When Your Parent Becomes Your Child

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Photo courtesy of istockphoto/manonallard

Ken Abraham is an author or co-author of more than 80 books.  Regularly appearing on the New York Times best-selling author lists, Ken is known as a master collaborator.  He writes with public figures ranging from One Soldier’s Story with Bob Dole to Let’s Roll with Lisa Beamer.  Ken and his wife are also good personal friends.  His latest book When Your Parent Becomes Your Child is a deviation because instead of writing someone else’s story, Ken writes about his mother’s dementia, and its effect on the family.  This moving story is one that will stay with you and give you a better understanding of what millions of families go through as they fight this disease.

Ken, this book is simply beautiful.  I may never have met your mom in person, but after reading this book, I most definitely know her.  Ken AbrahamWhat was it like writing such a personal story as opposed to helping tell someone else’s?    

Of all the books I’ve written, When Your Parent Becomes Your Child was the most emotionally difficult book to write, yet oddly enough, it was also the easiest book I’ve ever written.  The difficulty stemmed from the subject matter.  Watching my mom make the journey through dementia was a heart-wrenching experience.  But because I was simply sharing my own thoughts and feeling with readers, the words poured out easily.

In a real sense, I felt that I wasn’t merely writing about my mom, but I was expressing the emotions, questions, and concerns of many other people who could share similar stories, who might say, “That sounds exactly like what I have experienced with Mom or Dad.”  My hope is that this book will stimulate conversations within families and encourage hope within the heart of every person who is now grappling with the myriad changes that take place When Your Parent Becomes Your Child.

Your mom suffered with dementia.  Let me turn first to a few questions many ask about dementia. Is Alzheimer’s the same as dementia?

It’s not exactly a “chicken and egg” situation, and the lines do get blurry when we begin talking about Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Technically, dementia is more of a “catch all” term; there are all sorts of dementias, the most familiar of which is Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia, with which my mom suffered, is the second most widely reported form of the disease.  The symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and dementia are similar: memory loss, hallucinations, unusual fear, irritability, or suspicions.  Hoarding, uncharacteristic use of profanity, inability to follow a conversation or a story, losing track of possessions, confusion over days, dates, or sadly, even diminishing ability to recognize friends or family members.  All these can be indications that a loved one is developing dementia.

In my mom’s case, although I’m reluctant to admit it, part of the reason I wasn’t alarmed at her memory lapses was that I was clueless about the possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s.  I just thought she was displaying the natural symptoms of aging as she moved into her mid-eighties. Even after she was diagnosed, I remained in denial for several months until my own research convinced me that what her doctor was describing was accurate.DSC02123

5 Goal Setting Lessons From My Garage

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Of all the rooms in our home, the one that accumulates clutter the fastest seems to be the garage.  Maybe it’s because we pull the car in quickly.  We’re only in the space for a few seconds.  Maybe it’s because it’s not air-conditioned or heated, making it a real chore to clean in most months.  Or maybe it’s because the items that are placed there are the ones in limbo.  You know what I mean.  You can’t throw them out easily or you would.  That piece of furniture that holds some memories but doesn’t fit the décor of the home.  The box of old magazines holding some articles you marked for some reason or another.  A nice shelf lined with old shoes that may still fit but have long passed the glory days.  Of course, you knew at the time you dropped these items in this state of limbo that they would never return to inside the house.

The clutter built up so slowly that it was unnoticed.  We didn’t talk about it like we would if something inside needed to be cleaned up.

I’m guessing that most everyone has a space like this.  Last weekend, I spent a marathon cleaning session in the garage.  The shoes ended up donated to Soles4Souls.  The clothes went to Goodwill.  Other items were sent for recycling or to the trash.

I worked non-stop with my characteristic obsession.  When I have a goal in mind, I can’t seem to stop.  I don’t want to stop.  I even worked through most of the night in order to get it all done.

What Some Birds Taught Me About Friendship

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Image courtesy of Joy Prichard Studios

My wife does an amazing job decorating our home.  Maybe too good of a job.  She changes colors and decorations with each holiday or season.  Admittedly, I’m often clueless about the passing months and her changes remind me just where we are in the year.

This past spring she changed the wreaths on our front doors.  I suppose some birds took a look and thought they were inviting enough to build a nest.  When we opened the door one day, the mother bird flew off.  We realized there was a nest in the wreath and that changed everything.

Until those eggs hatched and the new birds were safely flying on their own, we would not use the front door.  For any reason.  Deliveries?  We’d just walk the packages around the house.  Visiting us?  “You can’t enter the front door,” we shout from a window, “Come through the garage!”  The air-conditioning repairmen who came to replace a faulty unit?  Well, they had to take some extra steps.

We were careful to watch the birds’ progress, but not disturb them.  We didn’t want to scare the mother bird off.  All through the spring we took pictures and waited.  Finally, one day they were all gone.

They never even knew we were there.

They didn’t know that we were going through all these inconveniences for their benefit.

Treat Me Like a Customer

One of my local Nashville friends, Louis Upkins, is someone who is filled with energy and ideas.  Whenever we get together, I am energized.  Louis has worked with some of the biggest names in business, sports, and entertainment. He wrote a thought-provoking book called Treat Me Like a Customer, which encourages business people to treat their families at least as well as their customers.  In a world that seems to be accelerating faster and faster, he has timeless advice on balance and lessons of success that really matter.

I spent some time with Louis talking about these principles and what he has learned from a life spent with fascinating people.

The Last Handwritten Letter

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The other day I wrote about the power of the handwritten note.  It’s a fading art.  In a growing digital universe, it’s rare to receive a scripted letter any more.  (As a tip for marketers or for anyone who craves differentiation, it’s a great way to stand out.)

Generations from now, what will be left of our writing?  I’m not sure.  I’ve had friends unexpectedly pass away and wished I still had some of the emails that were routinely deleted.  You could argue that today’s technology will ensure the endurance of the written word.  That’s also true.  With the ease of copying files and digital lockers, we won’t likely lose a manuscript to history.  Perhaps the casual email and note, which at the time seems insignificant, is in a different category.  I think much of what appears mundane at the time will be lost.