I’m eager to begin the next chapter of The Chic Series which I referenced in my last post. Connecting with Katharine and hearing her story made me start thinking that I needed to do something with these incredible people I have met through blogging. Here is Kat’s story about finding the light in a dark situation.
Katharine and I became fast friends – if you can’t tell from the above
Kat and I met because someone tagged her on my instagram handle and said, “you need to take her class”. Eager to invite her in to one of my pilates classes I headed to her Instagram and saw that she too was a blogger. I’m curious, so I click the link in bio to see what her blog, Southern Bourbon Mountains, was all about. I’m reading her blog and suddenly become overwhelmed with emotion. Her blog is a journey through the good, bad, and ugly of her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Three hours later with tears streaming down my face I reached out to Kat and wrote her a rather lengthy DM. Her ability to be raw and honest moved me. Her ability to talk about the real devastation that comes along with this disease is powerful. Alzheimer’s has personally touched my family, so I know this disease all too well. I know the emotional and physical toll it can take on not only those diagnosed but by those who love and care for someone with Alzheimer’s.
Kat has taken an awful situation and channeled her energy into fighting to raise awareness and find a cure. She is currently the leader of a team for the Charlotte Walk to End Alzheimer’s in honor of her mother. This year her goal is $5,000 and I will be joining her on the walk! We would love to see you there but if you can’t make it and would like to make a donation in honor of someone you know and love you can do so below:
Ha! (Autobiography being released in 2020) Well, I guess first and foremost I am a Mom. I have a 2.5 year old, a 6 year old and a 15 year old stepson. I work from home for one of the big Charlotte banks in wholesale technology. My husband and I moved here 11 years ago from Florida where I lived after graduating from Chapel Hill. I am originally from Asheville so living back in the South and being closer to home has been wonderful.
Tell me about your mom and your relationship pre-Alzheimer’s
It is hard to think about this question. It feels like I have known her with Alzheimer’s so long now. She and I were best friends. We never went through the typical teenage daughter/mother angst years. She taught me so many things about kindness, love, friendship, flower arranging and making a house a home. Honestly, she made everything beautiful. She was beautiful herself and just had this warm inviting personality that resonated in everything that she did.
What was the moment you knew something was different with your mom?
When we were planning our wedding she didn’t grab the reigns as I pictured her doing. With that said my dad and I are total control freaks but she didn’t put on the Mother of the Bride hat if you know what I mean. On the day of our wedding she lost the something borrowed bag of heirloom jewelry. And then in 2009 when my Dad had a very severe health scare she could not repeat what the doctors would tell us. I had to take charge and take notes, update family and take care of Dad and things at home. She had lost a sharpness about her.
Were you there when your mother received the diagnosis?
No, I had my son in March 2011 and while we knew something was wrong we didn’t know how to approach her about it. That October she fell while at work and they rushed her to the ER thinking she had a stroke. This visit prompted a Neuro consultation and they confirmed that she had MCI-Mild Cognitive Impairment which a month later was diagnosed as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
What was the hardest part about receiving the diagnosis?
The totality of it. It is a death sentence. There is no cure, no prevention, nothing to stop it. I knew we would lose her and that it would be a devastating process. We as a family were not strangers to Alzheimer’s Disease. Ironically Mom helped open the first Alzheimer’s Unit in Western North Carolina when she worked for the Black Mountain Center. She worked in long term care for at least fifteen years.
Tell us about the journey…
There are so many milestones I tried to record. Not for me but for friends that are just receiving a diagnosis like this for their parents. She was let go from her job and that devastated her. She has worked her entire life so being home alone all day led to depression. Then we had to take her car away. And then came Adult Daycare. The move into the Memory Unit was gut wrenching. And then the seizures, the broken ankle, the now permanent wheelchair, and the day she didn’t know me. There were also moments I would never write about. Helping her use the bathroom, trying to bathe her, her screaming maniacal hateful delusions, and all the falls and unexplained bruises.
If you were given one day with “mom” what would you do?
Oh this makes me cry just to think about. She loved the Tobacco Barn and Screen Door shops in Asheville. That was one of our favorite things to do together. We were always rushed by husbands or kids and I would love to walk the aisles with her and look at all the antiques, knick knacks, and art without a time constraint.
We would then stop at Gardener’s Cottage (our favorite store in Asheville) and buy paintings and candles (which we both have an addiction to). Next we would go to lunch at Fig and then maybe a walk out at Biltmore. We would end the day with Dad cooking dinner and eating out on their porch. She loved her home and her dogs and you could tell this from the moment you stepped foot in their mountain tree house. She loved her plants. Half of my parents’ home looks like a greenhouse and she kept it filled with beautiful plants.
The word memory has even more meaning behind it for you. What is your favorite memory of your mom?
On my wedding day we realized we were ahead of schedule after hair and make-up. So we went to one of our favorite’s, Chelsea’s Tea Room in Biltmore Village, and sat down and had lunch together. Honestly, it was perfect. We weren’t rushed, we split the Croque Monsueir and one of their famous iced mocha lattes. We chatted and were both so excited about the day but had such a special moment just the two of us. I will never forget that day, it was like time stopped to allow me to spend time with my mother.
How has this experience shaped you as a mom?
I worry it has made me slightly crazy about memories. Also, I am obsessed with photographs and probably take way too many of my children. I also want them to know me. Know me as a friend and a parent. Instead of having a perfectly clean house or on the spot bedtimes we laugh, we sing one more song, line up stuffed animals all over the house. I think it has taught me how important the parent child relationship is.
I often reference quotes for inspiration and motivation. When I found these two I thought of you.
“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”
“Life is tough my darling, but so are you.”
Do you see the validity behind either of these quotes? Do you believe that after this experience you will come out or have become a better/stronger person?
I hope so. I think battling a disease such as Alzheimer’s teaches you so much about life, and what is truly important. Family is everything. I try to go home as much as I can. Then when I’m here I try to be present with my own family as much as possible. I think having a cause is so important and I hope sharing our story not only helps other people in my position but brings awareness to a disease that is desperate for some. It’s important for me to mention that I wouldn’t ever consider myself an expert. However, I do find comfort knowing that I can help friends who have been given the same diagnosis.
Has anything or anyone been your rock through this experience?
There have been so many people that have reached out, emailed, texted, or facebook messaged me when I post a new update. I’m not sure they know how much it means to me because I don’t always reply but it does. I have to say that my friends (family friends, girlfriends, internet friends) have really been there. Even friends I haven’t met. I have a friend in Atlanta going through this same thing and I can tell her anything because I know she is living my same life. My friend Scott at the Alzheimer’s Association is also one that I can ask any question, admit any horrible thought.People wouldn’t believe how powerful social media can be for a support system in situations like this. It helps you feel less alone.
A disease without a cure is a difficult diagnosis to hear and accept. Instead of accepting it you are fighting back against this frustrating reality and working hard to change it. Tell me about how you find the energy to persevere.
The day Mom was diagnosed I went to the internet and googled ALZ. I immediately became involved with the chapter here in Charlotte. These people are like my second family. I played in a powderpuff league one year, served on the committee for the Queen’s Cup, served on the committee for our Gala, and have walked every year since her diagnosis. You feel helpless against Alzheimer’s disease. Doing makes me feel less helpless. She brought me into this world and I feel like I must honor her by trying to find a cure. I am also scared to get this disease. I know “mommy brain” is a real thing but getting diagnosed with ALZ is my greatest fear.
What is the best piece of advice you would give someone who has just received this diagnosis? To the person themselves or to the family members.
You are not alone. Let people help you. Get involved with your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. Be honest about your needs, communicate with family. Over-communicate. And again because it bears repeating, let people help you. They will offer help but leave it open ended because they don’t know what you need. Make a list of ways people can help and communicate/delegate it. It is okay to admit you cannot take care of the person on your own. Also, things that are true in Alzheimer’s World are true no matter what. You have to learn to think as they are.
Do you have any favorite advice from your Mom?
She had these little sayings that have always stuck with me in hard times. I was always a worrier and she would say “Give it to God.” I try to remember that when the light at the end of the tunnel feels so far away. She also always said “Kill them with kindness”. Middle school years are tough. I currently watch my son go through getting picked on. I use her advice with him. Kindness and love always win.
Can people contact you?
Yes! Please! As someone stuck in this sandwich generation I can understand and commiserate with the stresses of taking care of parents and children.