Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.

~Eskimo Legend,Author Unknown~

~Part One~

It is hard to think that my Dad has been gone about 4 years now. This is when our family had noticed a pronounced difference in Ma. She just wasn’t quite herself any longer,seeking words that she could not find,staring at the table to see if they were written there,repeating a thought or question perhaps a dozen times. This is a college educated woman. She had worked before her family was started as an Executive Secretary and again after her children were fully grown. She knew several foreign languages including Chinese. At this point we figured that it was the greatest loss of her life,married for 52 years and having been retired and rubbing elbows most minutes of every day since,which was over 20 years now. A visit with her doctor brought about that she was already being treated for Dementia,but we were never told. My Dad was one of those people that shouldered everything that he felt was necessary…and being as he promised,”till death do us part”,that is exactly what he did.

Several more visits with her personal physician and his assistants,it was decided to treat this heartbreaking disease with an additional prescription,with the express knowledge given that “There is no cure for Dementia”. The only treatments available merely slow down the process...if…they do anything at all,and that they have only worked as long as a year and a half in studies done. It will,at some later point,kill her.She was 84 at that time and had a very good life. Holding off the inevitable seemed the right thing,then and now.

I had always thought her birth date was the coolest. November 11,1922…which made it 11-11-22. Fun,right? At that point in history,it was known as Armistice Day,later changed to Veterans Day. In this,my Mother and I had a special connection. I was born October 12th,Columbus Day. We shared that we each had our birthdays off from school or work each year,until it was decided that true holidays were better spent on the closest Monday.

Ma had lived through the Depression and World War II,The Korean and Vietnam wars. She knew the loss of family and friends to diseases such as “dropsy” and the effects of war and poverty. She had graduated High school with Honors,her stories and awards had her placed at the top of her class. She continued on to college and adult life. Working first for Nash Motors out of Detroit,Michigan and returning home at her Fathers request to work in the “family business”. She was not a “machinery” person and had related many times,through tears of laughter,how her angelically patient brother,Albert,had attempted to teach her how to make bridges for stringed instruments. She had attempted and broken roughly 100 of these small items before Albert placed her in an office position. She now counted and separated,cataloging the parts they had manufactured,including those darned troublesome bridges. She took the business a step further by sending letters to their customers allowing them the information of the parts that are available through Albert S. Litto,violin maker in Buffalo,New York. (Please excuse the plug for my Grandfather…) This was something that hadn’t been previously thought of and brother Albert had been so impressed that he went out and purchased Ma her first “new” typewriter. With the depression came the loss of much business and Ma moved on to what she called “KB”. “KB” was WKBW  Radio in Buffalo. Here she worked for the big boss and she loved every part of her job and all of the people involved. It is about this time when she decided that my Dad was no longer “too silly” to be around and they began to date. He had chased her for nearly 10 years at this point,their lives interwoven with Ma’s best friend also being Dads cousin.

They married on November 20th,1954,had their first child in September of the following year and 7,total,in the following 8 years. Good Catholic family…or as my brother Gerry says,time to buy a television. Seven children in eight years…can you imagine? Placing this into perspective (something they had not previously done…thank God, because I was number 5…pretty far down the line)…that is always having someone,and up to 4 children in diapers all at the same time. Having 7 teenagers,again,all at the same time. I remember a time where there were six vehicles parked in the driveway,all belonging to us,and Dad was the last one in nearly every night,giving him the option of rearranging the cars to whoever needed to go out first. I,always,could tell when he had to do it,as I would find my cigarettes decorated the entire interior of my car,to the furthest reaching corners and under the seats. I know he was laughing…

Ma raised her children. Her work was us. She was a presence in every sense of the word. She would sit for hours to help us study,to give us something “constructive” to do. She had no problem handing out paper and scissors and glue on the dining room table. She had guided us through winning so many Magnificat (the Catholic newspaper) sponsored art contests that the headlines read,year after year,”Corbetts do it again”. This allowed us to be guests on “Rocketship 7” and “The Commander Tom Show”…where we learned that Promo the Robot was really a cardboard suit with a guy in it…and the “guy” pulled his Promo the Robot head off to smoke during commercial breaks. She was,seemingly,tough as nails while raising us. She had no problem raising her voice or spanking the bottom of any or all of us. We find out later,much later,that she would raise her voice and when she turned to go into another room,she was trying to hide her laughter from what she had seen us doing.

Short story…I know this is already long…bare with me:

We were still quite young,ranging in age from about 3 to 10. We had learned a few “new” words around our neighborhood friends. If I remember correctly they were ‘shit’ and ‘dammit’. So,she walked out onto the back porch and there are the 6 boys exchanging our new vocabulary with each other. We were taken into the house,our mouths washed out with soap. Not really “washed out” because Ma knew how to scrape the soap bar across your front teeth as she was removing the bar from the mouth so you could really taste it well. After that,she put bandaids across our mouths so we could no longer talk (she thought) and the kicker is…sent all of us back outside so that the neighborhood could see us with our bandaided mouths…to which we hid behind the tree in our back yard,peeled the band aid back and would whisper one of our new words at each other and place the bandaid back over our lips.

“What are you doing back there?!” is what we heard from the back porch. Who knew she would keep an eye on us after sending us back outside? Only she.

We all came out from behind the tree (yes,it was a large,large tree) and stared at her,innocently as we could…at which time the bandaids,from being pulled off several times,fell away from our mouths. She turned so quickly to go back into the house that we were sure the belt was coming out of the closet. Seems she nearly pee’d her pants when she saw the bandaids fall away. I don’t remember her returning with the belt,so it couldn’t have been too bad a punishment.

She was always our number one cheerleader and,later on,her boys could do no wrong. Her lifes drive and loves were her husband (whom she always called her “boyfriend”),her family and her faith. I wouldn’t care to find an order and,quite possibly,there was no difference to have an order.

When my Father passed his funeral was presided over by Father Chuck who was fairly new to the parish of St Christopher. One of the things that stuck in his mind and many parishioners minds was that they always,always held hands as they walked. Always.

Flash forward to late 2006/early 2007 and a new prescription intended to “possibly” slow the destructive process of dementia. Not one of us had any desire to remove Ma from her normal surroundings and we had thought it better to keep her activities and days to what they were before Dad had passed away. I,as luck would have it,destroyed my back several years earlier and was medically retired,leaving me the time to care for her during the hours when others had a job to tend to. Dad had driven them to church each morning,so I did the same. Breakfast was always the next item and for the next 2 and a half years,I made almost the exact same breakfast. Vegetable and cheese omellette with toast and cranberry juice. Hot tea for her,coffee for me. Every morning I would here her say,” I could eat this every day”,to which I had to laugh,inside,and think,”You do”.

Dementia causes lapses in everything. Talk,thought,shopping,laughter. Everything.

I knew as we entered the grocery store each week on Monday,that I would lose her at the very first display. It never mattered what was on it,could be flowers,juice,grapefruit,green peppers…it would hold her attention while I would go up and down the aisles,checking to make sure she was still there at the end of each aisle,even though I knew she would be. Even though I knew she still would be there,anxiety will allow you no comfort while taking the next aisle. If you tried to have her follow you or lead you down the aisles,you knew it would be a 10 hour shopping trip,so,you allow yourself some anxiety and check for her at each chance. I would watch her as I waited in the checkout.

To be continued…

Part 2…shopping and dining out with dementia.