Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

IMG_7617My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.

Dad passed away the morning of  Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away.  Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.

Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.

I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.

God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.

It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.

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I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.

Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:

“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”

And it does…

A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr. 

IMG_2403When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.

I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.

My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.

With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.

My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.

Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.

My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.

Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.

As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.

We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.

**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view. 

***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:

Alzheimer’s Los Angeles: https://www.alzheimersla.org

Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/

Hilarity for Charity: https://hilarityforcharity.org/

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

If you know my family, you’ve probably heard the tale of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It remains one of our favorite stories to tell because it has everything, laughter, drama, realizations about a child’s true nature, and mummies. It makes sense that it includes mummies since most Latino families pretty much embalm all sorts of moments they can drag out from its tomb now and again. It usually happens at a family gathering, especially during the holidays.

But I digress.  First, a little context to the Tut connection.

From 1976 to 1979, the treasures found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb toured seven U. S. cities, including Los Angeles. The exhibition was a wild success, to put it mildly. “King Tut Mania” was the only pyramid scheme destined not to bankrupt the regular folk. It was as if a Cecil B. DeMille film had come to vivid life, seeing these treasures. The mystery, the glamour, the history! All of it on display and separated by glass. Angelenos lost their proverbial shit when it arrived at the L.A. County Museum of Art. About eight million Americans made the trek nationally to the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” when it hit their chosen cities. However, more than one million visitors were tallied in Los Angeles alone. (You know how Latinos love their gold!) And, I represented two of said entries at LACMA. Reasons exist as to why.

Dad was already caught up in the fervor. A factory next to his was manufacturing swag to cash in on “King Tut Mania.” He’d bring home such replicated artifacts as Tut’s funeral mask, a small statue of the goddess Isis encased in a lucite pyramid. Yes, these were factory rejects, but so what? It was so rare to see Dad get excited by such things, but his being a pragmatic man meant that he was obsessed with science and history. He loved truth and facts versus the fantasy of the abstract represented by fiction.

Tickets were sold out for the LA exhibition, but Dad was so proud when I was chosen to be one of the fifth graders from South Ranchito Elementary to visit with the Egyptian boy king at LACMA. It meant something to him that one of his family members could bear witness to this glorious exhibition of rarely-seen history.

A few weeks later, as the exhibition prepared its departure, Dad had this wild notion of heading down to LACMA to see if we swing two tickets. As he always stated, “The worse they can tell you is ‘No.'” So, we jumped into our aqua blue VW Beetle and made our way down Wilshire Blvd.

Mind you, Dad first sent me by myself to the box office to see if any cancellations were available. He waited in the car and I bolted up the steps to the museum entry. (I don’t think any parent would do that today. I was 10-years-old and Wilshire Blvd. was still a muy busy thoroughfare then.) Unfortunately, my this first inquiry did result in a “No” that held until I got back to the curb where I was to wait for Dad as he made a turn around the block.

As I kept a vigilant eye for Dad, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up with nary a look of surprise to gaze at a handsomely dressed woman. She smiled this congenial smile and asked, “Are you trying to get tickets for Tut.” This wasn’t a “Stranger Danger” moment as she looked like she’d been to Bullocks Wilshire and that mattered to me then. Haha. I think I said something like, “Yes, ma’am. But there aren’t any tickets.” She then reached into her pocketbook and pulled out one of those Golden King Tut tickets from her pocketbook.

You could almost hear an angelic choir at that moment. I went’ from a “No” to a shocking “Yes!” Fortune really favors the child left alone on a busy street, dammit!

“My friend isn’t able to make it, so why don’t you take it,” she said.

I wish I remembered more of that exchange because all I know is after saying “Thank you, ma’am!” I took a good look at that ticket just as Dad pulled up to the curb. I do remember that I was too excited to enunciate, “Dad! I got a ticket. Look!” Dad smiled this huge smile.

Then I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going back in!” And boom, I was off!

Oh, how my family and I discussed the selfishness. The lack of awareness. The utter glory of my young self-absorption! For years!  Reflecting on that moment now, I know my Dad would have never left me in the car while he walked through the exhibition… again. Although, he did leave me to my own devices at the ticket office. Whatever. The important thing was for me to say, “Dad. Here’s the ticket.” For him to decline it would be a lesson in how we sacrifice our own needs and feelings. (Orale, Latinos católicos! Guilt starts early!) Haha.

Well, it is kind of true.

I do remember Dad’s dejected look as I turned and walked away. When we got home, I remember the silence in the car. I knew I hurt him a little. Once home,  I also remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about my brazen nature, my incredible luck, and my brazen nature again. It was followed by laughter, but I knew I disappointed them. Hell, I’d live to disappoint them again and again, but this episode remains my favorite since it carries a better layer of charm and innocence.

In the end, we both did get our chance to share the Tut experience in 2005 when “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” made its appearance at LACMA. This time, the entire family made the trek to Wilshire Blvd. Of course, that adventure is marked by Mom saying, “Hmmm. This looks smaller than the exhibition your father and I saw in Cairo. You know, in Egypt.”  (Hahaha. Yes, we’re THAT family.)

In the end, my globe-trotting parents did venture to the land of Pharaohs to get a singular view, first hand, to the wonders of Tut and more. As much as I envy them, I am also proud of my parents, who took their vacations in places far and further away. They were our first guides, showing us the way to see the world as a source of adventure. We were meant to leave our backyards to see what doesn’t have to exist in a museum brochure. As a result, we’ve created our brand of history, too, and I love that.

It’s wonderful to see our family history repeating itself as Tut has returned to LA yet again. It’s been 100 years since Tut’s tomb was discovered, thus the largest exhibition of artifacts ever will be touring the world to honor the occasion, perhaps the last time they will ever be seen outside of Cairo. Los Angeles was selected to host the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharoah” at the California Science Center. Of course, my family and I made the journey yet again and yes, the day is sold out. However, due to Dad’s current health issues, he won’t be able to make the trek to the California Science Center with us. Mom and Neto were also down for the count due to having colds.

My family and I know we don’t need a reason to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It is a bummer to note that glorious golden mask can no longer leave its home in Egypt. It just means our spirit of adventure will take us to the heart of the Nile, see the pyramids, and give them our best from our parents who stood there in awe and joy so many years ago.

This is such a powerful full circle moment nonetheless, one I will share with Poppadoodles when we return from our visit with El Rey Tut. I am reluctant to write more now as I feel tears building up. I have so much more to say to Dad from “Remember when?” to “Thank you” to “You were so right!” That’s a conversation that has to happen sooner than later and time is no longer on our side, I’m afraid.

As my family and I take in these treasures anew, I can’t help be reminded of the beauty of history.  Wherever these essays may rest long after I’m gone, I hope people will appreciate the love and respect that remain the hallmark of my Dad, as a parent and a human being. What I hope is also unearthed years from now is that our history as father and son, and as the Carreon Family as a whole, was a precious one indeed.

 

 

Remember Me: Latinos and Alzheimer’s

Remember Me: Latinos and Alzheimer’s

I’ve come to discover that a visit to the doctor with an Alzheimer’s patient is a mini-documentary in itself.  I’ve only been to the emergency room with my Dad one time. The bulk of these responsibilities have been with my mom and siblings. It does feel weird to say I was glad I was able to be there for Dad that weekend. It meant not completing interviews at a junket, but he had fallen and hit his head. The urgency in my Mom’s voice was enough of a motivator.

The entire time we were together, I found moments to hold his hand. I modulated my voice to be the sound of reassurance as nurses checked his vitals and, especially when he had a CT scan. That machine was loud and scary enough for us both. In between was a round-robin of the same questions in Spanish, “Where’s Mom? and “How far are we from home?” He rarely if ever speaks to me in English. I loved witnessing his gallantry with his sincere “Thank you’s” as we went from urgent care to the hospital. Funny, he never asked, “Who are you?” I consider that a small blessing and miracle.

In the end, Dad was pronounced healthy and fine. No damage, although the doctor did find evidence of a previous fall that had healed.

A year and a half later, Dad’s visits of late have been a little more challenging. After a struggling with pneumonia in early January of this year, the effects have taken on the dynamics of a luge run during the Olympics. As of late March:

He’s still fighting pneumonia.

He’s having trouble walking.

He may or may not have new spots on his lungs.

His pancreas is swollen.

He is having physical therapy, but he still reluctant to stand tall because it hurts.

He is silent for long stretches.

He sleeps a lot more.

He is a bit more irascible.

He needs a haircut.

He doesn’t want to eat, choosing instead to spit his food out.

He struggles to swallow.

He’s lost seven pounds.

He weighs around 122 lbs.

*He thinks he’s 32 years of age.

*That means my mom is a cougar!

It is comforting to know we aren’t the only family trying to balance all of the emotions and realities of having a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Maintaining a sense of normalcy is our priority. Yes, he lacks control of his bodily functions. He is still Dad in whatever state or phase of the disease he endures. This isn’t the time to mourn him yet.

However, that doesn’t mean frustration is non-existent. I bristle every time I hear my Mom or sibling raise their voice to him. I know what it masks and it isn’t denial. We are adults with ailing parents. The narrative that awaits us all is already scripted. As my mother said to me recently, “I just want to make sure he’s comfortable.”

Oh, and don’t pat Dad’s tummy. He will slap your hand away.

That’s all we can do. That’s all any of us can do. Now, what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? Unlike previous generations, we have so many more resources to understand Alzheimer’s and its effects. It is important to be informed and proactive in keeping our loved ones healthy and safe.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, Latinos are “1.5 more times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites. Now, we may be living longer, but too many of us are still succumbing to health risks like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which may all be triggers for Alzheimer’s and stroke-related dementia.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Part of the Latino culture is the propensity to say, “No pasa nada” when it comes to “serious” matters as personal issues like our health. Is it a sense of shame of having things be imperfect in our family? Is it the fear of appearing weak? Is it ordinary pride or vanity? Maybe it is all the above.

My father, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes years before developing Alzheimer’s, owes his extended lifespan because of my mother’s tireless efforts. The woman mobilized into action like Diana Prince and she made a point to include my siblings and me in the process. Mom was prepared in terms of the many questions she asked of his doctors, My younger brother took over the research. My older sister discussed support groups. My younger sister became a caregiver, too. As we now know,  two or more lift, feed, carry, wheel, and, fight better than one.

Mom changed the way he ate, removing the foods that were the cause of his diabetes and her high blood pressure. The result? He is now 93 and it wasn’t until this year that the effects of some fantastic medications that slowed down Alzheimer’s to give him 14 more years of quality life. My family did its part to understand this disease, benefiting him and all of us. We have no regrets here. None. 

Latinos remain the fasting growing population in this country. Yet, we may see as many as 1.3 million of our people afflicted by Alzheimer’s by 2050. That’s too many. I encourage you all to study, learn, pay attention to all of the signs that could indicate the illnesses that can lead to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or enduring stroke-related dementia. Be part of the fight. Be part of finding the cure. Remember everything you can for them. It is what keeps our loved ones on this mortal space.

I made a promise to my Dad to remember it all, his journey and ours, for him. And to provide others with a view from within this difficult space. Until a cure is found, more families will be affected by its ravaging effects. No one should feel alone or without recourse! Resources do exist to help and answer the myriad of questions as to how to better control this disease. Be informed!

I have written before that Dad was the keeper of our family lore. To be able to write down these chapters is an honor and privilege. And when the time is right, I will read them to him. I think he’ll approve.

#rememberme @alzgla @alzassociation

IG: @i_am_jorge_carreon

http://www.iamjorgecarreon.com

“Dad”

“Dad”

Dad: How far is your house from here?

Me: About 14 miles.

Dad: I’m tired. I think you should go.

Me: But I promised Mom I’d watch you.

Dad: Where’s Mom?

Me: In Mexico. Visiting her family. She’s coming home today.

Dad: I’m fine. I don’t need you here. I’m tired. You should go.

Me: Okay.

That’s when I called my sister…

The day didn’t start out this way.  That exchange happened around 6 pm. We’d made a day of it, Dad and I. We ran errands, had lunch, even went to a movie together. Then things got a little complicated, ending with my saying to my older sister, “Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” In the end, I had to turn my Dad into Neely O’Hara to restore order. Under normal circumstances, this day out with Dad should have been like it was 40 years ago when we were father & young son. Now the roles are reversed, but with one crucial difference: Alzheimer’s.

Being with an Alzheimer’s patient is a bit like being in a scene from “Groundhog Day.” Repetition is the name of the game and it requires a decent amount of patience and humor when they are this stage. You push away thoughts about the silence still to come when they enter a state of haunted immobility as they no longer engage with the world. For now, we can still have conversations. These are comprised of lightning rounds of the same group of questions as they fixate on specific topics. In my Dad’s case, it usually involves the measurement of space or time.

I was assigned one day to sit and care for Dad, which was also the day Mom was to return from visiting her family in Mexico. Dad’s mental long play record was stuck in one groove. His current jam was the track about where was Mom and when would she return. My younger sister had gone to work and I was chuffed by the idea of getting to spend time with Dad in during the regular week.  I sat in our family home living room, taking care of Emails as Dad took his usual spot, the outside porch. Yet, for the next 90 minutes, he’d rotate from the living room to the porch. Each time Dad would enter the room, he’d ask:

Dad: Tu viniste a cuidarme?

Me: Si, papá.

Dad: Muy amable.

He seemed touched to know I had been asked by the family to take care of him. He’d rap on the table, an emphatic gesture that made me smile. An hour or so later, his pacing evolved into that of a caged animal. His eyes glittered in a unique way and the rapping, which at first felt like a war buddies fist bump, now had a tone of anger. Without hesitating, I took Dad on a Target run.

My Dad has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for well over a decade. We’ve been fortunate to have him mentally present with us for so long. He recognizes my mom and sister, who care for him 24/7. As for the rest of my siblings, we are in iPod shuffle mode. Sometimes he knows who we are and we ignore the times he doesn’t.

Sometimes we are simply “los muchachos,” a catchall term that refers us as being his “kids.” It offers its own comforts, being part of that group memory. We’re still his children. Then reality takes over. One time, he told Mom I couldn’t be his son since I’m too old as he’s only in his 50s. I go, “Mom, that makes you an OG cougar.” We both laughed. You have to laugh, otherwise, you cry.

Dad’s eating habits are changing. Texture matters, in addition to the color of his food. At times, he can forget when he’s had a meal, then he’ll insist that he hasn’t. He is losing weight. He’s irascible at times, the Latino machismo surging to a boiling point when contradicted. Again, those glittering eyes are a sign for us to be calm. That’s when he’s in that “mad” mode.

My mom and sister have learned to wait out the tantrums instead of fueling them further, although I see now why Mom has no fuse at all anymore. Their matrimonial sea roils and it calms itself just as suddenly as if nothing happened at all. Yet the after effects are revealing the wear on her, too. The one saving grace? Whenever things do get too intense, Dad’s physician has prescribed Dad a mild sedative. Yes, it is on par with giving a screaming toddler Benadryl, but sometimes…

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I can see Dad’s age now. He’s 92. I regret not getting him on record to capture his view of the world, the chronicle of a Mexican immigrant father, businessman, and world traveler projected against the canvas of contemporary history. Today, he can’t differentiate what he sees on the television screen, fictional or otherwise, from his real life.

When we do receive those treasurable moments, though, it is on par with winning the lottery. Like the time, I went to meet Dad and my younger sister for a showing of “Atomic Blonde.” As they entered the cinema, he saw me and instantly opened his arms for a hug. Usually, he just offers a gentlemanly handshake and a pat on the shoulder, which was his way. But this was wonderfully different. For a moment, we were on the track many grown sons are with their older parent.

Families, particularly Latino families, do not like to share the truth of their loved ones’ health, especially serious conditions. For whatever reason, illnesses are a “private matter.” We become traffic wardens, telling onlookers, “Move along. There’s nothing to see. Everything is alright.” But everything is not alright. Our parents will get sick. They will change because of an illness, not because of some cosmic punishment.

I understand the desire, particularly when it comes to our parents or grandparents, to want people to remember how they were and not as their infirmed selves. It is such a waste of time, time left with us that we can’t possibly measure or gauge. Family can become so entrenched in denial. Better living through chemistry, at least when it comes to Alzheimer’s, yes. But the truth is it is just a stop gap.

I see where we are heading with Dad. That’s why I choose to laugh now about his, “Yo soy el dueño de esta casa” demeanor. It wasn’t easy knowing he wanted me to leave his house. My work caring for him was done and he wanted his independence and space back. Later that night, I regaled my Mom and younger brother about how Dad refused to go to sleep because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to “steal his shit.” Eventually, like a toddler, sleep caught up with him. Granted it was aided with the sedative I gave him a few hours earlier, but our cherished Poppadoodles was finally having a well-deserved rest.

I do not regret the frustration I felt at times that day. At times, I wanted to just yell, “Why don’t you understand?” I felt robbed because I can’t stop thinking about the conversations we could be having now we are both able to communicate again. It all seems so unfair. I can’t tell him I finally understand what he tried to teach me when I was a kid. I can’t tell him how he hurt me when I came out to him 17 years ago. I can’t tell him that I forgive him. I can’t share with him how I think this full circle reality we share is so good and inspiring to me.

Like “Groundhog Day,” we will be back at the same starting point the next day and the one after that. Our “Dad’s Day Out” will be forgotten, but how marvelous to know that when we do get to do this again it will be like a brand-new adventure. We have nothing to mourn or feel sorry about here. Dad is a part of many lives, not just with the family here and in Mexico, but our friends, too. As long as that smile still shines through I will remember what his mind can’t hold anymore. It’s the ultimate privilege and the best story I am ever going to be able to tell.

From the Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles website:

“Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles is a leader in developing culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and services, including those for Latinos.  Research shows Latinos with dementia are low users of formal health services and less likely than non-Latinos to see a physician.  Given the significance of familia in the Latino community, families (particularly daughters) provide a disproportionate share of Alzheimer’s care.

In order to reach these women (and their families) ALZGLA has taken a creative approach…we produced a bilingual, educational telenovela.  Lost Memories tells a story familiar to many Greater Los Angeles families.  It also disseminates complex medical and health information to caregivers with the goal of raising awareness of Alzheimer’s, fighting stigma, and encouraging Latino families to seek help sooner.

In honor of Latino Heritage Month,the 4-episode web series will debut September 19 at alzgla.org and on YouTube.

 

“Glen”

“Glen”

Dad was a big fan of Glen Campbell. That these formidable men have been afflicted by Alzheimer’s is still tough to fathom. Today, Mr. Campbell succumbed to this disease. He leaves behind generations of fans, a loving and supporting family and a legacy of art that is without compare.

I will never forget the sound of his music playing over the car radio as my family and I drove through the Southwestern desert on our way to visit family to Mexico in the early 1970s. My Dad would hum along, tapping the steering wheel, offering back-up. It was a late night, our family Impala cutting its path through the star-filled darkness. Dad didn’t know I was awake, his silent co-pilot, determined to remember it all.

Years later, before Mr. Campbell retired from touring, my siblings and I took Dad to see him perform live at the Pala Casino outside of San Diego. His own family shared the stage, with his daughter carefully guiding her legendary father through the songs. I remember holding back tears as my father smiled and tapped along to the music, clearly engaged by the Campbell musical experience like it was those many nights long ago.

Both men were in the throes of dealing with Alzheimer’s at that moment, never knowing what they had in common that evening. That one of these two men is no longer with us fills me with a surge of fills me with a surge of emotion. I am very blessed t still have my father in my life, despite the hardships of this disease. While Dad was far from being a rhinestone cowboy or a Wichita lineman, he still towers in my heart and life. And the music created by Mr. Campbell? It is a shame I can’t tell him it will forever be something so profound and poignant for my family and myself, now and forever. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, for leaving us this gift, too.

As posted on the Glen Campbell website: “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation through the CareLiving.org donation page.

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.

Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.

Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.

Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.

Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.

Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.

Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA


My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.

To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?

Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.

My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.

Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.

Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.

Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.

He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.

Last night, I became Jorge the First.

Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA