Susie & Herman: A Story of Love and Caregiving

Susie & Herman: A Story of Love and Caregiving

by L.B. Smith


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No disease is more tragic than dementia. There are no physical symptoms of this disease; no need for hospital stays, no need for intrusive chemical therapy; the mind just slowly slips away. Smith tells his story as a caregiver for Susie and Herman, his mother and stepfather, as they suffer from dementia. Often amusing and told in a comic vein, Smith shares meaning in his struggle to care for Susie and Herman, despite their ever-increasing disconnection from reality.

Susie and Herman is intended for adult caregivers with jobs, families, responsibilities, and commitments who have dedicated themselves to caring for their elderly parents, or other dependent family members. This is not a how-to book or a manual on the care and feeding of the elderly nor is it offered as advice, counsel or coaching for the caregiver. It is, instead, a memoir of the ordeals and adventures Smith encountered in caring for Susie and Herman; incidents similar to those that other caregivers face daily. It is a reminder to caregivers that if they deny the anger, frustration and sadness that are a natural part of the task they have undertaken, then the negative effects of those denied feelings will intensify and harden into resentment, pessimism and contempt. Most of all this book is about dignity. Susie and Herman will help readers discover that, by lighting a candle through our empathy and compassion today, we each can illuminate the darkness of the specter of our fears of tomorrow . . . the aging process that awaits us all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558749573
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/01/2002
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

L. B. Smith, has been president of Hospitality Specialists, Inc., a hotel-consulting company, since 1994. Three years ago, Smith's close friend, Gary Seidler, who thought Smith's stories about his personal experiences as a caregiver to his mother and stepfather would provide insight and assistance to the many baby boomers in the same situation, encouraged Smith to put these stories on paper. The result is Susie and Herman, a memoir Smith hoped would capture the experience realistically, but also with humor and empathy. Smith, a native New Yorker, and his wife reside in Boca Raton, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 - Susie

My mother, Susie, was a kind, sweet and personable woman who was liked by everyone she knew. She was born in Bayreuth, Germany, on September 26, 1906, the older of two girls. Her father was a liquor distributor and her mother was a homemaker.
Because of the limited scope of public schools at the time, her father sent
Susie to a private Catholic school. After graduating high school, she attended university for two years, which was rare for women at that time.

In 1929, Susie married Emil Schmidt, whose family owned a slaughterhouse and a meat-packing plant. In 1933, due to the radically changing economic and sociologic ideals in Germany, they decided to emigrate to the United States, specifically
New York City.

Susie's relationship with her husband was loving and respectful. As they worked and prospered in America, economic and political turmoil was on the rise in
Germany. Because of the anti-German sentiment in America at the outbreak of
World War II, they changed their name from Schmidt to Smith. They did this,
in part, to protect me, their only child.

When I was a toddler, the family moved to the Bronx, where they would remain for many years. Despite the troubles in their homeland, the family prospered in America and built comfortable lives. Shortly before the United States entered the war, the Smiths brought Susie's parents, sister and brother-in-law to America and helped them establish themselves.

My father worked extremely hard in the wholesale meat business, rising at 4:00
a.m. and returning each day in the late afternoon. When I was a teenager, I
could never understand why my friends always got to eat the "good stuff,"
like hamburgers and hot dogs, while we were always eating steak, veal and pork chops. I remember telling Mom that I hated eating at our house and wanted to eat at my friends' homes because they had better food. She would try to explain that, because my father was in the wholesale meat business, he could bring home the best cuts of meat, so much in fact, that the freezer would be overflowing and he would give away some to the neighbors. While my friends were eating ground beef, I was eating the finest cuts of meat in New York and didn't even know it.

Susie was also a remarkably hard worker. In 1951, she began working at Bloomingdale's in New York City and stayed with the company for thirty-five years. When she retired in 1986 at eighty years of age, I believe she had achieved the second-highest seniority at the company. For the last ten years of her time there, she worked four hours a day, two or three days a week, just so she could feel useful.

But my parents knew that life was about more than work. As teenagers, we often looked upon as strange or weird some of the things our parents did. My parents loved getting together with friends and neighbors for evenings of eating and drinking. Invariably, the group would gather around the piano. One of their best friends was a piano player who, despite an unfortunate accident that cost him the middle two fingers of his left hand, could still manage to play quite well. Another neighbor played the violin, and it wasn't long before the house was rocking with 1930s and 1940s dance music. To my chagrin, they often tried to engage me in the merriment—not something a teenager looks forward to doing. I sometimes was successful in my attempts to hide, and other times I
wasn't as lucky. Today, I can see why my own kids, when they were in their teens,
disappeared when my wife and I gave a party.

In 1963, my father was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. In the early 1960s,
with medical science lacking today's advanced technology, this diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. Although surgery helped him bounce back a bit, it wasn't enough. My first wife and I were in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas,
to visit her father in the hospital recovering from a heart attack when we received a telegram notifying us that my father had relapsed.

We got the first flight we could back to New York. I made it to the hospital with only minutes to spare. When I saw my father, he recognized me and talked to me for a few minutes, clearly happy to see me. He passed away while holding my hand.

His death was one of the biggest sorrows in my life. I was glad that I reached him before he died, but I was very much saddened that I had so little time to spend with him before his passing. My father's death was especially tragic in that his life was cut short at the age of fifty-six. He'd spent most of his life working, usually twelve to fourteen hours a day, establishing his own business and working away at it. His schedule did not allow us much time to spend together.
I remember being jealous of my friends whose fathers had more time to devote to them. My mother used to say that my father was working that hard for me.
At the time I didn't understand, but having since become both a father and a grandfather, my father's sacrifices mean much more to me.

Mom continued on after Emil's death, working, visiting friends and seeing her family. Traveling was among her favorite activities, and she did it often. She moved back to Manhattan and became friends with a neighbor named Erna, who was also a widow and lived in the same building. Together, they would travel to
Europe each summer, especially to their favorite place, Merano, in northern

Mom was also a superb cook, who would spend days in the kitchen baking cookies and pies from scratch. Her scrumptious Christmas cookies were in such demand in our family that she made enough to last three or four months, and still had to hide them all over the house so they wouldn't be devoured.

Her sense of direction was a wholly different story. Despite her exceptional knowledge of New York City, outside the borough of Manhattan she was like a baby bird out of its nest. Once, on a business trip to the New York area, I
stayed with Mom to take advantage of some good home cooking. During my stay,
we were invited to visit my cousin who lived in New Jersey. Although I'd only been there once, she'd been there at least a hundred times. And yet, once we were out of the Lincoln Tunnel, she had no idea where we were going and we drove aimlessly for hours. Because she had become dependent on the city's public transportation,
driving was never an option for Susie.

As she entered her eighties, Susie began having trouble with the rigors of life in the cold and sometimes dangerous atmosphere of New York; she'd been robbed several times. Eventually, I talked her into moving to South Florida,
where I had been living for about twenty-five years. Although she missed New
York, she accepted that it was time for an easier and safer lifestyle closer to those who could care for her.

By 1993, Susie was becoming forgetful. She would put food on the stove and forget it was there. Going to the supermarket was frightening for her because she didn't drive, and she would become confused riding the bus and forget her way home. It was time to find a retirement facility that would suit Mom and her needs.

Not long after moving into her new retirement facility, she met Herman, the second great love of her life. Herman was a widower, six months Susie's elder,
who was known for his cute, charming, flirtatious personality. Herman, like
Susie, was also from Germany, and he had retired as the general manager of a nationally known uniform manufacturer. He loved to paint, play chess and listen to opera.

He befriended Susie and invited her to come with him on trips to California and Israel. Six months later, to the shock of our family, Susie announced that
Herman had asked her to marry him. The family recommended that they first live together and they did give it a try. However, their traditional values made them feel guilty living in the same apartment unmarried. They persisted in their plans, and we eventually decided that the couple's happiness and peace of mind was the paramount issue. Being married clearly made Susie and Herman feel more connected to each other and at peace with their consciences.

On May 22, 1995, their friends and family gathered for a small ceremony at the facility where Susie and Herman lived to watch two people who had lived a long time declare their love for each other in the waning years of their lives.

As you will see in the coming chapters, their brief life together was a series of highs and lows, happiness and tribulation. They found joy and comfort in having the other always nearby. No matter where they went—walking around the lobby, sitting on the sofa watching television or at each other's bedside at the hospital—they were always holding hands. At the same time, their growing infirmities and diminishing faculties made daily living a challenging and exasperating ordeal for them and for our family.

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