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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published April 13 2008

Life story helps keep memories of elders fresh

Dear Readers: I receive many questions from readers. I also receive many responses about columns I’ve written. However, no response has had such wisdom to share, along with such eloquent delivery, as the one that follows.

My plan, after getting permission from the writer to share his idea, was to paraphrase him and pass along his suggestion which I fully endorse. However, everything I wrote paled in comparison to his original message. So, with permission from a man many in our community know as “Doc Tolbert,” I’m keeping his note to me intact. With great humility, I am honored to share with you Tolbert’s solution to “remembering who they were.”

“Dear Carol,

“Your article the other day about remembering who your loved one was before dementia was right on target. Now, I’m not ‘minding my elders,’ in the strict sense of the words. I am an elder (I’ll be 80 next month and my wife, Jane, is 82), nevertheless, I’m her sole caregiver. She has had Alzheimer’s for several years and is demonstrating the ‘normal’ progression of the dreaded disease. She now dozes most of the time, and, of course, I’m responsible for everything.

“What I’m writing to say is that I think I have found one great way to keep the person that she used to be fresh in my mind. I’m writing the story of my life. The first part is already done (1928-1963) and published (if distribution to family and a few close friends constitutes ‘publishing’).

“I’ve also written most of what I’m going to write about the years from 1963 until 1989, when we retired, and am now working on our retirement years. What I discovered, of course, is that ‘My Life’ really became ‘Our Life’ when we got married in 1953.

“As such, I have been constantly immersed in remembering and writing about Jane. It has helped not only me, but those who have read the first part of the story, to remember the vibrant, brilliant and energetic person she was. I think the chapters that I’m working on right now will help all of us keep her ‘alive’ even in these years of decline.

“I just thought that others might find writing about their loved one, now suffering from dementia, a way to keep bright and fresh those things they most don’t want to lose. It doesn’t have to be a book; just notes would do. Sincerely, Bob Tolbert”

Long-distance caregiving: A Place for Mom at www.aplaceformom.com is another good resource that should help long-distance caregivers. As always, if you choose a facility, check references and try to take a tour (or several). Also don’t forget the Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov.

Veterans: Veterans Express at www.veterans-express.com is not a government site. However, it’s a fairly

easy-to-use site that could help you find benefits you may not know you deserve. They link to many government forms and other information. It will give you information to ask your local veterans representatives the right questions.

Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care.

To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.in-forum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.