The Long Goodbye

One of my first memories of her was those amazing frozen pineapple cookies.

Heaven sent, and better than almost anything on Earth.

It was 32 years ago, just a few weeks before Christmas.  I’d only been dating her daughter for a month, and Elizabeth offered me a cookie as I picked up the woman who would later become my wife.   I don’t remember what we did on that early date, but I’ll never forget that cookie.  It was the first of hundreds that I’d eat over the coming years.

Unfortunately, the recipe was lost years later to the fog of Alzheimer’s.  

The Long Goodbye

Elizabeth Gardner was my favorite mother-in-law.  She, like those frozen pineapple cookies, was something that, if you were able to experience, you’d never forget.  Heaven sent, indeed.  For the thousands that knew her, they know exactly what I mean by those inadequate words.

One.  Amazing.  Woman.

Elizabeth was an amazing woman. She shined a light in this world, even through the fog of her Alzheimer's. Click To Tweet

She grew up as a farm girl in rural Ohio.  Her Dad worked on various farms around the area, and they moved frequently as the work led them across the farmlands of Northeastern Ohio.

She learned to love dogs at an early age.  One of her favorite stories, repeated frequently in her later years, was of the various “farm dogs” she’d come to know and love as they migrated in those early years.  Migrating farmers, it seems, often left the “farm dog” behind as they moved on to new farms.  The incoming family would adopt the farm dog as their own, and they would love it for the time they were given.

They would love it for the time they were given.

Kind of like Mom.

We loved her and are thankful for the time we were given with her.


Raising A Family

Elizabeth loved few things more than her children, and she was blessed with three loving kids.  In addition, she selfishly raised numerous foster kids and shared her love freely with each and every one of them.  She often paid for kids in their town to attend a local church camp and picked up dozens of kids over the years on her way to church each Sunday, where she played piano for over 40 years..

She was a Godly woman, and she raised her three children right.  She was proud to watch those children become adults and to watch the values she had so carefully planted blossom as each child matured.  The children, like their mother, became models of all that’s right in this world.  For that, they owe much to their Mother and all she demonstrated with her own life.

A Special Family, A Special Mom.

Her Christian faith played a huge part in her life, and she lived a life which filled the world with light.  She touched more lives than we’ll ever know and made an impact on this world that few can match.  It’s hard to explain in words the depth of this woman.

  • The genuine caring that she showed to everyone.
  • The selflessness with which she lived life.
  • The love she so freely gave.
  • The Joy with which she lived her life.

After decades in various retail jobs, Elizabeth retired at Age 65 and lived comfortably off her small retirement savings and Social Security.  She was truly happy and enjoyed retirement to the fullest.  I have fond memories of many visits to her Ohio home with our daughter, who (like her Mother) had a truly special relationship with Grandma.  One of Elizabeth’s favorite stories was going to garage sales with our daughter, and teaching her about the value of money.  “You’ve only got $2”, she’d say, “so make sure it’s something you really want before you spend it.”  I’ll always treasure that Gorilla golf club cover that my daughter bought me that day.  Impacting the next generation for good, what else would one expect from a wonderful woman?


An Answer To Prayer

11 years ago, there was a cancer scare.  As Elizabeth waited for the biopsy results, she prayed that “God would give me 10 more years”.  He answered her prayer and gave her 11.  Her Grandaughter was married 9 years later, and Elizabeth was able to join in the celebration with her favorite bride:

A celebration 9 years after the cancer scare.

The Onset Of Alzheimer’s

7 years ago, she started showing “signs” of Alzheimer’s.  She was living in the town where she’d spent her entire life, and she started getting confused on her way to friend’s homes.  We were living in Georgia, but her two sons were nearby.  They kept an eye on her, and we started talking about options.

It got serious when she forgot to eat.

Her son noticed unfinished plates around the house, untypical for a woman who always kept a neat house.  She was growing weaker, and we knew something was wrong.  After a stint in the hospital to regain her health, and the diagnosis that Alzheimer’s had claimed another victim, we realized something had to be done.

3 Generations Of Beautiful Women

Living With Grandma

6 years ago, Grandma moved in with my family in our Georgia home.  “You see what we’re doing for Grandma?”, I asked my daughter.  “That’s what you do for parents you love.  I hope you’ll do the same for Mom if she needs help one day.”  Her response was classic, “Ok, Dad, but what if it’s YOU that needs the help?”  That’s my girl, always wanting to clearly understand her obligation.  (For the record, I told her to just put me in a nursing home and I’d be fine!).

The Long Goodbye had started.

Mom wasn’t the same anymore.  Somehow, the personality of someone who is suffering with Alzheimer’s is just “different”.  She was still as joyful as ever, but that deeply seeded spark, while still there, was harder to see through the fog.  She was, but wasn’t, the same woman who gave me that pineapple cookie some 3 decades earlier.  She never complained, and she enjoyed spending time with her family.  We’ll cherish those years that she lived with us, when we were able to return in small part some of the good she had done for so many others.

Truth be told, however, what she REALLY loved while living with us were her daily walks down our long driveway with her favorite dog, Chase.  He was her guardian, and she loved telling the story (repeatedly) of how he would always get between her and the road when she had gone far enough, letting her know it was time to turn around.  She loved that dog, and he loved her.  We all did.

Mom with her favorite dog, Chase.

The Nursing Home Decision

One of the hardest decisions caretakers must make when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is when it’s time to take things to the next level.  A friend of mine who had cared for his mother (also with Alzheimer’s) gave me some caring advice when he learned of my mother-in-law’s situation.

“Take some time with your wife, and write down your criteria for when you’ll make the move to a nursing home.”

It was great advice, and we took it to heart.  We developed our list, and we filed it away.  As more and more of the items were “checked off” over the years, we realized the time was near.  We were struggling with the decision, and prayed that we’d know when the time was right.

The Broken Hip

Our prayer was answered in an unexpected way.  While spending a weekend at our mountain cabin, we heard a crash as we were preparing for bed.  We rushed down to the main floor bedroom to find Mom laying on the floor.  We’re not sure exactly what happened (she’s told several stories of the event, and given the Alzheimer’s we’re not sure which is correct), but somehow she had fallen as she was preparing for bed.

After a month in the hospital, the Doctor advised us that Mom had to go to a nursing home for rehab, and he recommended that she stay there after the therapy for full-time care of her Alzheimer’s.  The decision was made for us.

The Goodbye Continued.

Life In The Nursing Home

For the past three years, our plans have been revised several times to support what was best for Mom.  We finally settled on moving her to a nursing home in the mountain town where we planned to retire, and have been happy with the decision.  Mom’s life in the nursing home has been surprisingly good, and she’s continued to shine her light in spite of the thickening fog of Alzheimer’s.

“We wish every one of our residents were as cheerful as your Mom” was a refrain we heard often.

She had long since given up walking, but she was content to “walk” herself down the hallways by pulling herself along in her wheelchair with her legs.  She was quick, and in her mind she was independent.  She could go where she wanted to go, and she could visit whoever she wanted to visit (even if she didn’t remember their names).

Initially, we’d bring her home from time to time to visit the dogs and enjoy a Sunday dinner.  Eventually, the anxiety of those hours away would outweigh the benefit, and we starting bringing the dogs to her.

She Always Loved Dogs

My wife was an amazing daughter through the years.  Up until the end, she was visiting the nursing home 4+ days per week.  We modified the approach of the visits to do what we thought Mom most enjoyed and often brought old photo albums along to help reminisce on fond memories.  It’s what you do for those you love.

And love her, we did.

The Long Goodbye Continued.


About Those Frozen Pineapple Cookies

Ironically, my wife starting thinking about those infamous frozen pineapple cookies a month ago.  We realized we hadn’t eaten them since Mom had suffered from Alzheimer’s, and we were afraid they were gone forever.

My wife looked EVERYWHERE for that recipe.  Somehow, those cookies became symbolic for our earlier years with Mom.  Try as she might, she couldn’t find it, and we knew Mom’s memory wasn’t capable of recalling it.  The loss of that recipe seemed representative of the loss of the Mom we’d always known.  That woman was no longer with us.  She was here, but she wasn’t.  Just like our memory of those pineapple cookies.

It was sad.  It was part of saying Goodbye.

Then, my wife thought of the old church cookbook:

Amazingly, Elizabeth had sent in the infamous pineapple cookie recipe years earlier when her home church had put together their “Good Cookbook”.

A few weeks ago, my wife made the cookies.   We put them in the freezer and enjoyed a few over the coming days.  They were as good as we remembered.  We savored every bite.

For some reason, we kept the final one in the freezer.

It’s as if we knew.


The Final Goodbye

Last week, Mom took a turn for the worse.  As my wife and I were heading to the nursing home, we received a call that they were taking her to the hospital.  Her pneumonia had gotten worse, and it was beyond their ability to treat.

We spent every day of the past week beside Elizabeth’s bed.  We called the family and sat together as she suffered through those agonizing coughs.  It wasn’t getting better, and other things were starting to shut down.  We were so thankful to have her son alongside when we had a tough decision to make, and agreed with the doctor that “comfort care” was the best thing we could do for Mom.

Her final few days were peaceful.

And Then We Said The Final Goodbye.


The Final Frozen Pineapple Cookie

On the night Mom went to heaven, my wife and I shared that last frozen pineapple cookie we’d kept in our freezer.  We cried, and we smiled as we thought of Mom in Heaven. Her battle with Alzheimer’s was over, and she was once again running free.  She deserves to be in Heaven, where we’ve no doubt she’s continuing to shine her amazing light.  I believe in my heart that Chase is up there with her, and expect they’re taking their daily walks again.  Her best friend, Dorothy, is there too.  They’re probably back to their practical jokes and making everyone around them laugh. We smile over that thought, and somehow suspect it’s even better there than we can possibly imagine.

That final cookie was heaven sent.

Just Like Mom.

 


 

Mom’s Frozen Pineapple Cookie Recipe

Note:  Mom left out an important bit, much to our amusement.  Roll out the cookie dough, and cut into 5″ cookies.  Put the filling on the “bottom” cookie, then cut a 1″ hole in the center of the “top” cookie and place it on top of the filling, pressing the edges together.

Also, do NOT eat these without freezing them first.   It’s a rule.

Heaven sent. 

PS:  I’ll be at a funeral in Ohio as you read these words, celebrating the life of a very special woman.  Apologies in advance if I’m not as active on your comments as normal.  I trust you understand.

36 comments

    1. Such a beautiful tribute. Brought tears. We are coping with dementia with my mother in law. Like you say, we do what we need to do for our loved ones. So sorry for your loss.

  1. We’re sorry for your loss and thinking of you and Jackie. I’ve only known about Elizabeth and her life in recent years. I’m so glad to learn more about the happier times.

  2. You brought plenty of tears to my eyes this morning, but what a beautiful story. She must have truly been a great mother and grandmother. Sorry for the loss to your wife and entire family.

  3. a very nice tribute, we too are confronting the impending loss of my wife’s mother. Her passing will be from cancer and we are hoping and praying for as much quality time as it is possible to have. If it is possible for death to be timely, her’s will not be.

    We will all face the loss of people we love who have helped to shape and mold us, the only solace i find in that is that if we cherish their memory, then they will remain with us long after they are no longer a physical presence in our lives. My condolences to you and your family at this time.

  4. Fritz. At artful and heartfelt story. Great memories as I lost both parents to dementia. I pray your family finds peace in the midst of mourning.

  5. The respect, love, and care you and especially Jackie provided her is both amazing and touching. I personally went to visit my Dad in his last 8 weeks of nursing home rehab and I can say from experience that being a caretaker is one of the hardest things to do. The time you both spent, and having her live with you is both heroic and a great “normal” at the same time. A true lesson for your daughter, and frankly to all of us. She created a wonderful family, and reaped the true “dividends”. What a story. My heartfelt condolences to you and Jackie.

  6. Went through the same thing with my father-in-law. A wonderful man who went “into the fog” about 60. Lived to be 84. Last dozen years or so he was a vegetable. Would have loved to take his grandchildren fishing, camping, traveling, hiking etc.
    Never got to. Sadly, he never got to know he even had grandchildren.
    He is missed. He will be missed.
    The true Southern Gentleman he was, when I asked him for his daughters hand in
    marriage, he said yes. However, he followed this up with “if you ever divorce my daughter or abuse her in any way, I will kill you.” He meant it. I am still married to his
    “Most beautiful young woman in the South “. And she still is.

  7. So sorry for your loss. Glad you can have faith that she is in Heaven and you will someday meet again. This was difficult for me as my mom has Alzheimer’s. She and my dad live about 800 miles away. She has been in a memory unit for about 3 1/2 years. She doesn’t remember the grandkids. I’m at least remembered as her big brother. She thankfully still remembers my dad, but daily life is very difficult.

    Finding that recipe is priceless and you have shared it with everyone. How awesome. Hope the service goes well.

    Thank you for a allowing us to walk with you down memory lane.
    cd :O)

  8. I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story. Alzheimer’s is so difficult to deal with. My mom is starting to have some kind of dementia. We’re still following up with the doctors and we’re not sure if it’s Alzheimer’s yet. We’re trying to stay positive and deal with it the best we could. It’s going to be difficult due to the language barrier and other issues.
    Best wishes, -Joe

    1. Jackie and Fritz,
      We are so sorry for the loss of Jackie’s sweet mom. What a wonderful tribute to her. I teared up more than once thinking of my mom who I lost to Alzheimer’s 22 years ago. And like you both, I know I will see her again fully whole and healthy. Thank you for sharing your love for her!
      Christine and Gene Callaway

  9. Fritz, how beautifully you have shared her life and personality with us. Thank you for a glimpse of a clearly lovely lady. My condolences to Jackie, you, and the entire family. May God’s perfect peace be yours!

  10. Beautiful tribute, Fritz! She sounds like an amazing woman! Sending love and condolences to you and your family.

  11. Great article Fritz. Our deepest sympathies to Jackie, you and the family. We remember well your mother-in-law attending Heritage Hills with you. Thank you for bring her and sharing her with us. She was always smiling and pleasant. You and Jackie are great roll models on how to handle a difficult situation that we all must face sooner or later. Prayers all around.

    David & Mary

  12. Having gone through my grandmother having dementia/Alzheimer’s, this post came all too close to home. I know exactly the feeling that you guys went through. It is an awful disease for both the person living with it and those who love them. I am truly sorry for your loss Fritz, but I am glad that you guys were able to be there for her service (even if it meant missing FinCon ;o). You have a tendency to get me with your posts and this one was no difference, there was no holding back the tears.

  13. Beautiful tribute Fritz. I know several folks that are at various stages of this same journey right now. Your story was an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your heart with us, and know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family!

  14. Fritz, I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful eulogy. She is smiling down from heaven no doubt. I offer prayers of comfort for you and your family.

    So much of your story resonated with me – my grandfather had Alzheimer’s and my grandma had dementia. I remember the repetitive stories…sure do miss them.

    Additionally, I have a very similar church cookbook that my other grandmother gave to me. I love it! I use it and can hear her voice and laughter everytime I cook something from it.

  15. What a wonderful story of your mother-in-law. Thank you for sharing your memories and love. May we all be so blessed to have a long life and loving family to care for us.

  16. What a loving tribute, Fritz. So sorry for your loss of your Mother in-law. She sounds like she was a truly great woman. Heaven has welcomed an angel.

  17. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory of your mother-in-law. May she run free with Chase.
    Condolences to you and your family.

  18. Hi Fritz,

    I am so sorry for your lost. I am going through the exact same situation with my Mom as I write this. She is on the edge of crossing over from dementia to Alzheimers. She too is in a nursing facility specifically for patients needing memory care. The good news is that it is close enough that I can see her daily.

    I too believe we will see our pets in heaven, as I believe God will provide all that is needed for our happiness.
    “Isaiah’s description of the peace of God’s future kingdom where he says that “the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:25). Heaven will lack nothing that is good and that will bring glory to God.”
    May you find continued peace and blessings in rememberance of your mother in law.

  19. Sorry for your loss. Our thoughts and prayers to you and your family. This tribute was wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing the story.

  20. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing such a beautiful peace. My grandmother died from Alzheimer’s when I was in 8th grade. I fortunately had good memories of her from my childhood. One thing I miss is that my wife never got to meet her.

  21. Condolences Fritz. I lost my mother in law a few years back to cancer. She was such a wonderful, kind, and loving person. Even when people joke about their “in-laws” I always say a quick prayer of gratitude for my mother in law who was just as much a mother to me as my biological mother.

  22. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. It sounds like your mother-in-law was a wonderful person and you were lucky to have known her. Obviously your readers here didn’t have that pleasure, but thanks to the pineapple cookie recipe, we will be able to remember her with each bite. Thoughts & prayers to you and your family.

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