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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A long difficult journey ends...........

After living for 5 years under a blanket of frustration caused by Alzheimer's Disease, my mother, Charlie Kentros, passed away early Sunday morning, August 26th.

I remember back to 2002 or so when she started having problems remembering things, but never thought it could be this terrible disease causing it. Everyone forgets things, I do it all the time, but no one could have prepared us for the difficult years ahead as the disease slowly but steadily took her away from us.

For the last two years, I've visited my mom at Avamere, an assisted living facility in St. Helens, Oregon. During the first visit, I saw my mom's room at Avamere, which was like a studio apartment. She had a kitchenette, a small living area with a bed and her TV with videos, and her own bathroom. I was very happy to see that she had her own space because regardless of this disease, my mother held on to her independence as long as she possibly could. Her speech was very much in tact, albeit scattered at times. The second visit, a year later, was an entirely different story.

In the time between the first and second visits, my wife and I had our wedding. I had talked to my mom about attending but travel was not good for her and I thought as much as I wanted her at the wedding, I didn't want to cause her any stress to further worsen her condition. We had our wedding and my wife Kacy made a large scrapbook of our wedding from beginning to end. I took that scrapbook with me to show my mom. We sat at the table and went through, picture by picture. She seemed to understand what was going on but at the same time, it looked as though it was filtering through her instead of being retained. By that time, her short term memory was greatly harmed as well as the ability for her to take new information. Regardless, I sat there and talked with her about everything. We had lunch and I visited with her in her room, this time in another section of Avamere because the progression of her condition required that she be in more constant care so she lost her own space.

It was very difficult to see just how much further she had declined, even though her spirits were up. My mom loved to laugh, and she was still smiling so I can be thankful that she didn't go the other way, in which the patients can become very angry and very mean. I can't picture my mom like that, so I'm grateful that I wasn't forced to.

That second visit was November of 2006, and not long after seeing her I started receiving emails about her having seizures and operations. It was obvious that things were progressing much faster than anyone could have expected. The director of Avamere, who has had several years experience in caring for Alzheimer's patients, said that she's never seen the disease affect someone as quickly as it did my mom. On Friday night, August 24th,upon arriving home, I was called by my aunt Donna who had cared for mom when all of this started. She said that mom had a swollen gland that became infected. She was on Morphine in bed, and unresponsive. I knew at that moment that the next phone call would be the one I would not want to hear, and that it would be soon; I was unprepared for just how soon.

Sunday morning, I was up for a little while already with our son Gavin. I got a call from my sister Kris, who had heard from Donna. At close to 7am, Mom had passed away.

There is no way to accurately express the kind of emotion that you feel when you get that kind of information. Somehow, through all of the immediate sorrow I felt, I was hit with a rush of relief knowing that my mom wouldn't spend another minute living like she was for the last five years. I'm not a religious person, but I can accept the fact that my mother is no longer in any kind of pain or not confused anymore. The relief was short-lived, as I got a call from my dad only 20 minutes after hearing the news. I wasn't sure if he knew or not, until he asked if I was OK. All of the sorrow hit me at once, and it was all I could do to just respond when he asked if I was alright and still there.

The words were there, they were just buried under the lump in my throat and drown by the well of tears in my eyes. My dad and I are a lot alike, in that we hide our emotion under an armor of artificial strength. I was unable to hide anything at that moment though, and it came out for a while. He came to see me and we all went to lunch, including Kacy and our baby Gavin. Dad gave a short toast for mom and I was able to hold back the tears that time, but they were there waiting. My dad is a very emotional person when he allows himself to be and I could see in his eyes that this was devastating to him. He is on his third marriage now, but will always refer to my mom as his first love, which is something I appreciate.

I'm sitting here trying to describe the kind of heartache that comes with the loss of a loved one, as the tears I've held back are presenting themselves again.

My mother was my friend, someone who no matter what happened I knew I could depend on for anything. She and I bowled together in a league and that was the closest we ever have been in my whole life. We weren't just hanging out as a mom and her kid, we were seeing each other in a different light, getting an idea of who the other person was, or in my case would be. When I was about 12 years old, she worked for Frito-Lay and would pick me up near our house. I went to the warehouse with her and would joke around with the other workers and help her get ready for the next day. It was some of the most fun I ever had growing up. Many of my memories revolve around her work or hanging out with her at work because she worked very hard at any job she had. She tended bar for years before working for Frito-Lay, not because it was her dream job, but because it meant that she was providing for me and my sister no matter what that meant.

She was successful at her jobs because she gave it her all, and everyone at her work recognized her for it and loved her because of who she was. She's the kind of person who would give and give and not think twice about how hard it would be or how much of her time it would take, and she never asked or expected anything in return.

Through Frito-Lay, she made a friend named Mary. Mary and her husband Tony are great friends to my mom and me. They threw some of the best parties for the Super Bowl that I've ever been too and my mom and I had a blast. She also went to their Halloween parties but I was living away at the time so I wasn't there. I talked to Mary on Sunday after hearing the news. For years, I had not talked to them but stopped by on Super Bowl Sunday of this year because I figured they were setting up for their party, as I was on my way to a party where my dad and friends would be. They were just relaxing at home and I got the chance to catch up with them, and it was nice. Tony and I always had similar tastes and interests in music and so we talked about that. I also caught them up with everything going on with my mom, which was before things got really bad with the seizures. Seeing them is like seeing family because they were and are still such a big part of my mom and her happiest times.

I will always remember my mother for the happy person she was, how much she loved her family and friends, and how hard she worked for her family. She was very proud of her grandsons, my nephews Bryson and Devin, but never had the opportunity to meet my son Gavin, her third grandson. I will make sure that Gavin knows who his grandmother was, because I was only 1 year old when my dad's father died but through my family I know what kind of man he was and it affects me as though I actually knew him.

Nothing can prepare someone for the indescribable pain involved with seeing someone they love slip away as she did. I was very naive about Alzheimer's before she had it. I thought that it was a rare disease that few and far between have. I've learned in recent years that I could not be farther from the haunting reality of this disease.

As taken from the Alzheimer Association website, dated 3/20/2007:

The Alzheimer’s Association today reports that in 2007 there are now more than 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number includes 4.9 million people over the age of 65 and between 200,000 and 500,000 people under age 65 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. This is a 10 percent increase from the previous prevalence nationwide estimate of 4.5 million.

The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, and with 78 million baby boomers beginning to turn 60 last year, it is estimated that someone in America develops Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds; by mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.

Visit the website for the Alzheimer's Association and take action so that your representatives will urge the funding and research that may someday make Alzheimer's as treatable as the the Flu.


Eric said...

Jason, I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mom sounds like a great person.

Denise said...


I am so sorry about your mother. That is very heartbreaking. My thoughts are with you.


Pamm said...

This is a wonderful blog about your mother and the relationship you two had. I'm very sorry for your loss but I AM glad that you are able to carry so many wonderful memories with you. Big hugs to you, your Dad, Kacy and Gavin!


chrissy said...

very well written Jason. sorry for your loss, however she will live on through your fond memories