Hi, my name is Donna and I think that the best place to start any story is at the beginning. I was born in March of 1941 and as life would have it I remain the only child of June & Warren. They were wonderful parents and my childhood memories are full of love and wonderment. My folks and I had a lot in common from the get-go because they are both only children as well. My Dad was born a twin but his brother only lived for 2 days. I have always felt that we were like the three musketeers and together we could survive anything. I must mention however, that my paternal grandmother lived with my folks from the time of their marriage until they had to place her in a nursing home 29 years later.
My folks were not of the same religion, with my Dad being Catholic and my Mom being Lutheran. "Close but no cigar" was a Christian joke in our household. It certainly played a part in my growth because I had 12 years of Catholic school and in those days we were taught that mixed marriages never worked. We laugh about that every year as we celebrate Mom & Dads anniversary. In September of this year they will celebrate 61 years together (so much for the nuns' theory). We were also taught in the early years that if you were not Catholic you could never get to Heaven. The thinking was a little narrow-minded in those days and gave way to an abundance of adult hang-ups. We all know that Gods' house has many mansions and that we all are welcome.
I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood up to age 11. On my 11th birthday my dad had a major heart attack that the doctors called Coronary Insufficiency. By-pass surgery had not yet been invented so he was at total rest for 6 months and the Lord created his by-pass. He does very good work, it has lasted 48 years. Mom and I were given strict instructions regarding his care and we obeyed to the letter. That was the beginning of my caregiving experience. My Dad's attack was the first time that I really came to know God's presence and learned that prayers were answered.
The next five years had a lot of ups and downs because as soon as Dad recovered from his fear he did little that the doctors instructed. The fear and anxiety that Mom and I experienced were considerable. Mom was angry quite often and I was just afraid that I was going to lose my Daddy. The doctors had only given him 10 years anyway, if he listened to their instructions.
On my sixteenth birthday the bottom seemed to fall out of our lives when it was undeniable that Dad was having a problem with alcohol. For the next 15 years life at the Whittens was not always on anyone's top 10 list of places you would want to be. Dad never missed a day of work because of his drinking but his disposition changed drastically. He treated my Grandmother very badly and could be verbally abusive at the drop of a hat. I spent a great deal of time trying to be a buffer between my parents and defending my Gram.
In my senior year of high school I fell very much in love with who was to be my husband. I was always told that how a boy treated his Mother was a very good indication of the husband he would be. I, however, had no way of knowing that he was emotionally dependent upon his Mother and she was a driving influence in his life. We were married in September of 1961 and it became apparent very quickly that he would be emotionally abusive. He was just being the obedient son because his Mother did not think I was worthy of her son. I have no regrets about my marriage because I had two beautiful children and now four wonderful grandchildren who mean the world to me, and he did nothing to me that I didn't allow. That realization came a little later in life however. When we take the time to look back into the past of those who hurt us we can find answers and forgiveness.
However, emotional abuse doesn't prepare you well for life as a single parent after 13 ½ years of marriage so a fair portion of my young to middle adulthood was spent being an emotional reject. I guess you could say that I sold my soul to the devil for about 7 years. I turned to the first man that told me what I wanted to hear and he turned out to be more abusive than my husband was. It was during that time that my Mom chose to disown me. She felt very strongly that my lifestyle was not what she raised me for and would not abide such behavior.
However, when I got my life straightened out after an even worse second marriage, that lasted all of 6 months, I was welcomed back into the family. It was during that time of being disowned that I lost my communication with God. I prayed but I wasn't listening. I did not think that God was listening to me either but how wrong I was. That was a very low time of my life but the blessing is that I survived. He believes in us even when we can't.
Prior to the breakup of my marriage and after many years of ups and downs my father went into an alcohol treatment program. I did a very foolish thing and threatened him that if he didn't keep the appointment that I had made for him I would never let him see his grandchildren again. Thank God he was ready to submit or I would have been up the creek. My kids adored their Pop Pop. Bless his heart, he has been sober ever since-for 28 years. My mother was a total enabler and has never accepted his drinking as a disease so I had to be the one to take charge. I have been known to have a control issue or two over the years.
I really have jumped ahead of myself. I was separated from my husband in 1974 and in 1977 my Dad had surgery on his left knee to replace lost cartilage with a wedge. Again, the knee replacement had not been invented yet. The surgery was very successful but 4 days after he had and embolism that caused cardiac arrest and a long stay in the hospital with 2 trips to ICU. I was working at that time, as was my mother, so we took turns staying home to see to Dad's recovery. The therapy was difficult but he did very well. He had the surgery on his right knee in 1979 and even though he developed clots, the doctors were able to dissolve them. It was at the time of his second knee surgery that Dad was diagnosed with Pagets Disease. This disease causes considerable pain and degeneration.
And so we come to the time when I really started to grow up. I had aged in the normal way but I was a late bloomer in the maturation process. I had always appeared to be very mature because it seemed that I had handled so much but in truth I was always scared to death and just internalized it all. I went through most of my life with little to no self-esteem and even less confidence. My son had moved with his father years before when I entered that second relationship but my daughter stayed with me through it all. I still feel to this day that staying with me contributed to her mental illness and that is a regret that I will stay with me always. She is doing well, however, she has a wonderful son and is a terrific mother and I have hope that she will know true happiness one day. When she got married in 1985, that was the first time I experienced living alone and it was a real growth experience. I spent many nights looking inside my soul trying to find a human being in there. And yet another of life's blessings, I met a woman that was capable of being a good mother, a good friend and lo and behold a good daughter. I even started to like "me" and I became very good company for myself. I learned one of life's biggest lessons then. You have to know and like yourself before you can recognize the blessings you are receiving on a daily basis.
In 1987 Mom had Cataract surgery on her right eye and that resulted in Macular Edema. That is a swelling behind the eye and all that they tried to do to correct the situation was unsuccessful. She had her left eye done in 1989 with the same result. The edema led to Macular Degeneration and she was declared legally blind in 1991. This was the worst day of her life because she knew that she would never drive again and her independence was a thing of the past. I took her to a low vision clinic but could not spark her interest. If my mom could not do things her way she just wouldn't do them at all. I refused to give up however and kept her as active as I possibly could. It was around this same time that Dad had his first bout with Congestive Heart Failure.
In 1978, my folks bought a mobile home in Ocean View, Delaware, which is 3 miles outside of Bethany Beach for a vacation home. They both love the sand and surf and it was wonderful for them. My family enjoyed it as well. When they started to come for the summers I would leave my apartment and live at their house and tend to the maintenance and upkeep. In 1989 I knew that Dad was able to do less and less and Mom's eyes had started to go bad so Idecided to move in full time so I could pull up the slack. They could remain at the helm and I could quietly get the things done that they could no longer handle. It turned out to be one of my wisest decisions. I continued to work full time and contribute to the household until 1995. It was then that Mom's dementia couldn't be denied any longer and Dad needed the wheelchair more and more. I knew it was dangerous for him to be driving and they should not be alone. I stopped work in May 1995 to care for them full time and it was a blessing. I was able to bring them to Delaware for the summer and life was good.
We returned to Baltimore after Labor Day that year and began to get into a routine of sorts. Things began to get a little scary in November of 1995 because I had a minor heart attack that put me in the hospital for a week. My daughter stayed with Mom & Dad but they had a very difficult time dealing with my illness. They were very glad to have me home and life was good again.
Their decline has been gradual so the adjustment has not been difficult. I was having a difficult time handling two houses however, so the decision was made to move to Delaware full time. We had an addition put on the mobile home and moved in May of 1999. Just in the nick of time because Mom had a stroke in July of 1999. I could have never managed in a two-story house. We now have his and hers hospital beds and his and hers wheelchairs. Mom's alzhiemers has progressed and she is bedridden now and Dad has progressed lung disease and is on Hospice. We are going one day at a time and enjoying every moment that God gives us. Mom seems to be happy in her little world and Dad is just amazing in his ability to cope. I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to return some of the nurturing that I received from them. They parented and now I parent, we have come full circle.
I could not end my story without mentioning the support that keeps me going and makes it possible for me to be whole. My Dad fussed when I bought my computer because he thought it too costly. How can you put a price on friendship? The Empowering Caregivers group has been a lifeline for me and they will never know the extent of the love I feel for them and the appreciation I feel for all of their help and support. With that said, I will end my little story by saying that as far as my folks and I are concerned, we are in good shape for the shape that we are in and only God knows what is in store. Whatever His will, I am ready to move forward in the journey.
For all who read this, I hope it gives you hope and know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers always. I think of you all with much love and warm smiles.