Losing a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia is heartbreaking, but losing two can be lifechanging.
It seems that’s been the case for Susan Marshall, author of “Mom’s Gone Missing” to help others through the experience.
“We actually lose the people before they’re physically gone,” Susan said.
Susan spoke at the Dec. 3 virtual Waunakee Rotary meeting about her book and the experience. Providing first some background on herself, she revealed that as a young woman, she had ambitious aspirations. She wanted to attend Marquette University and become a lawyer.
But her parents had other ideas. They didn’t have money to send her to college and believed then that the only reason a woman goes to college is to find a man and receive her Mrs. degree. Their advice was study hard in high school and get a scholarship.
Susan did study hard, with no scholarship forthcoming, it took 13 years for her to earn a bachelor’s degree as a young woman with a child. Susan then went on to earn her master’s degree of business administration.
Many years later, her father had a 12-year journey with Alzheimer’s, and with parents in Arizona and Susan in Wisconsin, she failed to realize the toll it was taking on her mother - at least not on until Jan. 4, 2016.
That day, she received a call from one of her five siblings then who told her, “Mom’s gone missing.”
Her mother was eventually found but had no recollection of driving the distance to Tucson.
On March 25, Susan learned her father was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. The family arranged to have hospice come into the home, and Susan flew out to be with her mother and her father during his final hours.
But his health improved. She remembered attending an ice cream social with singing at the time, and he belted out an entire song. He lived two days shy of five months, months longer than expected.
After his death, Susan was challenged with finding a place for her mother to live near her in Wisconsin.
She said the family had no idea where their mother was on the spectrum, but Susan found a memory care facility just five minutes from her home although her sister wanted her mother to be closer to her.
Her mother moved in Nov. 10 after four days of packing – and her mother unpacking. The two would arrange piles – one to take with her, another to give away to siblings, and a third to discard. But afterwards, items would find their way to other piles.
Seven months later her mother was gone.
The caregiving and their deaths took an emotional toll on her, particularly managing her siblings. But those seven months gave Susan and her mother time to reconcile differences and for Susan to get to know her mother as she hadn’t before.
To manage the stress, she would tell herself, “You can only do today.”
Her siblings were often angry, and she came to realize people experience pain, grief and death in different ways.
All five had different relationships with her parents, she said.
“Most of them were stuck in the ’70s,” Susan added.   
She also learned a valuable lesson about relating to people with memory loss from her father’s hospice chaplain that she relayed:
“To the extent that you can, go to their reality; don’t expect them to come to yours,” Susan said.
Correcting a person with memory loss only creates more stress, Susan explained.

Other news:
-Elections are coming up for the club’s board of directors. The treasurer’s seat is open as is the president-elect seat.
-Rotary Lights is up and running, but there was some discussion about the music. The antenna may need to be moved.
-Ken Pesik reported that Ray Statz has started the pier project at the Village Pond. He has built a platform for the crane and will begin putting the pilings in in January. Some donations for the project have come in, Jim Kattner said.
Birthdays: Dec. 14, Rich Wipperfurth.
Anniversaries: None.