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Tribute to a Dear Lady
(I Remember Mom the Way She Used to Be)

By Carol Abbott, 1998 

     vsmiris.gif (396 bytes)Phyllis, my wonderful mother-in-law, has always been my friend.  From the first time I met her, she made me feel like a welcome addition to her home.  She was friendly without being gushing and I felt comfortable with her.  She has a really infectious smile and always showed total interest in and complete acceptance of those she loves.

     When I married her younger son in 1964, she asked me to call her Mom.  My own mother has always been "Mama" so it was easy for me to comply and may have also cemented our continuing closeness.  She wasn't
  THE  Mother-In-Law---she was "Mom", and I was glad she was around.
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     My own Mother died when I was 25 years old.  It was a terrible thing to have to deal with her loss and adjust to life without her.  Phyllis couldn't have taken her place and wouldn't have tried to in any case, but thank heavens she was there for me and in some practical ways she did fill the void left by my Mama's death and I am grateful that I was lucky enough to have her to turn to for some motherly advice,for by then we had two little girls of our own. 

     Boy, could Mom Abbott cook, and apparently loved to do it!  Big family dinners appeared effortless with the hardest thing being to find enough table seating  in their rather small house, over on Flora Avenue, for the 15, 20 or more that were sometimes there for Thanksgiving or Christmas Day dinners.  She always made dinner rolls and caramel rolls from scratch for these dinners along with huge turkeys or hams or sometimes both.  All the usual fixin's like mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy, sweet potatoes,  pumpkin and pecan pies were served up to the family in that little dining room and there were at least five different conversations going on at once and lots of laughter and we all did our best to catch up on the latest going ons in each other's lives.

     Eventually she taught me how to make wonderful, crusty, yeasty bread as well as other things. Just watching her and "helping out" in the kitchen, while we cooked (and talked) was an education on how to cook.  She loved to try new recipes and she cooked with wine and other interesting ingredients, that no one in my family seemed to know about.  One memorable New Years Eve, it was Phyllis who introduced me to steak tartar and her husband (my father-in-law) and mine (her son) made what they thought were cutting remarks about mooing and so forth and of course, wouldn't touch the stuff.  But I not only tried it, I found it good, if somewhat exotic, portioned out on little toast rounds with finely minced onion.  I've only had it one other time since then (at a restaurant) and didn't think it even half as good as what Phyllis made that night. 

pflow2gif.gif (421 bytes)All her life, Phyllis has been generous with her time and talents.  When John and I moved from our apartment to a house, Phyllis and Bryce came over to help with the packing.  It seemed, to me, to be such a daunting task and really had me stymied but Phyllis started unloading kitchen cabinets into boxes and using just enough newspaper to cushion things so they'd make it across town and was done.  She was up and down the apartment steps at least six times for every trip that her pregnant daughter-in-law managed.  Pillows and bedding; the contents of our bathroom medicine cabinet;  all the hanging clothes in both the closets plus the shoes on the floor and the extra wedding gifts we had put away for later; the miscellany from the built-in desk that I had loved and hated to leave;  all neatly, efficiently and orderly packed, labeled and stacked by the door waiting for John and Dad to carry it all down to the truck.  It was Mom doing what we all counted on Mom to do for us.

pflow4.gif (427 bytes)I've thought of that moving day many times over the years and said (with conviction) that I might still be trying to get the first box packed just right, if it hadn't been for Mom just coming in and getting it done!

         Mom's talents weren't reserved just for her own family though. At various times over the years, she cooked meals for some of the groups that met at her parish hall. Once, I helped her make a specialty of mine, called mint dessert, for 75 senior citizens. Instead of one 7 X 11 inch pan, which was what my recipe made, we calculated enough ingredients to make eight times as much. It didn't phase Mom to do so and I just went along for the ride, running the big, industrial size mixer to whip the cream, and we had a real ball in the kitchen at the church center and laughed all afternoon.

         Mom also went to adult education classes and taught several people how to read English. Some of these women became friends of long standing in Mom's life, long after the lessons were finished.

     I can say with honesty, that my Mother-in-Law wasn't an interfering one.  She would pitch in and
DO ANYTHING that you asked her to help out with but she generally waited to be asked.  In my case, I told her very early on that I loved her help and she should just do what ever she was moved to do.  Housekeeping and I have never been on really friendly terms and I sure didn't take offense if Mom did the dishes or ran the vacuum when she would be in the house to watch the girls for us while we went out for an evening.  She always respected our right to handle our lives and raise our children the way we felt was correct.  We were on very comfortable terms, where I knew she wouldn't take offense if I told her what I was really thinking.  If something was bothering me about an action of Mom's, I just said what was on my mind and that was fine with her.  I learned all kinds of things from her from baking bread to how to pack for a camping trip.

pflow5.gif (424 bytes)Phyllis' family----children, grandchildren----came first.  She loved us all and indulged us as much as she was able.  From the time that our daughters were tiny, they had Mom wrapped around their little fingers.  But Grandma's concessions never crossed the line into out and out spoiling.  She set limits that were tempered with love and the desire for her darling grandchildren to live up to her expectations for them.  They thrived on that totally accepting attitude.  Oh how they loved to visit Grandma's house and especially stay overnight or even for several days at a time if they could swing it with Mommy and Daddy.

      Mom loved to go shopping and someplace for lunch.  When you have two little kids, it can be very hard to find someone who will go shopping and to lunch with you to anyplace fancier than McDonalds.  It didn't discourage Mom though.  We went to some really nice restaurants and had some great times, even though it sometimes got hectic.  It's interesting to observe that the girls were, on the whole, very well behaved and seemed to enjoy the experience as much as Mom and I did.
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     Both of our girls were very sad when Grandma and Grandpa moved to Montana shortly after Bryce retired in the early 70's.  It was hard for me too, as we had enjoyed so many hours in each other's company and I had always been able to count on her for everything from baby sitting to advice on cooking, washing windows and planting tomatoes (fertilize with sheep manure)---not to mention her loving friendship and companionship. 

smviolet.gif (532 bytes)Over the next twenty some years, Mom was a constant positive presence in our lives.  We kept in touch by phone and saw her about twice a year.  When the Montana winter would begin, she and Dad would take the travel trailer south and start the visiting.  They would come for several weeks at a time and we'd pick up pretty much in the same place as we left off from the previous visit.  Family is "family" is family.  She was part of the glue,keeping the family together and in touch with each other.----Her apron strings stretching as much as need be to always be there for all of us when we needed help---(she and Dad, too). Sometimes for help to deal with a move, an illness, a change in our life of any kind...we knew we could always call on their assistance and support and they would be there for us.  

     After Dad died, she settled slowly into a rhythm (without him) that included a great circle of friends and relatives in Montana.  She stayed busy with Senior Citizens club and, more importantly, her Church, which was a constant consolation through out her whole life.  She didn't visit us quite so often and spent an occasional winter at home in Montana.  We still kept in touch by phone and she wrote long and rambling letters and complained that we didn't write back very often.

     When the letters didn't make as much sense as they should, we said ( "Well, you know Mom, she is always too busy to fuss much with details"-----"She never was much good at spelling"-----"Wow, Mom's getting a little weird"-----"Well she is 75 years old, you know").  Then we got a disturbing letter from one of her doctors saying she needed a conservator.  We all took great offense to it, saying Mom's fine, just getting older but probably has more on the ball than that stupid doctor does.

     Her older daughter had occasion to spend several months with her and the closer observation led us to the conclusion that Mom probably did need to give up her house and move to a retirement community.  With plenty of gentle pushing from her kids, grand kids and sisters, that is what she did.  By process of elimination, as to where she would and would not live, she decided to move back to Missouri to be near her sons and some of her grandchildren.

vsmiris.gif (396 bytes)When we were planning the move, I was so excited that after so many years, I'd have a chance to resume the friendship part of my relationship with my MOM-in law.  I anticipated shopping and lunch out like days of old, but with no baby wipes.  Being a mere 10 minutes away by car, she would probably just pop in frequently to spend time with us,or bring over homemade bread or a pot of bean soup and corn bread, at least until she built her net work of church friends, card playing and dancing buddies at the retirement community.  Her family really thought that this was Mom's best solution for continuing to have her independent life and still not have as many responsibilities on her shoulders.  If, at some time in the distant future, she no longer wanted to maintain and drive a car, there would be lots of family to drive her to do errands and, of course, the retirement community buses ran at all times to grocery stores, shopping malls and the church, so she really wouldn't ever feel like she had to rely on us, if she didn't "want to burden us."pflow3.gif (342 bytes)

     The first days we were together, when we drove up to help with the packing and moving, Mom seemed upset most of the time, disoriented, almost angry with us, as we tried to help her sort through 25 years of home making, linens, kitchen equipment galore...She had been living in a three bedroom house, with garage and storage space for too many years and the attempt to pare down to a one bedroom apartment with a small efficiency kitchen and a storage bin about 4 ft by 3 ft by 3 ft.----Well, This move is hard enough on her. (we thought) Just go ahead and pack what she can't stand to part with and she will make the adjustment on he own, once she is moved in.---- It will be better once she can settle into the apartment she had chosen, get her own furniture and things around her again---- Why does she seems so confused? Maybe we should check with her new doctor about why she still is experiencing so much pain in her neck from the hard bump on her head that she suffered last spring.

     Her doctor said after some extensive tests, that she had injured a vertebra at the top of her spine.  Once that is healed, the pain will subside and otherwise her health is very good for a woman of 78, is what we were told.

smpurpflower.gif (383 bytes)I need to go ahead and let the other shoe drop in this account and explain why I titled the piece "the way she was".  Sadly and undeniably, our MOM is a victim of Alzheimer disease.  The beautiful, cheerful, go-getter who loves God and her faith, who adores her family and would do anything to help out her friends, who traveled many thousands of miles to destinations as divergent as a cruise in Alaska, sight-seeing trips to Germany and France, camping trips too numerous to count all over the U.S. and parts of Canada, who loves purple and can't resist buying any item of clothing in that color range,  is nearly gone except in the memories of her devastated children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters and her old friends.

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          I could tell all the details leading up to this diagnosis.  I could tell of our worried discussions with staff; our experiences in witnessing little signs of decline...she forgot to eat...she didn't remember how to get home from the store...did she take her she missing dosages or taking too many?; of one way conversations, with little or no comprehension on Phyllis' part; of her older son taking her car keys from her and all of us having to endure her anger and confusion regarding how this came about; and ultimately of her family's decision to move her, without even consulting her, from her "independent living" apartment to the Alzheimer unit behind locked doors.  I would fill pages and pages and nothing would make these last two years any easier to understand or accept.

      Rather, I want to give voice to my admiration for this extraordinary woman.  Known in the most "ordinary" circumstances of just an everyday life.  I cherish my memories of this lovely, vital, fun lady................And I'll keep in mind, always, MOM as she used to be.
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In Memoriam
Phyllis Abbott


To Family Photos  

40 Years, A Then and Now Essay


There is a drug that has shown very promising results in slowing the progression of this disease.  This link has been made to a copy of an article about the drug.  I am not advocating use of this drug, I simply wanted to make available the information about it to as many people as possible.  ANY patient or family should consult with medical personnel that they trust and follow the treatment prescribed as closely as possible.  Please remember, that the Alzheimer patient May Not be the best person to  assure that treatment is administered.  The patient may need help to be sure all doses of any medications (whether for this disease or for other existing medical conditions) are taken when prescribed.


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