Saturday, November 15, 2008


Part of our recent trip included several visits with my 94 year old Aunt Toddy. She is my mother’s sister, and was recently moved to a nice facility for those with memory difficulties (dementia/ Alzheimer’s). A little background is appropriate. Toddy’s real name is Catharine, but her younger sister could not say Catharine, and somehow the name Toddy stuck. She was the third child of four with my mother the eldest, followed by a brother, Toddy, and the youngest sister. They were raised in a small Illinois farming community. The only brother was spoiled and in his own way became a living legend with, we think, ten marriages. My mother (gone nearly 11 years) and Toddy were very close, although 10 years apart, and they talked or visited each other frequently during their adult lives.

Aunt Toddy has lived a wonderful, happy life with her husband, a WWII veteran and was the World Sales Manager for a major international corporation (sadly he passed away in late 2000). Her loving spouse provided very well and was most generous. They traveled the world, and entertained or were entertained extensively. Aunt Toddy loved to cook, and have big parties in their home in Larchmont, N.Y. and later in retirement in their large Gulf-side condominium apartment in Florida.

About a year after dear Art’s passing, Aunt Toddy moved to a beautiful senior citizen facility operated by the Hyatt Corporation on Hilton Head Island. She could not remain alone in Florida and their only child, Tom, moved her to be near his home in South Carolina. Her son has provided for every need under trying medical conditions. On previous trips to the area we visited Toddy often in her apartment, however her physical health and mental condition deteriorated with advancing age. Toddy loved her Florida apartment and wanted to go back to the way, and times that used to be. Those happy carefree years were missed deeply, but could not be recaptured.

On each visit over the years we noticed significant changes in Toddy’s condition. Those changes were not necessarily physical, but mental. Each visit brought less recognition, and more repetition. Just as I experienced with my own mother, there is discussion of events way back in her youth, but less definitive talk about the present or near past. Over time the discussion has drifted to some specific true facts that were interwoven into stories that were definitely not factual, but bits and pieces of various true details made into a totally new story.

Toddy’s new home is in a lovely facility specialized to meet her needs. She has a cozy room with private bath and a few pieces of favorite furniture, but it is much smaller and she realizes that. “Where is all my lovely furniture…who stole all my things?” she will ask.

On a recent visit, I left, and sat in my car with tears in my eyes thinking WHERE DID AUNT TODDY GO? While she is blessed to be in this wonderful facility, many in her condition cannot afford the superior professional care she is being given. I wonder what she is really thinking about during the hours she sits each day. Is she anguished with frustration, because she realizes that all the circuits are not working properly, or is she content in her own world? Then, too, I think about the huge responsibility placed upon my cousin, and the monumental decisions confronting him each day.

I look back fondly to wonderful memories of Aunt Toddy and Uncle Art. We had many fun filled days together from the time I was a young boy and they were dating and occasionally babysat for me. It breaks my heart to see her mentally deteriorating like this.

No one could be receiving better care, or living under better conditions than Aunt Toddy, but what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people in this world who are experiencing similar senior citizen mental health problems? The seriousness of this dementia/Alzheimer’s issue is only growing as the health care industry allows us to live longer, but there is too little attention given to this rapidly escalating world-wide dilemma.

Fortunately, Aunt Toddy’s estate and her only son can provide for her, but what is happening across the world to thousands of families facing similar problems? In many cases this responsibility will break up families and destroy them financially. Toddy is blessed to be where she is, but she does not understand or appreciate that. What happens to those of less means?

The government’s leadership regarding senior dementia issues must increase, despite our troubled economics. Entitlement programs flourish carrying little or no accountability, and yet this growing responsibility to our seniors is ignored. These are the people who made this country and world the magnificent place it is and they should not be overlooked or left to die on the vine. Government authorities continue to authorize pay-off earmarks and drain our treasury, while disregarding seniors crying for attention and who deserve our loving care. Is it because many are unable to vote?

There are Aunt Toddys all over the country today. She is just like all the other people suffering dementia issues. She was a vibrant, fun loving human being who is no longer really with us. We know where Aunt Toddy is and who she once was, but how do we know where we will end up? May God bless and protect these poor soles who are all children of a loving caring God.


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