Walt Disney World

In honor of Ben’s love of this film, here’s a pic of him with one of his best buddies during our visit to Walt Disney World in 2014.

The Incredibles was released on this day in 2004 by Disney Pixar. Among Ben’s favorite super heroes, Mr. Incredible was second only to Buzz Lightyear (Mickey and Sully were in their own special category!). Thinking about that film made me think of an important quote by Mrs. Incredible/Helen Parr/Elastigirl: “Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.”

ALS, Caregiving,Grief,Disney,Pixar,The incrediblesElastigirl.“Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.”

Ben, like so many people with terminal and degenerative illnesses, had to fight not only the illness, but to protect his identity. ALS took away many of his abilities, and it became increasingly difficult to engage in and enjoy things that were so vital to who he was. Music was one of those things, and it played an important part in our relationship. Ben loved song lyrics and would often call and sing to me. Song lyrics helped him express his feelings. I gave him an electronic keyboard one Christmas, with a software program to teach himself the piano- something he always wanted to do- and sheet music to some significant songs (yes, It’s a Small World was one of the pieces!) He practiced the songs and called me to play and sing. It was sweet and romantic, and that was Ben. ALS took those things away from him, shaking how he identified himself. He never stopped listening to music though. I loved that he was able to enjoy live music during our last visit to Walt Disney World. Seeing him playing the air guitar and bobbing his head is a very joyful memory for me.

As he lost weight and dexterity, Ben was more self-conscious. He did not want a lot of people to see him. When he rode around the city in his scooter, he was often so happy that he forgot about how he looked. At Walt Disney World, we were discreet when he needed help to eat and the Disney cast members are compassionate and helpful about things like giving the time needed to transfer onto an attraction vehicle. Fortunately, most guests are so caught up in their own magic that they don’t dwell on others, and since it is the happiest place on earth, people frequently offered friendly assistance if they saw that I was helping him out from or into his wheelchair. But, how you look is part of your identity, and Ben took a hit there. He told me that he tried not to look in the mirror because he did not want to see how he was physically changing, but he studied the photos from our visits, and compared his physical changes from visit to visit.

As Ben lost his ability to get around, he saw less people. As he lost his ability to communicate- talking on the phone became difficult, though he could text- he relied on people to reach out to him. Sadly, that did not happen nearly often enough. The fact that people slowly distanced themselves from him also took a part of his identity, because he felt that he was no longer the valuable friend or family member that he thought he was, and that was very disappointing to him. It broke my heart.

Ben’s sense of himself also suffered as his speech became more impaired. If he repeatedly said something that I just could not understand, sometimes he would just give up. We spelled out words by my reciting the alphabet and his nodding when I reached the correct letter. However, the length and tediousness of that process frustrated him and he began to weigh what he really needed to say. Not being able to express himself took a toll on his identify and his self-perception. Since I was around him most, it was usually easier for me to interpret what he was saying. When strangers had difficulty understanding Ben, they sometimes assumed that he was mentally challenged and spoke to him like a child or addressed only me. Often, Ben laughed about it, but on many occasions he felt invisible and very misunderstood. So, I involved Ben in the discussions to show people that Ben was fully capable of understanding and had lots of opinions. He was vibrant in so many ways and he loved to laugh. Unfortunately, not being able to say what he wanted and be truly heard sometimes caused him to withdraw.

In the hospital, we had to do more spelling of words when his mouth was obscured by the Bipap mask and then, after the tracheostomy, and he hated that. There were many incidents when staff ignored Ben and asked me questions that he could answer. I immediately addressed those questions to him so that he could participate in the discussion. Yes, it took longer, and it was not easy, but he mattered and staff had to accept and embrace that. Most truly were wonderful.

As I write this post I feel very grateful to realize that Ben’s personality shone as he left this world, according to his expressed wishes, surrounded by people he loved and requested to be present, and with music that filled his heart.

Throughout our journey, I also had to work hard to protect my identity. I have written that I lost myself in caregiving but I also found myself through that experience. Juggling a full-time teaching job with full-time caregiving had me running in circles much of the time. My priority was to ensure quality care for my dad and for Ben. When I was not actually performing various tasks for them, I was stressed about what might happen when I was not present. At school, my phone was always at my side, just in case. During the periods that I did not have classes, I could often be found making phone calls or sending texts to check on them or to follow up with their medical teams. I could often be found in tears as well, because that was something I felt that I could or should not do in front of my dad or Ben.

I tried hard to take moments to indulge in little things that I loved and that felt like me. If I texted Ben after school and he was feeling okay, I would stop into Sephora and paint my nails in 10 different colors. It was silly and whimsical, but that is the side of me that I could not always feel and I missed it. I did find that I lost my enthusiasm for doing things that I’d always loved, like looking at all of the holiday store window displays and attending the holiday craft markets, because I felt distracted and I lacked the spirit. I took pleasure in buying Ben gadgets and crazy tshirts and pajama bottoms at Old Navy because they always made him smile, brought us back to the fun days and added some levity to his being homebound and not dressing up anymore. Doing these kinds of things for Ben added the dynamic to caregiving that let me protect my identity as a caring child at heart. There were too many things that were happening that were serious and daunting. There were also growing feelings of anger, resentment and profound sadness about what was happening to Ben, to our home, and to our relationship. This was on top of the simultaneous decline and then loss of my dad to cancer.

I see my identity as the person who genuinely loves to be the friend who is there to help. My friends are my family. But, with so much responsibility as a caregiver, not only was I less available, I found that I needed my friends to be there for me, as back-up for Ben and to allow me to vent. I know it was not easy for them to listen to my woes, have opinions of actions I could take, feel worried about my emotional and physical health, but know that I felt paralyzed financially and emotionally, incapable of doing anything or creating change that might be upsetting to Ben and even to me. I did not like to feel overwhelmed and helpless. But, I lost myself.  My identity became Abby, the person who took care of her dad and Ben, Abby who was losing them, Abby who was falling apart. And, after I lost them, I really did not know who I was. I had no identity. I had to rediscover myself.

In grief, I did realize that caregiving is a vital part of my identity. My whimsy and passion and joyful nature shine more now, though I know that I am forever changed from my experiences. I am integrating my work as a caregiver- and it was work, albeit loving work from the heart- in my future endeavors. I am close to receiving my certification as a caregiving consultant, and volunteer with various support groups for people with ALS and their caregivers and loved ones. Some people have commented that it is too soon, or that I am dwelling in the past and not moving forward with my life, but I disagree. I know that it is an important part of who I am and I will protect it and, hopefully, I will be able to help others.

If you are the caregiver for a loved one and you are struggling with losing yourself, I would like to ask you to think about how you can take some quiet moments to remember who you were before the illness and the caregiving, who your caree was and is, and, if you are a couple, who you were before your relationship had to integrate a shift to patient and caregiver. That identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it by taking deep breaths when things get bad to remember, honor and cherish each other. This may seem trivial, but the thermos of tea that I drank on my daily 2.5 hour train ride back home after visiting with my dad in hospice became my precious “Abby time” to reflect, listen to meaningful music and read. Yes, phone was in hand for texts and issues that might arise, but each sip of tea allowed me to take a deep breath and just, as the Beatles said, Let It Be. Where you expecting Frozen’s Let it Go? Surprise!

ALS, Caregiving, The Incredibles, Disney, Pixar, Caregiving, Grief

Ben as Mr. Incredible- Part of a birthday collage that I made for Ben. When it came to battling ALS, Ben was indeed a super hero!

Memories, Perspective and Disney Halloween Magic

ALS,Caregiver,ALS Awareness Month,Walt Disney World, Winnie the Pooh

2012- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Ben took center stage in the scooter!

My third Halloween without Ben. Though it is not traditionally a romantic holiday, for me it is, because it is the day that Ben proposed to me at Walt Disney World. I still have not been able to decorate with our Disney Halloween decorations. As I watched the little kids going to school in their costumes, I remembered how much Ben and I loved to see the cute children at Walt Disney World. I know that if he was still here, that I would have returned home to find him watching our Walt Disney World Halloween videos, bopping his head to the music and saying “Boo to You!” as they say in the parade. We would have looked at the photos and videos together and laughed at the memories while we fantasized about a new visit. Even when the ALS was progressing, Ben constantly went on the Walt Disney World web site to plan fantasy holidays. Frankly, I think it was healthy and helpful to him to stay hopeful and engaged in life. It’s hitting me hard that although I am so grateful to have the wonderful memories, I am saddened, and feeling a little lost, that I can no longer look forward to Halloween Disney adventures with Ben. That’s a tough part of grief. As I feel like the sharp pangs lessen a bit, the day to day realities, and thoughts of an unknown future, unexpectedly set me back.

One of my favorite memories, though bittersweet. After his ALS diagnosis, Ben was reluctant to meet Buzz, because he said Buzz was a super hero and he was weak. When he did decide to greet him, Buzz made such a fuss about Ben’s Buzz shirt (his Halloween costume) and Ben loved it. It gives me comfort and joy to remember Ben’s delight.

Every day my commuting routine is to listen to a special play list of special “Ben” songs. This morning, after those songs, I listened to the Walt Disney World “Hallowishes” parade music- Ben loved it even more than I did. The music did not comfort me. Although I love to picture Ben’s face watching that parade and saying “Boo to You!” I still grapple with the fact that we will never again enjoy those moments together. I wonder if I will ever want or be able to see it again. And maybe it’s okay if I never do. Maybe those were special moments that were just ours. On the other hand, maybe one day I will want to return to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. That will be okay, too, because Ben will always be in my heart. He will always be present, just in a different way. Unfortunately, on a day like Halloween, it is not quite enough. I need some pixie dust or some bibbidi bobbidi boo!

This year, I baked Halloween cookies. Baking and decorating cookies is almost meditative for me.I call it my therapy. It also keeps my grandma close, since she taught me my great-grandma’s recipe, and it keeps Ben close, because he is the biggest part of any Halloween tradition and he loved when I baked cookies, teasing me about my elaborate processes. On the ghosty-ghosts (what we always called ghosts) I wrote “Boo to You!” because I know Ben would have loved that, so it gave him a sweet, special presence in the holiday that is uniquely ours.  I need that.

Halloween cookies honor Ben and involve him in the holiday.

Now, I feel like a Halloween observer rather than a participant. Maybe it won’t always feel that way, but I do feel terribly lonely, and out of place. When it comes to Halloween, I’m only at home in the memories, so I will delve into those this evening as I look at our photos and videos.

As I think about the holiday this year, and reflect on my Halloweens with Ben, I realize that my post from last year still rings as true this year, and give me a positive perspective, so here are my words and memories of our most magical Halloween ever, at Walt Disney World- IN JULY!

Meeting Monsters Inc Sully and Mike. Ben LOVED Sully!

Meeting Monsters Inc Sully and Mike. Ben LOVED Sully!

Halloween was the most fun holiday for Ben and me, especially when we were at Walt Disney World for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  Halloween is extra special for me because Ben proposed to me at Walt Disney World on Halloween. It was very exciting and, of course, I told all of my Disney buddies! Ben never tired of teasing me about my ability to talk to all of my friends. Why wouldn’t I?!

There are so many videos and photos of our amazing times, but, of all of the fun Disney times we had, I think that a most poignant memory was the Halloween celebration we had back in July 2014. That’s right, July. This was a very special trip, because I think that Ben and I both knew that it would likely be our last visit to Walt Disney World, as Ben’s ALS was progressing more rapidly. I wanted it to be a most incredible trip with lots of surprises.

Traveling to Walt Disney World was stressful but Ben really did have an amazing attitude. I will write some of the details to give an idea of considerations that have to be made when dealing with ALS and other disabilities. I think it was a combination of realism, naivete, determination and pixie dust that enabled me to make these plans! First, we needed to bring another caregiver. I was advised by Ben’s doctors and the ALS team that I should not do this alone.  Ben wasn’t happy about it, since another person did change the dynamic, but he had to relent and I had to be strong, since I was nervous about how much assistance he required. Getting to the airport was a bit complicated, since Ben was pretty much homebound at this point. I had to hire an ambulette service to get him down the stairs and safely to the airport.  I contacted JetBlue, which was great each time we flew, before and after Ben’s diagnosis. They helped me to choose seats and let me know exactly what to do when we arrived at the airport.  We were taken through security with relative ease and he was literally lifted and placed into his seat by a very kind and accommodating crew, one of whom revealed to me through tears that his brother had ALS. Ben was calm and in good spirits, while I was a smiling nervous wreck!

Disney’s Guest Services Department was very helpful and supportive when choosing a room, coordinating transportation to the hotel with a bus that had a wheelchair lift, and arranging for the electric wheelchair to meet us at the hotel. They even put me in touch with a local pharmacy that delivered Ben’s nutrition supplement to the hotel. It was waiting for us when we arrived!  We had a room with a roll-in shower, which was such a treat for Ben. We take a lot for granted in life, don’t we?

Ben even had fun on the Magic Express wheelchair lift!

Ben even had fun on the Magic Express wheelchair lift!

This was going to be a very different trip because so much about Ben’s physical abilities had changed. Ben wouldn’t be able to go on his favorite rides, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Eating was also a big challenge. Because of these obstacles, I wanted to arrange surprises for Ben that would be fun and unusual. Ben knew I had surprises in store, but he didn’t know what I had planned.

Disney has a wonderful Floral and Gift Department (click here to visit the site) that offers a variety of gift  packages that can be delivered to your hotel room. They had a Halloween package but it was available during the Halloween season. I called and explained our situation, making a special request for a Halloween hotel room even though it was July. Disney is about magic and dreams come true, and they did not disappoint!  When we arrived at our room, outside was a banner that said “Spooktacular Halloween July 2014!” It had a pumpkin with blinking lights. Ben thought it was a promotion for Mickey’s Halloween Party, but he still got excited. When we opened the door, the room was like a little Haunted Mansion and Ben was completely shocked, thrilled and emotional. I thought that if a full day at the parks was difficult, the room would also look very cool, and indeed, it did, but Ben did great at the parks! I was the one having a hard time keeping up with his zipping around in the electric wheelchair!

Since we were bringing Ensure to the parks in case eating was a problem, I had also ordered from the Gift and Floral Department an insulated backpack with some goodies. Also, we were joined by a giant walking Buzz Lightyear balloon. Here are pictures of some of the magic.

Ben was excited just to see the banner! He had no idea what awaited him inside!

Ben was excited just to see the banner! He had no idea what awaited him inside!

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse all dressed up for Halloween in July!

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse all dressed up for Halloween in July!

Treat baskets in our room, and a projectable haunted house that shone a haunted house on our ceiling!

Treat baskets in our room, and a projectable haunted house that shone a haunted house on our ceiling!

The candelabra in our haunted hotel room!

The candelabra in our haunted hotel room!

Our hotel room was very fun!

Our hotel room was very fun!

I learned that there was a Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise with a party where you could meet Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. When I found out that the boat was accessible, I had my next surprise for Ben! The day of the cruise, I gave him as a hint a little pirate coin I’d found at one of the gift shops. His first guess was that I’d arranged for him to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, which, sadly, I couldn’t do.  We took the monorail (also accessible) to the Contemporary Hotel, where the party began. Ben laughed when he saw the really great pirate-themed decorations. We were given bandanas, too. One of the truly brilliant aspects of the Disney team is that they never make someone with disabilities feel uncomfortable. A cast member came and escorted us with no fuss on an accessible path to our boat. The cruise was so much fun, the fireworks looked magnificent from the water, and, as a surprise, Peter Pan was on the dock to greet us when we returned! OK, so I was more excited than some of the children!  There were tears and there was joy as we listened to the “Wishes” fireworks lyrics, but watching the delight on Ben’s face is something I will never forget.

Walt Disney World, Pirates,Fireworks,ALS,Halloween

At the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise Party with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee.

Pirates, Walt Disney World,ALS

Ben loving the Pirates & Pals Fireworks Cruise.

Ben had not had a proper haircut in a few months, so I arranged for him to have a haircut and shave at the Main Street Barbershop. He was a little bit apprehensive, but, as I’ve said, he had such a great attitude, and he ended up having a great time. The staff accommodated his electric wheelchair and made him completely comfortable. Outside of the barbershop he met up with the Dapper Dans, the singing quartet he loved.

Ben got a kick out of getting his hair cut on Main Street, especially because it was decorated like an old fashioned barber shop.

Ben got a kick out of getting his hair cut on Main Street, especially because it was decorated like an old fashioned barber shop.

The Dapper Dans were very cool! Ben always loved them.

The Dapper Dans were very cool! Ben always loved them.

We loved our usual attractions, and Ben loved the new Little Mermaid attraction, where his wheelchair could go right into the clamshell. Of course, we were happy to see our friends.

Buzz was one of Ben's heroes, but he loved Woody and friends, too!

Buzz was one of Ben’s heroes, but he loved Woody and friends, too!

bengoofy abbyjoy

We visited the Wishing Well at Cinderella’s Castle, which was emotional. We also became overwhelmed when we met Mickey and Minnie at Epcot.  Maybe it’s silly, but when dealing with something like ALS, you just want to believe in magic, or something, that will make things better. People sometimes ask me how I can believe in Disney magic, or that dreams come true. I just do, even when it’s difficult. After all, Ben did okay with ALS for about 4 years, and we were fortunate to be able to travel to Walt Disney World many times, even after his diagnosis. We shared a lot of love and wonderful memories that he relived daily as he looked at our many photos and videos. We even had Halloween in July!  And, he left this world surrounded by music, love and even Disney. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, but I feel the pixie dust.

At the Walt Disney World Wishing Well at Cinderella's Castle

At the Walt Disney World Wishing Well at Cinderella’s Castle

Happy Not-So-Scary Halloween!

Happy Birthday?

Walt Disney World, Grief, ALS

At the Crystal Palace

Today, October 27, is my birthday. My third birthday without Ben. I guess I still measure time and mark events that way. I have dreaded my birthday, as I have since he’s been gone. It’s hard to deal with the conflicting feelings- that childish delight about a birthday mixed with the sadness of not having Ben or my mom, dad and grandma- the people I was closest to- with me, and guilt about continuing to navigate life when they aren’t here and conveying in any way that they are even a little bit forgotten. I’m lacking the happy in happy birthday. But, I will spend time with very wonderful people in my life, and that is special, indeed.

I think a lot about the wonderful birthdays I had with Ben. I preferred quiet birthdays at home, with a simple meal and some dancing. Of course, if we were in Walt Disney World, I dove into the fun. I was so fortunate to have spent several birthdays with Ben at Walt Disney World during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. I am so lucky to have had that kind of love and those delightfully whimsical and magical experiences.  As I’ve said before, Ben let his inner child shine and he completely indulged mine. Well, my inner child isn’t so inner- it’s front and center of who I am!

Mickey and Us

Here are just some of my favorite Walt Disney World birthday memories with Ben:

The time I asked Mickey how old I looked and he held his hand up and I asked if he thought I looked 5. He shook his head and held his hand up again and I asked if he meant 50. This went on for a while until he held up one finger at a time and I realized that he only had 4 fingers. He looked up at the ceiling and held his hand to his forehead and when I looked over at Ben, he and the PhotoPass photographer were laughing hysterically. Ben couldn’t believe that I didn’t know my Disney buddies had 4 fingers and he said the photographer was laughing so hard that she couldn’t take a picture. From that point on, Ben and I only “high four-ed” each other.

Mickey has Four Fingers!

Mickey has Four Fingers!

The birthday holiday we took there when Ben proposed to me. The actual proposal was on Halloween because he knew I would love that. I did.

Mickey congratulated us on our engagement!

Mickey congratulated us on our engagement!

Birthday hugs from Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger and Piglet at the Crystal Palace, because I had to have birthday lunch with my friends from the 100 Acre Woods. I was as gleeful as a 5-year-old when the waiters sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Ben surprised me with a cake once and Pooh kissed my hand. I’ve kept all the confetti and the birthday cards.

Birthday cupcake Birthday Hugs from Tigger

The little girl at the Akershus Restaurant whom I noticed was intently watching Ben and me as we struggled a bit to get him into a chair and then as I cut his food and helped him to eat. When she saw the waiter bring me a little cake with a candle and sing happy birthday to me, she came over and wished me a happy birthday and gave me a hug. Kids have such intuition, and her mom and I both had tears in our eyes.

Cinderella at Akershus

Dancing with Stitch and Goofy at the Halloween party while Ben sat in his scooter, laughed at me (with love) and videotaped it. As if anyone who knows me would be shocked!!

Getting extra candy when we went trick-or-treating at Mickey’s Halloween Party because I announced that it was my birthday, probably more excitedly than most of the little kids. Between Ben in the electric wheelchair and my birthday, we did very well collecting candy!

Having so much fun tasting the foods at the various pavilions during the Food & Wine Festival. Even though he needed help with food, and he couldn’t eat everything he wanted, Ben loved to be at Epcot and he didn’t let himself lament what he couldn’t do or eat.  His attitude was incredible.

I am grateful to always have those very sweet memories, and so many more. I grieve for the birthdays I won’t have with Ben, and also for the birthdays he won’t have. But, I’ve felt his presence over the past year and I know that he is with me, as are my mom, dad and grandma. People say that Ben would want me to be happy and to celebrate. I’m sure that’s true, but it still doesn’t feel quite right.

The time that my birthday fell on parent teacher conference night. Ben and I had decided that we would celebrate over the weekend instead and it was no big deal. He picked me up at school, as he always did after evening events, and when we got to my apartment, I was delightfully surprised to see that he had decorated with balloons, flowers, a cake and some of my Disney toys all around the decorations. He had done all of this after work and before meeting me. That was Ben-always romantic.

Surprise Birthday

Despite all of the very difficult memories of Ben with ALS and in the hospital and hospice, I am glad to be able to recall with love and smiles, and yes, also tears, all of the wonderful times before our lives changed. Because those times tell the story of who we really were together.  Remembering that is indeed a most special birthday gift.

Another gift is having such incredible friends who shower me with birthday greetings and love. For that, I am so very grateful.

True Love

The Loving Sense of Scents in Memories

Film clip: The Parent Trap (1961)  Walt Disney Productions

I’ve written so often about memories. Memories give me so much comfort, even when accompanied by tears. They sustain me yet they do not hold me back because they let me know that I have the power to hold them dear while reaching for new memories. I love this clip from “The Parent Trap,” when Susan/Sharon meets her grandfather for the first time (unbeknownst to him). I’ve written about it before (click here for that post). I guess it especially tugs at my heartstrings because I was so close to my grandma and my great-aunts and great-uncles.

I had an experience over the weekend that made me think of this clip and the memories conjured by scents. I cooked dinner for a good friend who is recuperating from surgery. I have not really cooked since my dad died back in February of 2014. Shortly after that, Ben began to struggle with eating. Yes, I made dinners. I cooked chicken that I pureed with all sorts of sauces and mashed potatoes for Ben. We did have many laughs about my Vitamix concoctions. But, once Ben could no longer chew with ease, I stopped cooking the meals he loved but could no longer enjoy.

When my friend asked if I could help her by preparing some meals, I decided to cook one of the meals my dad and Ben loved- Greek shrimp with home-made tomato sauce and feta cheese (from Jane Brody’s seafood cookbook). As I walked to Fairway for ingredients, I felt overwhelmingly sad. As I’ve written before, firsts are always hard. It didn’t occur to me to think of cooking in this way, but it was a first.  I always miss Ben when I go grocery shopping. It’s those little things that are unexpectedly difficult and therefore, unpredictably emotional. They leave me feeling lonely and alone.  I tried to comfort myself with the memories of our adventures in cooking, when I would find a new recipe, or try one of my own, and it would be delicious. I would always cook enough for us, to bring to my dad, and with leftovers for all. I committed to making this meal and just had to get through this first time.

As I began to sauté the garlic and shallots, I remembered how much Ben loved that smell. He always laughed and said it made him hungry and I joked that I didn’t even have to add anything else. His presence at that moment was so strong. I could vividly picture him smiling. I missed him. It was not the same to cook without him, and it was not the same to cook that meal for anyone other than Ben and my dad. I don’t actually think I could have done this cooking soon after the loss of Ben. Now, after two years, I can broaden my perspective to feel sad yet also consoled by the memories that keep Ben and my dad (and mom and grandma) close to me.

I’m pleased that my friend was very happy with the meal. Ben and my dad would have been proud. I think that I will always think of them when I make that dish and other ones that we all loved. I will always picture Ben’s smile when I sauté garlic with other herbs and vegetables. In one way, it will probably always make me sad. But, I hope that I will also look up and smile, as I did last weekend, as I remember the good times and take pleasure in sharing those memories of Ben while creating new memories with other special people in my life.

ALS,Caregiver,ALS Awareness Month,Walt Disney World, Mickey Mouse

2011- This is one of my very favorite pictures of Ben because he was so full of happiness and laughter.