My mother, Angela Joy Brannen, was born August 2, 1951. She grew up in Jesup, Georgia loving life and playing with friends and family. Even at an early age my mom enjoyed being involved in social activities, she even spent time as a Brownie. Her parents experienced 2 miscarriages before having my mom and they adopted their son Tim in 1956. In 1964, my mom’s mother Genevia became ill and passed away when my mom was just entering 8th grade. I can’t even imagine what my mom went through losing her own mother that young. Even after that loss, mom excelled in school and enjoyed cheering and participating in numerous community organizations. My mom met my dad, Dale, in a middle school english class in 1964. They begin dating soon after.
(3rd from the left, bottom row)
She graduated in 1969, and she and Dale continued their education at the Georgia Southern University. After the first year, my dad and his twin brother Derek returned home to work at the local paper mill. My mom completed her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education in Statesboro while they dated long-distance.
In 1972, my parents married and mom started her first job teaching high school english at Wayne County High School. Meanwhile Angie commuted to Statesboro at night and during the summer to complete her Masters degree. She finished in four years with honors, after which my mom and dad decided he would return to school and finish his degree. He and his twin brother decided to work hard and apply to dental school and were accepted. They moved to Augusta for my dad’s dental program while my mom supported them both with her meager salary teaching and evaluating teachers at surrounding schools. In December of 1977, my mom lost her brother Tim and shortly after in 1980, she lost her dad Percy to lung and pancreatic cancer.
I am very much like my mother in that she and I love to be social. She was a charter member of one of the garden clubs, involved in Junior league, Community Service Club, and even taught dental education programs to children. Fourteen years after they married, on their anniversary, my mom went into labor with my brother Brannen. She was such a champ; even having an emergency vertical c-section at 4 in the morning to do so. Two years later I was born in the fall of 1988. Mom taught those years up until she had my brother in ’86 and took on the new role of motherhood; to no surprise she excelled at that too.
When my dad completed his specialty dental program we moved to Savannah and mom stayed busy correcting our papers, helping us with projects, taking us to our after school activities, and even volunteering often as a substitute english teacher. She was an amazing wife always supporting my dad and never once complaining. My friends would often tease that she was on speed because of her outgoing, energizer bunny, 90 mph personality; but she got it honestly and passed it along to me. (My nickname growing up was even MMM, Motor Mouth Miles.)
While I was still attending Ole Miss in 2010, my mom started having some pain all over and noticed that she was mixing up some words. We had test after test completed, each coming back negative. Each test result was a relief but at the same time very frustrating that we couldn’t seem to find the root cause of her pain. We relied on prayer within the family and tried our best to be patient. Dad decided to travel down to Jacksonville’s Mayo clinic and have some test run there to see what they could determine. Part of the testing required a phycological assessment, which they decided to do here in Savannah.
There, they were able to determine a diagnosis; Frontotemporal Dementia, Primary Progressive Aphasia, and Parkinson’s Symptoms. This type of dementia is suppose to affect personality, behavior and difficulty with language and is common beginning around the age of 60. Primary Progressive Aphasia is a rare nervous system syndrome that affects a patient’s ability to communicate. People with this syndrome usually lose the ability to speak, write, and understand the written and spoken language. Parkinson’s is common among progressing dementia patients and it creates problems with movement. This was a terminal diagnosis in that there is no cure for dementia or the other illnesses, only medicine that may help to slow down the deterioration.
(proposes every time he puts her ring back on her finger)
At the beginning, there weren’t a whole lot of differences for mom for everyday life other than switching up some words here or there. Even with such a sad diagnosis, she never let it get her down; positive all the time. When I graduated from Ole Miss I began working at a local cookie store part-time. Mom was fine to be left alone and she was still pretty much capable of everyday tasks, other than getting tired very easily. As her disease progressed, I started to change my work schedule to be off most of the days that my dad was at work (he works 3 days a week). As the requirements increased, my husband, dad, brother and I decided I should be her official caregiver while dad was working. This gave me an opportunity to pursue my personal design business dreams on the days that I was off work. My brother Brannen is in a band, Futurebirds, that tours the country through-out the year. When he is home from tour, he is a tremendous help with mom and around the house. We have never had a stronger sense of family and closeness within it.
Honestly in my opinion, it was physically more difficult to care for her a year ago, compared to now. The main reason I say that being, we’ve since transitioned her to a wheel-chair so that she doesn’t break an ankle. Prior to that change, she was wanting to get into everything and walk everywhere she could, understandably. I would follow her all day with my hands around her waist or holding her hand to ensure her safety since her balance had diminished. Mentally, the difficulty seems to go in waves. Attempting to interpret what she is trying to convey without using any real words is very taxing, but we just do the best we can. We have to constantly anticipate what she might be thinking, wanting, or needing to physically do. Now, our days are spent with a lot of movie time, snack time (trying to pack in as many calories as possible), golf-cart rides, nap time and a lot of love. The whole process seems to affect us more than mom; nothing seems to tarnish her enduring positivity.
Over this process, we have tried not to do too much research about the specifics of her disorders, just so that we can enjoy the time we have while we have it without dreading the next phase. We are aware that most of the time, patients with Dementia and Parkinson’s commonly live a maximum of 8-10 years but this process is in God’s hands and his timing, not our own. We love on her as if its her last and carry on with life as if we have forever, during this “long goodbye” as I heard Kimberly Williams-Paisley mention after she dealt with a very similar experience.
I have learned so much about true love, the way God designed it, by watching my mom and dad throughout this process. My dad lives to make my mom happy and brighten her days and vice versa. I’ve learned how important humor is for everyday life and a relationship. I’ve also learned that it’s imperative to trust in Christ to get you through these tough unexpected trials, and rejoice in Him for the everyday victories.
Being her caregiver definitely comes with its challenges, but I have never been closer to, loved or appreciated her more. It’s amazing how God is able to create so many good things out of a devastating circumstance. She and God together, have taught me about patience, being a mother, and unconditional love. We have learned to relish in every moment with our sweet Angie and just constantly remind her in as many ways as possible how much we love her.
Please join us in prayer that we remain in Christ through the trials that come and are trusting in Him to use us for His glory.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12
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