Days of Dementia: A Case of Mistaken Identity

on November 9, 2014
A few days ago, a lady was using her walker down the hallway and passed in front of grandpa and I. We were in our usual spots - he in his wheelchair and I on the floor beside him. The lady and I greeted each other and smiled and chatted for a few minutes.
"Is this your....grandpa?"
I was impressed, I usually get 'father.'
"Well, he's a sweetheart. Always pleasant. Never bothers nobody."
"Thank you!" I replied, "He is very sweet."
As she passed in front of him grandpa waved and said hello, as if to emphasize her point. She stopped, smiled and stooped down in front of him.
"Do you know this girl?" she asked. Grandpa gave her a blank stare.
"Do you? Do you know this girl?" She was kind, but insistent. I wasn't sure why this had to be answered, but she wasn't going to let it go, so I pulled myself up on my knees so he could see me better. She started pointing and dragging her finger towards me to draw his attention. "This girl. This girl right here. Do you know her?"
His eyes finally followed her hand and he looked up at me. "Yeah!"
The lady smiled. "Who is she?"
Oh dear.
Grandpa continued his blank stare at me.
"Who is she? Who is she?"
I wanted to intervene, but I didn't. If things had gotten harder on him, I would've, but I also honestly wanted to know who he believed I was. 
"She's..... she's.... she's my daughter-in-law."
"Oh! And do you love her?"
Now grandpa legitimately looked confused. "Of course!" he replied, bewildered. The lady wandered off. Grandpa looked at me as if he was supposed to understand what had just happened. I just smiled and shrugged. We moved on.

For months now, Grandpa has consistently called me his daughter-in-law. Who he believes I am on a day to day basis does vary a bit, but especially within these past six months, especially whenever he does name me to somebody I am almost exclusively his daughter-in-law. My mother.

That's a bit of a mind trip when you think about it from my perspective. :)

And sometimes it's not just in naming me because somebody asked. Sometimes it reveals itself in casual conversation. Take a month ago, for example.
Grandpa was relaying his day to me when he rather suddenly (and very confidently) stated, "Yup, your daddy suuure helped me get that cat out of that barn." I blinked because I was completely stumped. (Notably, not about the part about a cat in the barn, although there was certainly no current context for that at the time either.) He said it with such an air of awareness that I sat there for several minutes trying to figure out if he genuinely knew who I was. I was debating whether or not to ask him when suddenly he finished it out: "Yup, Leonard sure was a great help!"
Ah. Leonard. My mother's father.
I was floored. Despite having heard him reference me as her several times, it still stuns me a bit when it happens - to think that something in me reminds him, or at least triggers something in him, of her.

It was about three months ago now when he suddenly started asking me, "Where's little Sherri? I thought I just heard her. Did you hear her?"
Although surreal to think of myself as about five years old in his mind, my heart warmed. I realized that in his brain I was still a child and probably running around terrorizing the place.
I tried to correct him and explain that, no, I was Sherri. But he just looked at me and laughed. "No, no, no," he said, "little Sherri. She was in the dining room. I just saw her."
Ah, well. Maybe I was behaving enough after all. :)
And it dawned on me later that the age I am now is the age my mother would have been when I was "little Sherri."

And even all the way back to his first trip to his final neurologist and the doctor asked him to introduce us. "This is my daughter-in-law," he said, "and that's my grandson."
I didn't correct him but instead just shook my head at the doctor, although "grandson" was indeed correct. Later Grandpa apparently caught himself and realized what had happened. "I'm so sorry," he said, "I'm so sorry I called you my daughter-in-law. I don't know what happened."

It's okay. I don't mind. I don't mind on any count.

Why would I be bothered, hurt or upset? That you think I'm one of the women that I admire the most? That maybe, just maybe, there is something in me that you see that reminds you so strongly of her? Maybe some tiny piece of my personality brings her to your thoughts? Or maybe instead I remind you of her in her looks? Any of those things, I don't mind. I don't mind at all. I am honored and thrilled and blessed that there's even a remote chance that you might find something in me that you recognize as her.

I don't mind one bit. 

I'll be your daughter-in-law. I'll be your friend that hangs out, or random family member, or whoever you think I am that day as long as you'll let me sit and chat with you awhile. We'll drink coffee and health shakes. We'll people watch. And at the very least, maybe you'll remember me as a friendly face.

Or at the very best, your daughter-in-law.

Days of Dementia: And it's root, root, root for the home team....

on September 21, 2014
This past Thursday night I walked into the nursing home to find my grandfather in the middle of the hallway in his wheelchair, trucker cap on his head and looking alert. This is a bit unusual - I've never seen him wear the cap before, though its been in his room for about a month, and he was in a different section of the hallway than I usually find him in. I caught his eye.
"Hey!" I said enthusiastically, "There you are."
"Hey!" he replied, just as happily, "You're just in time!"
"In time for what?"
"In time for the ballgame!"
I grinned. "What kind of ballgame?" "Baseball? Basketball? Football?"
"Don't know."
"Where's it happening at?"
"Right down there." He pointed down the hallway. My head turned, but I already knew what I would see. I had just come from that direction. A few people in wheelchairs were in the lobby. While they were watching television, no game had been on the screen and the TV wasn't visible from our position. I smiled.
"Who's playing?"
"Don't know."
"Is it baseball?"
"Has it started yet?"
"Not yet. Just about to."

For those who haven't heard, or have only caught the bits and pieces, my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia this past year. It's been a really difficult road full of lots of confusion - and not just on his part, in general. The past eight months or so have been filled with lots of fear, heartache and uncertainty about what's going on, what's right and what's the best way to accomplish it. There have been a lot of factors involved and while it's still an ongoing situation, he is currently in a nursing home that appears to love and take excellent care of him. And that's such an incredible, incredible blessing to us, especially considering Oklahoma is apparently 49th in the nation in terms of nursing home care. Yikes. 

We chatted for awhile about other topics. He kept trying to prop his foot up on the nurses' disposal box on the side of their cart. "I think that's Billy's tool box," he finally said.
"Ah. Then we probably shouldn't mess with it then."

A few minutes later. 
"Look! Here come the stars!"
I glanced back down the hallway. Far at the other end, one man walked slowly along on his walker.
"Anybody I know? Anyone famous?"
"Hog Bellys!"
This is actually what his trucker hat reads. Hog Bellys, Stink Bait Parlor. I have no idea where this cap came from, it just appeared one day in his room. This is something that has super impressed me in the midst of his dementia - he can still read. For a man that doesn't ever really know what's going on, he can still read. In fact, as we were sitting there during this discussion, he pointed out a word on the nurses cart and asked me what it meant. And I had no idea either, because it was some long medical term. But I knew the reason he didn't ask me about the other words was because they made sense to him - scissors, tape, medications, etc. He specifically recognized that he didn't understand what this particular word meant and he wanted to know.
But he will still misunderstand or reinterpret the words he reads. Hence, Hog Bellys, the now famous baseball player.
"Now they're all walking around the bases."

"Just a second grandpa, I'll be right back."
I stepped into his room for a minute and was caught off guard by the television being on his room since it had never been on before. In particular, it was on Thursday Night Football and I immediately understood. Since he had never talked about ball before, I wasn't sure where our sudden baseball game had come from, but now I got it.
In discussions before with various people, we've come to realize that probably most of what grandpa talks about isn't completely made up. Usually there's a connector somewhere, even if it's probably a book or movie he read thirty years ago that we just don't know about or an overheard bit from a conversation earlier in the day. And then his brain just takes a whatever tiny gem of it that gets brought up on a ride.

"Has the game started yet?"
"Nope. They're just walking around the bases."
"That's it? Just parading around the bases?"
"Yup. Maybe they'll get started soon."

We chatted awhile longer and then I headed home for the evening.

If you had told me at the beginning of all of this that eventually I would look forward to my trips to the nursing home, that it would be a joy and that it would be a piece of a puzzle that would begin to fundamentally alter my heart and mind, I probably would have doubted you. And the trips can still be, and will be often, hard. Despite that, however, there has been so much unexpected joy and love in the midst of all the mental confusion and heartache.

I got to watch a baseball game with my grandfather. I had never had the chance - or rather, took the chance - to do that before. The fact that I can say I have now, whether he remembers it or not, thrills my soul.

I hope Hog Bellys hit a home run.

Too much, too close.

on June 6, 2013
Sometimes things are more than just too close for comfort. Sometimes things are just too close, period.

A few days after the tornado, which happened on May 19th, I drove out to Steelman Estates (the mobile home park destroyed in Bethel) with my cousins to see if there was any way I could be of use. This was also the first time I was able to see my grandfather's house since everything happened and it is somehow unscathed. My friends, it is one street up from the destruction. Five seconds away.

Out of respect for Steelman, I purposely avoided snapping photos, but I did take this one. Tornado Strength: F4
This is what Steelman looks like now. 

Honestly, I've never really seen tornado damage before - not like this. I've seen lots of images on television and I've driven past things that have been torn down since a tornado hit, or seen billboards and trees destroyed or topped off, but not like this. This is complete trailers lifted and thrown into one another and all that's left where they were is dirt. This is trees ripped in half, knocked over, completely uprooted to the extent you can easily see their thick, heavy roots. Oats & rice granules spilled out all over what's left of kitchens and walkways made from shingles and whatever tin they can find. It's just absolutely devastated.

Today I drove to the city and looked on in horror at the amount of damage done to the trees as you come back down I-40. It's shocking. It still leaves me speechless.   

And then the next day, on May 20th, there's Moore.
Photo from Brittany, in Moore. One block from their home. Another F5.
As I mentioned, I also have family in Moore - a lot of family. And as with grandpa in Bethel, they lived in the danger zone. My boss Bobby & I watched from the computer at work as it formed and reformed and developed. I was sick. And when the reports of schools being hit started coming in, I couldn't remember where my kids went to school. And just like with Bethel, I had received one text saying they were watching it so I knew they were in a safe zone, but for several minutes I had no idea if the kids were with her or at school or what school I needed to be listening for.

They're all safe - all of them, not a hair on their bodies hurt. One house has to have a new roof and several other new things that insurance will take care of, but it's not gone. And the picture above is one block from that home - a park that was down the street from them. They went there all the time. I drove past it every time I went to their house.

Image from outside my house - night of the Bethel tornado.

Image from my house - night of the El Reno tornado.

But two weeks later, on May 31st, another tornado outbreak appeared on the screen. It was labeled PDS (Potentially Dangerous Situation) and everyone was on high alert. And tornados began to form in El Reno, with multiple vortexes, and then finally formed into another F5. It is also now officially the widest tornado ever recorded at 2.6 miles.

This video, taken by Reed Timmer, blows my mind. In the video Mike Morgan refers to them as a "carousel of tornados" and it's very true. 

But other reasons that made this one so awful, besides it's size, was two things:
1) This tornado did not follow a straight path - at one point it decided to take a very sharp turn. A lot of people died because of this, including three professional stormchasers, because the turn came out of nowhere and caught them completely off guard.
2) In addition to the tornado, there was immense flash flooding throughout the state. Suddenly people, who had just been told to get out of the way of the storm, swamped the highways and traffic was backed up for miles and they had nowhere to go.
And again, in Moore, my family who had made it out of path was suddenly caught in the flash flooding trying to return home. And it still sends chills up my spine to think of my cousin's wife, their two baby girls and her brother and their car floating in the middle of it. It makes me sick to my stomach for them. I can't imagine being her, in that situation, trying to cope with it all and all the "what if's" in my mind have antagonized me.

Their car is totaled, they think, but they are fine. All of them.

I don't mind telling you: this last bout of storms for Oklahoma has really shaken me.

I like storms. They excite me. I think they're wild and breathtaking and I love it when the air vibrates with all of that driving energy. The video I embedded above makes my jaw drop with how they move. This time, however, was almost too much and I didn't even lose anything. But I almost did. I potentially could have. I potentially could have lost so much more than I can even begin to fathom and in a very short amount of time.

As for us, here, we went to Holly's twice: once for the Bethel storm and once for the El Reno storm. The El Reno one, I'll freely admit, had me legitimately concerned. It was obviously moving and winding at whatever path it wanted and the storm system had already proven itself to produce large tornados. Originally it was going to go north of us, but then suddenly Twin Lakes popped up on the warning screen and that was it, I started grabbing our bags to leave. We watched carefully, ready to go at any time down the shelter, but it started (thankfully) dissipating. It didn't seem to be that bad at storm at Holly's - I honestly thought it had weakened down to just any other thunderstorm. However, I was later told by Brad & Regina (and by many others) that it was more hurricane-like at Raley with the straight winds blowing the rain sideways. Power poles were snapped. A lot of people lost electricity, including the shop. But other than that, no real damage here.

Nonetheless. Honestly, it's been a bit too much.

On the Friday after the Moore tornado we recieved an email at the shop from the Oklahoma State Floral Association asking for volunteers to come help design pieces for the community wide memorial at First Baptist Church of Moore. I was afraid, since it was Memorial Day weekend, that I wouldn't be able to get off in time to go help but they were still going strong that afternoon so I was able to go for a few hours.

I have never seen so. many. flowers.

This doesn't even begin to showcase how many flowers were there.


All donated from growers all over the world. Over 5,000 red roses alone. Thousands of flowers. That photo above is merely one section of the piece they were going to use to cover the bottom of the stairs in flowers.

I was overwhelmed. There was so much going on, I had no idea where to go. Our wholesaler, Mary - one of three people I knew - grabbed me and finally found a place for me at an assembly line on a 60 foot piece that was going to cover the handrail on the baptistry.
The piece for the baptistry.
These were completely wrapped in aspidistra leaves first and then designers went back in filling them with sections of white roses, sweet william, poms, whatever white they could find.

And then when that was finished I was lost again. I found some designers that had just started making smaller, daily style arrangements for the first responders, shelters, victims, police, fireman, for anyone affected or involved and I stayed with that task until I came home. By the end of the day almost everyone was working on those arrangements. People were constantly, constantly sweeping, cleaning, emptying buckets, moving pallets, anything to keep the cleanup from piling up because it would have been overwhelming. There were so, so many flowers.

For the moment, things seem to have quieted down. The weather is starting to reflect that summer is approaching as we're going to be in the 90's later this week. There were rainshowers this morning, which didn't help the flooding, but they had moved out by noon. It's hard to believe it's all been within weeks of each other - in fact, I heard a news anchor have this conversation the other night:

News Anchor: "So, you just moved here to Oklahoma City, right? How long have you been here?"
Resident: "Oh, about five tornados."
Anchor: "So....what then, two weeks?"
Resident: "Yeah, two weeks exactly."

Two weeks.

There's been a lot of death and a lot, a lot, of incredibly sad stories coming out from all of this destruction. And not just from all the tornadoes, but incredibly sad stories from the night of the flooding as well. You can find them in the news if you want. I don't want to relive them here. The duality of how grateful I am my family is okay combined with the shock over how close it came and how so many people are not is already fully mixed in mind.

And on that note, I need to go to bed. Goodnight, folks. Get some rest. Hug your loved ones a little tighter, but dream of flowers.

Cause for Celebration :) (Updated)

on May 26, 2013
Let's take a break from tornados for a minute for something incredibly happier.

Tonight one of my kids was baptized. :)

I would show you pictures, but blogger has been mean to me lately and hasn't been letting me upload any for the past few days....

But tonight, I got a late phone call asking if we could go out to their church because Amy wanted to be baptized. :)

And it so happens to fall on their family-versary of her and her sister becoming part of the family through adoption. :) 

Isn't God awesome?

I can't imagine life without these beautiful girls, and I know no one else can either.

You're beautiful, my darling Amy, inside and out. And I am so glad I got to watch you be baptized into our Father's kingdom tonight. :)

Love you, my dear one. Always.

"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." (Romans 10:9-10)

Updated: Pictures! :)

Another close call.

on May 20, 2013
Downtown Moore was devastated this afternoon. I have 11 family members that live there, including five of my kids. Five family members live about two minutes from the Warren Theatre which was heavily damaged and the surrounding businesses that were completely leveled. 

They're all safe. One of their homes will need to have the roof replaced (and still needs to be completely assessed), but other than that, they seem to be okay. Which is almost unreal considering this photo is taken at a park one block from their house:

They went to this park all the time. We had a birthday party there once. I pass it every time I drive to their house. 

Things were so crazy and with this blasted tornado ripping through our loved ones territory my bosses sent me home at 3:30 (and later, I learned, they followed and closed up shortly after.)

I'm at a loss for words tonight. My family is all safe, but a lot of people aren't. My kids are all safe, but if you've heard the news at all, you've heard about the loss of children. Their homes are habitable, but hundreds of others are just completely leveled. The Moore Medical Center was destroyed and large amounts of cars were twisted and thrown up into the destroyed building, almost as if they had been caught in a flood and had careened into it. 

I'm incredibly grateful for the blessings of their safety and their homes - as well as for the knowledge of their safety & their homes, which a lot of people still don't have tonight for their loved ones. I can go to sleep tonight knowing they're safe. I'm incredibly grateful for that.

I don't have answers. I'm watching the scope of everything and just sick over all of it. There's so much I don't understand. And even though we've been staring at the television all afternoon, I still have trouble believing that that is actually what Moore looks like now. That is actually what the Warren looks like. That that is what parts of Bethel look like now from yesterday.

I don't know.

Tonight, I'm going to go to bed grateful for their lives and their homes. And that nothing else happened here. I was going to say that maybe tomorrow I could wake up and start to make sense of it all, but I already know that I will never be able to make sense out of Plaza Towers.
Again, to all my friends and family that checked in on my loved ones and I throughout the afternoon and evening, thank you for all the love. It's deeply appreciated.


When the word "grateful" isn't enough.

on May 19, 2013
Before I begin: I should start with the fact that my family is completely safe and so are, miraculously, their houses. My cousins unfortunately have a tree on their roof, but their neighbors house was almost completely destroyed.  I feel such a bizarre mix of gratefulness, thankfulness and sickness tonight that I am at a little bit of a loss, but everyone is okay. By God's grace.

Well, it never happens here. 

This was what I thought at about 2:00 this afternoon as I was driving up the road to put gas in my car.

I don't even know why I get ready. Am I overreacting? Should I get us to a storm shelter? Pack bags? I've lived here all my life, is all that silly when it never happens here?

I have always prepared for storms. It was ingrained into me as a kid and as an adult I don't like being unprepared. Just in case.  It's always the one time you don't do anything. Just in case. They don't necessarily make me panic - I've just always felt that if you have warning, it would be dumb not to take precautions just in case. Especially since I have grandma. I take no chances with grandma. So this afternoon when the weathermen started ramping up for a busy evening, I went ahead and made sure the car had plenty of gas, everything was brought in from outside that needed to be and that we were watching the weather. And as it got closer, I made sure my friends & family were watching the weather, that grandma's medications were packed and I had my laptop ready, phone ready so we could head out at a moment's notice if necessary. But still. There's still this part of you that wonders, is this overreacting to do all these things? Do I really need to drag all this stuff down to the storm shelter? Can we just hang out in the closet?

This is so indescribably close to my grandfather & uncle's houses that it still makes me sick to look at. In fact, it hit so close and so devastating that tonight I watched my childhood hometown, the very tiny community of Bethel Acres, being featured live on the Weather Channel. I don't even have words for that. That's insane.
This photo is from the OBU campus. I assume that this is the same tornado that hit Bethel, but there were so many popping up and one was seen near the Shawnee Mall, so I really have no idea which one it was.
It's a blessing, really, in disguise that the channel we were watching had no live footage of the tornado up at the moment it was barreling through. Because they literally named the intersections my grandfather and uncle live at over and over on the television saying "this is where the tornado is hitting right now" and I promise you if I had heard that and seen these photos, I would have probably thrown up or lost my mind and drove out there. Throw into the mix that phone reception was so bad at that moment that I couldn't even dial out half the time and no phone calls we're going through anywhere in the area, and I was almost sick. I did, very thankfully, receive one voicemail right before everything fully kicked into high gear that was cracking and difficult to understand that told me my uncle, grandfather and aunt were in a shelter and that was all that mattered. But other than that, I had no idea what was really happening until they finally showed a live image from Bethel on the news of a completely destroyed mobile home park that is so close to my grandpa's house.  In fact, if you watch any footage from tonight of Shawnee being devastated, it is actually Bethel and it will most likely be that mobile home park and that is right down the street from my grandfather. I've driven past it so many times. It's so incredibly, frighteningly, sickeningly close. It's God's grace that everyone's okay, and yet I'm so sick for the people of that mobile home park. What a nightmare.

Since I was unable to reach them by phone, I was actually just leaving to drive out to Bethel and find them myself when Holly came racing out the door to tell me the first few live images from it were up. And I walked in I saw this: - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

(Footage of the trailer park kicks in at two minutes in.)

I felt so..... sick. Sick. I raced out the door to drop off grandma (we were completely in the clear at this point) and just as I made it home my cousin texted that she had gotten ahold of them for a few minutes and they were safe and so was their house. But after seeing those images, I drove out there myself. Everything still seemed so unreal. I was able to see my uncle's house fine, but could get nowhere near my grandpa's house. They just kept turning people away and by this point it did begin to sink in that they really were okay. I still couldn't get ahold of them - and while watching the news channels mobile stations turn down towards their street, directly towards their house did nothing for me - I still had no choice but to drive home and keep calling.

It was so hard to believe that they were that close to that much devastation and somehow, miraculously, they were okay. It's just so surreal.

And go figure that at Holly's we didn't even get rain. Nada.

And, finally, I was able to start getting through to people. And I've touched base with everyone or at least with someone who has touched base with someone else and we're all okay. In fact, apparently a teenage boy who they had never seen before came rushing up right before it hit to my grandpa's storm shelter, banged on the lid and was able to take shelter with them. That floors me. So close.

There's talk of more storms again tomorrow in the southern and central areas of our state, so we appreciate all of your prayers. I am at a loss tonight as to how to properly thank God for all the overwhelming protection and kindness he poured on us. I am also at a loss as to how I'm going to sleep tonight because I'm so overwhelmed by it and by the sheer proximity of how close the whole thing was. And I'm very appreciative of all the sweet friends and loved ones that were checking in on not only me, but were very concerned about my entire family throughout the whole night and texting us updates on storms when necessary. Thank you for all the love.

And a special thanks to Holly & Sam who let us crash their house tonight with bags packed when things got potentially a little too close for comfort. :)

Believe it or not, this is the abbreviated version.

Ringring ringring ringring...
Tossing phone up to ear....
Me: Graves Floral, this is Sherri.
Guy On Phone: Hi, I would like to order some Mother's Day flowers please.
Me: Ready at keyboard Alright, sir, is your order for here in town?
G: ..... (laughter) Well, yes....
M: Alright, and--
G: Are you okay?
M: Blinking, beat of silence. ....I'm sorry?
G: Are you okay?
Me: ....Yes, sir, I believe so! 
G: Okay then....
M: Who is your order for?
Going through name, address, phone number, etc....a few minutes later....
M: What would you like to send her?
G: I found a photo on your website.
Me: Alright, let me pull that up and look at it with you. Can you tell me what its called?
G: Yes, it's name of product.
M: Alright, I can make something very similiar to that for you.
G: Similiar?
M: Yes, I can use similiar flowers and colors to make something very close---
G: Well, what won't be in it?
M: Well, I think I have everything but the white lilies. But I do have pink lilies that I could substitute.
G: Okay, and that's it?
M: Yes.
G: What are these little white flowers?
M: Those are white mini carnations.
G: Oh. And you have the blue flowers at the back?
M: Yes, those are delphinium. Let me go check to be sure. a few minutes later Yes, we have those, no problem.
G: So you have everything but the white lilies.
M: I don't have the white mini carnations.
G: I just asked you if you have those!
M: I'm sorry, sir, I thought you asked what they were. I don't have--
G: But I just asked you!
M: I don't have the mini carnations, but I have the larger white carnation.
G: What's the difference?
M: They're just larger.
G: Oh! Then why wouldn't you just use that one in the first place?
M: .....
G: You keep making these substitutions and you just keep jacking up the price!
M: No, sir....
G: You just keep upping the price!
M: Sir, I can do that arrangement that you see there with larger carnations and pink lilies at that exact same price.
G: Oh, okay. Well, what else would you add?
M: .... I'm sorry?
G: Do you have anything else in the store that is unusual or special that you could add to it and make it better?
M: Yes....but that would change the price.
G: Oh, that' s okay.
M: I have dendrobium orchids.  Describing dendrob's.
G: Oh, those sound great. Yeah, use some of those.
M: Alright--
G: Do you have that vase?
M: Well, let me double check -
G: Oh, that's alright. I'm sure you've got a thousand other people to talk to.