The book is finished. It is odd to be able to find it on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1517524903/sr=1-1/qid=1451427800/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me&qid=1451427800&sr=1-1 Our daughter suggested that my husband and I begin to write blogs in order to help us to process the events of the past almost 3 years. She set us up in the fall of 2014 and told us […]
Isn’t it interesting how we try so hard to impress everyone around us in an attempt to feel better about ourselves? I think that I am certainly not an exception to this, as I am constantly looking for acceptance from family and those around me. I have always fought with self assurance and the idea that I just wasn’t up to par in pretty much everything that I have ever been involved in. When I was younger it was due to the fact that I was so very shy and was not confrontational at all. I was a doormat and people walked all over me, and I let them. And then I grew up.
When I graduated high school and went into the the U.S. Navy I was forced to come out of my shell and I flourished. In all aspects of living I was a brand new person. I entered Boot Camp weighing in at 125 pounds and 10 weeks later I graduated 2nd in a graduating class of 600 recruits, weighing 180 pounds. I was confident, proud, sincerely happy in who I was. I looked like a brand new person, and I liked it. I wasn’t the scrawny little kid anymore, I was a young man in the U.S. Military.
After a couple years after graduating from A School, I was awarded a full scholarship to John Hopkins University. I was so excited to share this with my family, yet apprehensive at the same time, as this would be the largest undertaking that I would ever take, short of getting married and having children. It was at this point in my life when I was thinking seriously about marriage and finally being with the girl of my dreams, since I was 16 years old. I was at this point almost 20 years old and more in love than any man had ever loved a woman. I know that sounds corny and perhaps way over used, but I knew it to be the truth, and I still love her just as much today. Both of us had always said that we wanted to wait for marriage before sex, and we did extremely well at that endeavor for nearly five years before we succumbed to the temptations that only God could make so good. My wife visited me in Philadelphia and when she left that weekend I told her that she was pregnant, and she assured me that she wasn’t. She told me that she would get a pregnancy test when she got home and call me when she got home. That pacified me for the time being.
The next day she did call and had a very relieved sound to her voice when she exclaimed that, “we are not pregnant”. I was not so sure and told her that I had a strong feeling that I couldn’t explain that said different. After two more pregnancy tests came back negative I was still convinced that she was in fact pregnant. She agreed to go to the OBGYN off the school campus and get a pregnancy test done and I agreed that if that one came back negative I would let it go. Later that afternoon she called me and was very quiet and I knew before she told me. Something inside me knew that she was pregnant and I sincerely believe that it was God who kept me convinced of that fact. Had we taken any kind of action at all I would not be blessed with my son Matthew, his wife Tabitha, and the two most special grandchildren in the world, Christopher and Alexis. None of them may not have been in our original plan, but I know for certain they were all in God’s. I didn’t go to medical school, instead I came home from the Navy to prepare for my future family.
My life has taken an unplanned turn over the past two years and I am being forced to plan for things that I would have preferred doing later in life. It saddens me to think about my wife being alone in the coming years, but it makes me think about her impromptu trip to Philadelphia, our unplanned and misguided lack of good judgement that led to being pregnant after the first time. Our unplanned son led to his wife, two children, and his two sisters who would all not be here if we hadn’t interrupted “our” plan and let God have it His way in our circumstance.
I like to think about my childhood and living on a small dairy farm in Maine, USA. I grew up poor and didn’t know it. I always seemed to have what I needed and never complained about the clothes that were handed down from my brother Joe, to my brother Tim, and then to me. Yes, they were pretty well worn out by the time I got them but didn’t care. This is the life I knew. Toys were not common, but the ones that we did have, were important and had great meaning. I remember one Christmas morning where us kids all played in boxes instead of the toys that Santa had brought. My parents talked about it every single year, about how much fun we had with empty boxes and that they could have saved money had they only known we would have been happy with just the box things came in. That was more than 40 years ago, and I would give anything to experience those kind of feelings again, or feel the love that was generated around our Christmas tree by my family.
I am the third child out of six, all boys except one sister who came directly after me. I truly believe that being one of six kids may be the reason I am who I am today, or at least to some degree. I know that we brought many years of love and laughter to our home. When things were bleak and my parents were secretly worried about how they were going to pay the bills, they never showed that stress to us kids, but I always knew. When my mother was in High School she was voted the “most beautiful eyes and smile”, and it was these same eyes that showed the concern she had for keeping the finances. My parents always held a strong sense of ownership and pride in a job well done. One of the biggest life lessons, learned from my parents, was to set high standards and finish each job to the very best of my abilities. We were taught to not cut corners and always strive to try and finish each task on our own first, and if we could not figure out a solution, then it was okay to ask for help.
It wasn’t until my mother died in 2002 (she was 59 years old) that I realized how very much she did for my father. Up to this point I had always seen my Dad as a securely motivated man, with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a man that could figure out anything that was thrown at him. Growing up, he was a farmer, a carpenter, an electrician, a woodsman, a mechanic, and just about everything else under the sun. I always knew that my father only had an eighth grade education, but it never mattered. He was the smartest man I knew, and I loved him. After Mom died I started to see that my father lacked confidence. He was socially awkward, scared to go through the checkout line by himself, and was absolutely lost when it came to keeping track of his paperwork and mail. My mother always had been the one to do all of this and he never ever had to worry about it. Perhaps this may have been a disservice, but it worked for them for forty one years, so who’s to say what is right and what is wrong? Certainly not me.
Jumping ahead eight years to 2010, I lost my father to cancer. He was 69 years old. His illness started in May when he had a seizure and the doctor’s said they couldn’t get it to stop. He was sent to the biggest hospital in the state, (2 hours drive from my home) and stayed there for two months. He continued to have seizures which was damaging his brain, and was often unaware of who I was. He was sent to a rehab facility at one point but was put back in the hospital a short time later. Long story short, he was admitted to the hospital on May 9th, 2010 and died October 9th, 2010. There are times still when I get sad because he never made it back home for five months. But, my father who had always been a workaholic and loved being outdoors, did not want to sit in a hospital bed everyday. Though he was unaware of his surroundings for the most part, he wasn’t in any pain.
As I am writing this it just occurred to me that this could be anyone’s story. As a matter of fact this probably hits home to many readers, as they can relate to parts of it. We always hear that we “don’t know what tomorrow holds”, and nothing could be truer. I am already starting to see subtle changes in myself since my Dementia diagnosis last year, and it makes me much more aware of what it is that I really have around me. The doctors best educated estimate is that I have between two and five years, though it is just that, an educated guess that is most likely spurred on by Traumatic Brain Injury. I truly am aware of the significance of each morning when I wake up and hear the birds singing. I am aware as to how very fortunate I am to have a wife that loves me unconditionally, and is willing to walk this journey with me despite what we know it will lead to. I am also aware of how very blessed I am to have three children (young adults now) who all know the importance of family and what is associated with that, and that they all love me the very same way that my parents loved each other, and each of us kids growing up. Family is everything, and I will never take that for granted. I worry about what this disease is going to do to my mind, but I have to concentrate on the now and not worry about the “what ifs”.
I am a strong man who chooses to believe that God is in control of my life, in control of my family, and most of all, in control of my future. I find no reason to stop believing that now. However, have you ever wanted or wished that you could just pluck your head in the sand to get away from circumstances, and when you came back up for air everything was okay and as it should be? Sometimes that is what I wish for, but know that that is an unrealistic idea. Life is unpredictable and we really don’t know what our tomorrow’s hold for us. And truth be known, it is probably best that way.
Through the years there have been many events in which I hold dear to my heart and will carry them with me till the day that I die. Growing up on the farm was something that I hold dear as well. I grew up as one of six kids, and we didn’t have a lot of money but I am certain that we were happier than kids are today. Some of my friends in grade school were always so special to me, and I can’t remember if I ever told them or if they even knew it. Another is the first day that I met my wife for the first time after being pen-pals, and going to high school at different schools. This memory will always be precious to me. She was, and remains to be my very best friend. It is these type of things in life that make life worth living, regardless of how long that life might be.
I am still in relatively good control of my daily tasks, am aware of what is happening around me, and still keenly aware of where and what I am doing with my family and friends. This is a disease of the brain and sometimes my brain plays tricks on me without me realizing it. I would swear on a stack of bibles that I just took the dog out to pee, when in fact it was two nights ago. I am certain that I took my pills and had dinner when in fact I hadn’t. I don’t always realize the significance behind these mistakes, in fact I don’t think I ever do. To me, it’s just pick up from where I left off the last time, but it’s not that easy. I am fortunate in the sense that I have my wife to hold me accountable and remind me all the time of everything that I am supposed to be doing. I often think about the people who don’t have family or loved ones to help them, and how helpless they may feel at times.
Physically I feel like a train wreck. Because of a a combination of side effects from medications and an inability to stay active like I used to I am gaining weight and feel like I am becoming weak and more tired with each passing day. I am holding water so bad that I gained over 30 pounds in less than a month and have now been put on water pills in an attempt to dispense it. If all of this is a glimpse into the future as to what it is like to be a senior citizen than perhaps I’m getting the better end of the stick after all.
Its getting harder for me to come up with the correct wording to write this blog now, spelling is a crap shoot, and staying on task is getting more difficult. Maybe I just need more sleep, or maybe I need to direct my thought process to something more worthwhile. I am hosting a family reunion on August 8, and it will be the first time the “Higgins” family will have gotten together in about thirty years. Some of these family members I have never even met, though we all live here in Maine and relatively close to one another. Hopefully it goes down as a day to remember. If nothing more I hope that my parents can look down from heaven and see that after all of these years someone is making an effort to move the family in the right direction….
It’s been a couple of months since I have written in this blog and I’m not really certain why. Perhaps I was trying to forget the past year and the heartache that it has brought to my wife. Maybe I was thinking that if I didn’t write about it than it isn’t real. Or maybe I was hoping for the doctors to call and say that they had made a mistake and I really didn’t have Dementia. Maybe the predictive timeframe in which this disease will progress is wrong, and that I will be around for many more years instead of the few that they are suggesting.
In many respects the past year has been but a blur. I have been to more doctor’s offices than I care to remember or count, and am taking more pills in a day than should be legal, so that I can maintain some sense of normalcy. Having my wife home during school vacation now during the days is a treat. The days are long while she is teaching, and I am left home most of the time to fend for myself. I feel fortunate that I am still at a point where I can be alone, though I know the time is approaching when my wife will no longer allow me to do this on my own. I feel like I am doing fine but it is the small underlying things that I am, or am not doing that I don’t see, but my wife does, that is subtly showing the progression of this disease.
I know most people ask “why” when something like this happens to them or someone they love, but I haven’t done that. As a matter of fact I have done just the opposite and thanked God that if anyone in our family had to have this, than I was glad it was me. I believe that through every life event there is a lesson, and if you don’t learn from every obstacle than it was a wasted trial. I’m not certain what the lesson is by sending me on this journey, by shortening my life here on this earth and taking me away from the one thing that makes me who I am am. I haven’t asked as to the fairness in how this is affecting my wife, frankly because there is no fairness. She is being robbed of a husband and golden years. Retirement together will not happen for us in the “normal” sense, but she will have to rely on her memories.
Before I lost my job, as a result of this disease, I used to work 60 plus hours a week while maintaining all my lawns, yards, gardens, and all the other household duties, while also mowing all the lawns on the main farm for my in-laws. I do well to put in 6 hour days now, which leaves me bushed.
I have decided that next summer is going to be much different as I am determined to create new memories with my wife, ones that she will be able to hold on to during the most difficult days, after I am either put into a Memory Care Facility or gone. Going to the ocean and walking on the beach is far more important than weeding the garden. Taking a ride along the coast and stopping at a roadside food stand for a lobster roll is far more important than mowing the lawn. And camping for the weekend with the kids is more important than stacking firewood. Family is so sacred, and I love mine so much. We have been with each other 24/7 this past week and I have absolutely loved it. She is more than my wife, she is my best friend and support system. I know that she is my biggest fan and that there is nothing that she wouldn’t do for me, and there is nothing on earth that I wouldn’t do for her.
Life can sometimes feel unfair, but we are never promised a tomorrow. We need to appreciate the time we have been given and not take one second for granted. My wife is going to get my undivided attention for as long as I am able to do so, and when I am no longer able to communicate, than it is my prayer that she will still be able to understand my love for her by looking deep into my eyes and seeing that our love can never die.
I’m at a place in this journey in which I don’t know what to do or to expect? I tell others that I am at peace with the idea of me dying in the next few years, but the truth is that I am scared. It’s not the actual dying process that scares me, it is the knowledge of knowing that I am going to be leaving my wife all alone. We have the house to ourselves now that all three of the kids are living on their own and are self sufficient, and we get this bomb dropped on us. In many respects I still can’t believe that I have Dementia and that my brain is slowly dying. I am afraid for my wife and need her to know that I will fight this disease forcefully and heroically as humanly possible. I have never been a quitter and have no plans to start now.
No disease is fair, racially motivated, or separated. This disease targets anyone and apparently at years younger than anyone first thought. I have always believed that Alzhiemers and Dementia only occurred in older people of seventy years or older. This has to be a mistake, was my first reaction. I was 48 years old, physically fit, and still able to take on the world, or so I thought. I’m not ready.
We are now considering purchasing a second house that is almost next to my wife’s school. Her idea is that she could walk home and check on me at lunch time every day and we wouldn’t have to fight these rough Maine winters and an eight hundred foot driveway. This would allow us to live on the mountain in the good months and the other house in the winter. We are both very hopeful that I can stay at home for the next couple of years at least. I hope to be of sound mind and able to express myself for as long as I can, for my wife and children, and also for myself. I have built my life becoming who I am, only to become someone I don’t want to be. The horror stories I read about is what I dread the most. I am so afraid of saying or doing anything that is out of character for me. Ultimately, I don’t have a choice.
I have subtle attributes of the disease and quite frankly I don’t notice them unless someone points them out to me. I might forget someone’s name today but remember it tomorrow without a second thought. I have forgotten how to tie my shoelaces, something that I have done a million times before but now can’t remember. My wife has put new elastic laces in all of my shoes so now the only thing I have to do is slide my foot in them. They are so easy I wish I had known about them before I got dementia.
As I try to simplify my yard, lawns, and gardens I am trying to do it so they are as maintenance free as possible. I have cut back on lawn sizes this year as this may be the last year that I am able to do them mself. This makes me sad as it is one of the things that I enjoy most. While on my mower, I am not bothered by the phone, people in general or any other distractions. On the other hand, if we get another house I would now have two yards to maintain. Sometimes I feel like I am on a treadmill and going no where. It’s really hard to know for sure what to do to prepare, yet in some ways it is good that I have the time to so.
In some twisted way I feel fortunate to have the time to get my affairs in order before I get to the point of not realizing either way. I took the time with my wife to shop for a gravestone and we are having it placed in August after it gets here from Norway. We have taken the necessary steps with Elder Care lawyers and I have started writing down the things I want done at my funeral, right down to the music that will and will not be played. This is afterall, about me, so why wouldn’t I want to be a part of the planning?
It has been a year now since I was diagnosed and as I think about the changes that I have noticed I have to wonder what another year is going to bring? This journey is not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination. It is so very subtle, yet 100% percent deadly. First of your mind, and then of your body, and finally your life. The stages are somewhat the same for everyone, though the speed in which it progresses can be very different. I’m going to be fifty years old next year and know that I will never see sixty, and quite possibly mid fifties. From what I understand I won’t realize it, though that brings very little comfort.
Above, is my only baby picture. Below, is me at 2 years old. We lived across the road from Uncle Mike when he lived in the cellar, before building the house that is still standing there today, as is the house I lived in at the time. I also included my first day of school in 1971 and a picture with my older brother’s Joe and Timmy, and younger sister Kyla.
I was born February 19, 1966 and lived in Albion, Maine. I had two older brothers, and we lived in a small house next door to my Grampa and Grammy’s house. I had aunts and uncles and cousins all up and down the road from me, so I always had kids around to play with. I can’t remember now if I was 4 or 5 when we moved out of the little house and my parents bought their own dairy farm. I don’t remember anything about the move or the first few years there, but occasionally a thought will flash across my brain triggering some long forgotten event or day of significance. Some people say that I am not allowing myself to remember, whatever that means? This much I do know though, is that I had a great childhood despite the fact that we didn’t have a lot, and that at that time I wasn’t aware of it. Back then we were all in the same basic boat with a broken rudder just trying to get by with what we had. Ironically, we were happy.
A typical day during the school year was that we kids got up at 5:00 A.M. and got the cows into the barn for their morning milking. We grained them, and gave them corn silage and hay with molasses. We had to clean out the calf barn and give all of them new sawdust. We had to feed all the babies warm milk and giving them some fresh hay and grain before going to the house and getting ready for school. We did this every single day of the school year. When haying season arrived our days got much harder and longer. Fun with friends got put on the back burner and serious workloads began. I remember going to the hay-field right after morning chores and not coming back home until it was time to do the night chores. My mother would pack a bread bag full of sandwiches and a jug of water and we made a day of it. It was hard work for a grown man, let alone a 9-year-old boy.
Something that was so much fun was being able to walk up the road to the town dump and shoot rats. Sometimes they chased us! Seriously. My brothers and I would go up with a BB-gun and some slingshots and “play” for hours. Back then they used to burn the trash and we would come home smelling like what Mom considered disgusting. We would be covered in soot and of course that didn’t bother us boys a bit. I’m sure my parents were so proud when people drove by us as we were walking home looking like a tribe of dirty lost boys. But, they continued to let us do that for years until we started hauling home treasures and they would make us take them all back.
One of my earliest memories was when my little brother Mel was born. I was in the third grade and the school secretary came into my class and asked for me. I was under the table at the time. She walked over and of course the whole class went deathly quiet so that they too could hear what she had to say. She announced that I had a new baby brother and the class cheered. I was so embarrassed. I tried everything possible to stay out of the spotlight growing up, and this was attention that I really didn’t need or want. When I was a child I was very shy, and didn’t talk much to anyone other than my direct family. I never looked at people in the eye and never started a conversation with anyone. When I got into high school I started to open up a little, but let loose once I went into the U.S. Navy. The Navy gave me no choice!
As children, we loved to play in the sand. We would build forts all afternoon for our little plastic army men and pretend to have the most awesome battles. We would build elaborate roads, bodies of water and bridges. We would build hay forts that had tunnels and rooms throughout the hay mound. Occasionally we would do rotten things to the babysitters when my parents would occasionally have a night out, though that only happened perhaps four or five times the whole time I was a kid and for the record, it was not my fault!
We rode ponies, and had many pets. At one time, I had a small black lab named Pupper, a horse that my parents bought me for graduation, and a goat that we stole from the local cattle dealer. Poor old Arthur Bickford! He knew all along that we had it and humored us by letting it stay at our farm for a while. I think we would have kept it forever if it hadn’t eaten all of the breeding charts for the cows off the wall. Man, was my dad mad! I suppose it is kind of difficult to know when a certain cow is due to have a baby if all of the breeding and calving charts are inside the goat’s belly!
We didn’t receive a lot for birthdays, but we always had a cake. One time, I got a “new” bike. Getting a new used bike was more than enough for me. I was so excited, but getting a bike in the middle of February in Maine is not the most ideal time to ride a bike. However, I did it anyway in a half-foot of snow and rammed head first in the side of the barn, because I had absolutely no brakes in the deep snow.
We loved to play in the trees and build forts and paths so that we could play cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, and tag. Many of the neighborhood kids would come and we would play for endless hours, often into the pitch black of night. Looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate we were to have parents that allowed us those endless hours with friends and encouraged us to play. The bonds of our friends grew stronger and they were literally like our brothers and sisters. We used to hurry through our chores so that we could go play until it was chore time again, and we did this every single day.
We always had chores and I spent a lot of time with your grandfather. We used to play practical jokes on him, and he would always get us back. I remember playing darts the whole time we milked the cows. We used to throw corn cobs at each other, and I remember one time my brother Tim threw one at Grampa just as he peeked up over the back of a cow and it struck him right between the eyes. My mother was not impressed. We used to play quarters all the time, and I would often win enough to buy a couple donuts and a chocolate milk at school.
One of my favorite things to do was to keep the lawns and gardens groomed up. I took pride in how the farm looked and appreciated the positive comments on how nice the place looked when people came to visit. I remember going berry picking in the summer, and all of the jams and jellies my mother would make. The orange marmalade that mom would put on homemade biscuits and crackers was by far one of her best.
Farming was different back when I was a child. We fed only grain, some corn, and hay and we used cedar sawdust that we got from my step-grandfather’s sawmill. We chopped corn only one row at a time, and picked up hay off the ground one bale at a time and stacked it on flatbed trailers with no sides. Many of the fields were on a side hill and we would often lose the load and have to re-stack it again and again.
In the summer, we grew and sold sweet corn in order to get new school clothes and go to the fair. I remember sitting in our little hut that my father made for us so we didn’t have to be out in the direct sun. We sold our corn at .75 cents for a “bakers” dozen which was 13 ears. My parents always told us that we wanted to make sure they get as fair a deal as possible for both parties, the seller and the buyer. We used the money that we made to go to the fair and to buy new school clothes in the fall.
We had only 3 bedrooms in the farmhouse. I shared a bedroom with my four brothers (Joe, Timmy, Gary and Melvin) and that was interesting to say the least. At one point we stacked 3 beds on top of one another. One evening we were talking and fooling around like boys do, when my father yelled up over the stairs for us to stop and go to sleep. He said if heard one more peep he was going to take off his belt and give us something that was not pleasurable. So, of course one of my brothers went “peep” ever so softly. And sure enough my father came up over the stairs and gave us all a swat on the bottom. That didn’t happen very often, but when it did we didn’t forget it.
My “stuffed animal” was my brother Mel. I remember he used to waddle over to my bed and ask if he could sleep with me. I of course always let him and it made me feel good that he chose me over my other brothers. I like to think that he saw that I was sincere and genuine, and that I deeply cared for him, after all he was my baby brother.
Christmas was the best. Mom would hide cookies, and we would yell, “Bring down the cookies!” every Christmas morning. The twinkling of the lights was my favorite part of Christmas. I loved the smell of the ornaments, and the six stockings hanging from the garland on the mantle. I loved the smell of the tree, and all of the baking that my mother used to do. It would always add to the excitement of the season. Peanut brittle, bon bons, and ribbon candy were common for the season, along with pineapple and raisin filled cookies. Dad would try to sneak presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve, one time dropping a radio flyer wagon!
When I was sixteen, your mother and I became pen pals. We went to different schools so it was
a year of writing before we actually met up with each other. Your mother dropped in to see me as she was on her way to run some errands for her MImi and Papa. I remember thinking that she was way to beautiful to like me. I showed her my senior pictures and showed her around the farm, introducing her to my mother and father. I fell in love with her that day, and to this day our love for each other is stronger than I ever dreamed. I will love her until the day I die and into eternity.