Friends

LETTING IT GO

If we could look back on all of the people who have helped make up our life’s tapestry what would it look like?  Colorful, I’m sure — often brilliant in its scope and varied in texture.   Supposing all of those people were represented by a different color — not a racial thing — colors from the Crayola box and no one can choose the same color.  Now look to see how those colors come and go — in and out of our tapestry —  each entry bringing new vibrancy, contrast and dimension.   At times,  though, our people must pack up their color and move away, but there are times when the color is gone because of a misunderstanding, lack of compromise, anger, grievance or whatever?   The reasons friends and often family members leave our lives isn’t important.  It’s what we do about it that counts.  Do we hang on to the anger/frustration/hurt or do we let it go, and in letting it go is the loom of life left open for more weaving with those colors later on, or it is closed?

On that tapestry there is a major section where there are two dominating colors:  him and her — male and female — husband and wife.  There are times when those colors are bright and other times when they appear dull.  While it is natural to not always agree — and that’s all right — the colors can be dimmed even more over little neglects, hurts, offenses or lack of appreciation just to name a few of the myriad of complaints that are a part of two people living together.   Take note, however, this isn’t about the serious crimes in relationships and marriages which might bring about breaking up or divorce.  It’s about the little irritating (and sometimes not so little) things and about letting them go.  I suppose this is all about forgiveness.

In the beginning of our marriage I was, admittedly, a pouter.  And I was very good at it.  Whenever there was a slight (and believe me I can hardly recall what most of them were) I would pout for a while — perhaps even a day or two.   Ken agonized while I pouted and finally he would apologize.  That’s what I was after:  “I’m sorry.”  Not only did his words say what was important so did his big, sad, hazel eyes.  An apology was always followed by immediate forgiveness on my part.   We never exchanged harsh words or names, nor did we yell at one another.  I pouted and he apologized:  our m.o. for years and years.

One evening at our home after a neighbor secretly spiked our already delicious punch, Ken got a bit tipsy (along with several other unsuspecting guests).  Recognizing his carefree state of being he announced to everyone in the room that I was going to be really angry with him.  Then he added,  “Well, at least this time I’ll know what I did wrong.  I’ve been apologizing for the last 15 years and I never knew for what.”   After that declaration I took note.   When he offended me I told him immediately why I was angry.  Total communication.  I was mad and he knew why.  Furthermore, his apology didn’t come as quickly as they had in the past because he now had to recognize what he had done and make amends.  Pouting — perhaps.  Apology — probably.  Letting it go — forgiving — eventually.

Alzheimer’s has taught me differently — just let it go — now.   When you live on a roller coaster, emotions carry you to highs and lows you never thought possible.  At times I have seethed with frustration and often feel anger to a point where I have to leave the room over things my stricken husband says or does.  Then a few minutes or hours later when he has forgotten he’ll seek me out looking so bewildered and with sadness in his eyes will ask, “Did I do something to make you upset?”    I know he can’t help not remembering, he can’t help being arrogant at times, he can’t help lashing out at me in his own frustration.  Then I hear his words as he recognizes me once again and he says, “If I have upset you, I’m sorry.”  I am swept with a feeling of calm, and to my own surprise I can truthfully answer, “No.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  Everything is okay.”  I have learned to let it go even when there can be no apology.

As I review my life’s tapestry there are a few earlier threads which have clashed with my present color scheme and in retrospect I don’t miss their shades and hues.  My tapestry is beautiful without them.   The past is gone and all is forgiven.  It’s just a matter of letting go and remembering the advice of a dear friend who said, “True forgiveness is remembering without pain.”

Originally posted 2009-05-04 02:09:34.

SPIRIT HOUSES AND ALZHEIMER’S

September 6, 2013 – Spirit houses are miniature dwellings, dangling from trees or placed on a small post somewhere on the property of many Southeast Asian homes. A resting place for former dwellers, coming back to visit as spirits.

My friend Matthew is a dear man.  Just over retirement age he is alone – not alone in the world but alone in his beautiful state of California as far as family is concerned.  His siblings live in other states and he has not been invited to come and live with any one of the three.  That reality brings tears to his soft, brown eyes and to mine.

We might say that Matthew was and is a bit off-center; at times unable to reach what we may perceive to be a logical conclusion to a problem, or to always do the right thing in a social setting. His rationale is not the usual. He does not have dementia, but if AD is a family disease he is a candidate for Alzheimer’s.  His I.Q. is low, but not low enough that he qualified for special ed., but not high enough to allow him entry into a permanent kind of job as an adult.  Socially, his preference has been with the Gay community being involved in limited or sporadic affairs during his younger years, but never entering into a committed or long-term relationship.  Matthew lived at home with his parents contributing to the family income and buying his own creature comforts by cleaning houses and doing yard work throughout the neighborhood. Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-09-06 22:25:28.

PAY IT FORWARD

We were on a date, Ken and I, just getting to know one another.  We had been to the zoo in San Francisco.  While walking back to his car we noticed a man in the parking lot with a handful of tiny American Flags – paper – the size of a postage stamp – glued, possibly, to a tooth pick.  Wearing a military cap, and one of the picks stuck into the button hole of his lapel, he didn’t have to say he was a veteran.  We just knew.  It was also Memorial Day and the veteran was soliciting donations for the VFW or some other worthy veterans’ group.  Ken stopped, took out his wallet and handed the man a dollar bill.  In return my date accepted one of the tiny American flags and, with the accompanying straight pin, I placed it on his shirt collar.  Mind you, when we were dating, a dollar bill was worth a dollar – 100 pennies — and could have paid for both of us at the neighborhood movie.  I was impressed.  My boy friend was generous. 

My husband – who happens to be the same guy who took me to the zoo – has always been generous; not only with money, but with his time and energy.  If someone needed help he was the first to step forward.  Saturdays were often lost at home because Ken was helping a friend or a neighbor do some job that needed one more pair of hands.  So the chores I had lined up for “Honey” to do were postponed until another Saturday.  He had an insatiable desire to help others – to be of service – to “Pay It Forward” long before anyone ever heard of the book made into a movie.

 Several years ago, when Ken was better and we enjoyed life together, we saw the movie titled “Pay It Forward.”  If you didn’t see it the story was about a young boy who believed in doing good.  No one taught him, no one told him to be kind, to be caring, and to think of others.  The gift of charity came with his packaging – a spiritual gift.  It was one of those feel-good movies with a sad ending, which possibly sealed his message of paying it forward on the hearts of all who saw it.

          

The boy’s outline for doing good lay in three steps:  Watch for opportunities to help someone, do something nice for someone you don’t know, and spread the word.  When a surprised recipient asked “Why are you doing this?” the answer was to pay it forward, and the recipient could continue the good work by helping three other people — instantly making the world a better place – and then those three people could help three more people until everyone everywhere understood about paying it forward.

 

Surprisingly, I found on line that through the book and the movie a foundation was created to educate others about changing the world through good deeds, and November 17 is “Pay It Forward Day.”  I am also impressed at how contagious it becomes.

 

My friend Jack who is on Facebook wrote on his page, “I stopped by the grocery store and just staked out the people waiting in line.  I noticed an elderly lady, and as she neared the check out I politely asked if I could pay for her groceries?  ‘Yes!’ she answered, shedding a tear, as did I, and I paid.

 

“When she was through the line I explained how ‘Paying It Forward’ works.  Thrilled with the whole concept, she left saying that she was going home and bake cookies for the ladies at the bank.”

 

Jack later told me he went back to the store the morning after he had paid for the older woman’s groceries.  “The same cashier was working and said she could not stop telling people what I did, which inspired them to follow the example.  She, for instance, paid the dinner bill for an elderly couple at a Mexican restaurant.  The response from their waiter, the manager and the couple was unbelievable.”

 

Comments from other friends quickly filled Jack’s page, and with his permission, some posts are printed below:

 

“Wanted to follow up on the ‘Pay It Forward’ idea, but since I missed the actual day I decided to make it a quasi ‘random acts of kindness’ instead.  I was at IHOP w/my Mr. & son, and noticed there was a woman eating by herself.  When my waitress gave me my check, I asked for the gal’s also.  The waitress thought it was great.  I told her it was because of my friend Jack and paying it forward.  Jack, you are an absolute doll! Someone who understands true charity and practices it.  LOVE and admire your huge and expansive heart.  I am grateful to be your friend. You are amazing, Jack!  Now, that’s the Holiday spirit!”

 

 “Awwww Jack.  I love it. I’m going to do the same……”

 

“I try to do this on a regular basis!  It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to do something unexpected for others.”

 

“I’ve done that on the Bay Bridge – paid for the person behind me as I drive through.”

 

“You made me cry, Jack, you are too kind.  God bless you.”

 

“What a beautiful thing you did Jack.  Brought tears to my eyes.  I will certainly begin to pay it forward.”

 

“You topped me, Jack.  Near Halloween some bigger kids saw my ‘Trick or Treat’ candy in my cart and said, ‘I want to come to your house.’  They were buying a bag of cookies, and I grabbed their bag, handed it to the cashier for her to ring up on my bill, and tossed it back saying, ‘Happy Halloween.’  They were shocked and said, ‘Thank you, ma’am!’ Kidding, I said, ‘I’m going to take those back.  How about Miss.’ I love surprising people like that.”

 

“I give candy canes to the toll takers on the bridge.”

 

“Jack, I haven’t seen you or spoken with you in a decade or more.  When I read your post, memories of you came flooding back!  This is SO YOU!  I will put this on top of my TO DO list for tomorrow.  Thanks for reminding us to take the time to pay it forward.”

 

 If Alzheimer’s had not been in his way I know Ken would be doing good deeds for other people the year round not even remembering the movie.  After all, he was known to many as the nicest guy in the world. However, I know he is not the only one with that title, especially as we enter into this wonderful season of hoped-for peace and goodwill to all mankind.

 

It’s good to know that there are so many nice people out there doing thoughtful things for others, and many more who just need to be reminded. The only thing I will challenge about the November date is that it’s too close to Christmas. Christmas: when most everyone is kind-hearted and thinking of others.  Perhaps they should have made “Pay It Forward Day” sometime in mid-January – after the Holidays are over; when it’s cold and full of winter, when the lights are gone and the Christmas trees are waiting at the curb for the recycling truck, and our thoughts are about just getting home where it’s warm and inviting; when we might be inclined to fall back into thinking mostly of our own comfort — ourselves. January: when it can be dark and gloomy, and the storms of nature and life keep pounding at our door.  That’s when we need to do and say, “Pay It Forward and Keep It Going.”  Keep it going into the brightness of spring, the lazy days of summer, and into the colorful charm of autumn as Jack Frost reminds us once again of another winter, and a year filled with generosity. May we all strive to make the entire year glow with the Christ-like goodness we all have deep within our hearts.

 

Meanwhile, as you are finishing that last bit of Christmas shopping, don’t forget to pay a little something forward.

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Originally posted 2010-12-11 05:41:44.

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE

“Hi.  This is Marvalee.”  “How good it is to hear from you,” I replied, “and what a nice surprise.  How long will you be here?”  Her voice always sounded bright and chipper with a touch of breathiness; the breathy part was that of a singer, and Marvalee was not only a singer, but a dancer as well, and had been most of her life. “I’m here from Maui visiting my mom,” she explained. “It’s her birthday you know.”  Yes, I knew, and I remembered the gala birthday parties Ken and I attended celebrating with Eva as her friends and family gathered to sing and dance away the previous years.  Marvaleee continued, “If you are free, I would love to come over and sing a few songs for Ken.” “That would be just lovely,” I answered.

The daughter of Ed and Eva, who were also entertainers – musicians —  and I use the past tense because they no longer perform.  Ed has long since passed on, a victim of Alzheimer’s, and following his inability to continue as their leader, members of the colorful band dispersed and retired.   Soon after Ed’s death, Mother Eva was stricken with the same dreaded disease, and has been with a caregiver for nearly ten years. 

The family, all from Hawaii, came to the Mainland to entertain in the best way they knew: songs and dancing Hawaiian style.   During the heyday of luaus, fire dances, flowing muumuus and island shirts, the band was very successful.  Natural musicians, most played by ear providing what Ken and I called the most danceable music in town.

Attending a luau whenever we could get tickets, Ken soon became known as a good sport.  Catching the eye of one of the gorgeous dancers, he was soon invited on stage to learn the hula or some other exotic dance.  My husband could be such a clown,and loved being in the limelight.  Wrapped in a grass skirt and wearing a lei he swayed back and forth as if he knew what he was doing.  He didn’t.  When the music stopped, Ken and the chosen others, bowed to a cheering round of applause, and returned to their tables – laughing.  He was, as always, a fun, if not an embarrassing, date.  And Marvalee, whose beauty and dancing rivaled no one, could always find him no matter where we were sitting.

 Soon after she called, the bell rang.  My door opened wide welcoming Marvalee and her friend, Mary.  The two burst into song, “Oh you beautiful doll……..”  My spirits were lifted even with my considerable hair loss and scar across my forehead.   Entering, we exchanged hugs and Alohas.  Approaching Ken for the same hug, he stiffened and drew back as I warned them not to get too close, he needed time to be comfortable with newcomers.  He was no longer a good sport, nor was he a fun date, and he didn’t remember Marvalee.

 Living most of her time away from the Mainland, she had no way of knowing how much Ken had regressed.  The fun-loving man she had remembered was gone.  Rather he sat down in a chair and glared at her, his lips drawn in a tight, straight line.  “At times Mama looks at me with those same tight lips,” Marvalee commented, Mary agreeing.  We compared notes.  We hadn’t seen Eva since January, but at the time she smiled at us and while she didn’t know exactly who we were, she knew we had been important in her life.  “Probably not any more,” said Marvalee with sadness’.  “Most of the time Mama’s eyes are vacant and she doesn’t remember me – nor any of the family.”

Later Marvalee opened her music case and brought out a polished ukulele.  Strumming a few cords, she adjusted the strings and began.  Lilting strains of Island music filled the room and she began to sing.  They were newer songs than what her father and mother had played, and unfamiliar to Ken.  He sat in his chair, his lips still drawn in a tight, straight line.  Transitioning one song into another, the two women harmonized away the afternoon.  Ken hardly moved a muscle.

Her fingers moved across the strings once again and suddenly familiar music filled the air followed by the memorable lyrics from long ago, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happy……..”  It was if the very sun had broken through the clouds.  Ken’s face came alive and he looked over at me, a broad smile erupting on his mouth.  Her words continued, somehow finding a path through the fog of tangled and forgotten memory.  Lovingly he looked at me, just me, and then he winked and pursed his lips as if to blow a quick kiss.   We were two souls locked in a moment of warmth by yesteryear’s melody and words.  A tear or two of happiness spilled down my cheeks, and I felt gratitude for Marvalee’s thoughtfulness and music, and for my brief flash of joy.

Marvalee played a bit longer; songs from the past and Ken continued to smile, but not in the same way and not at me.  Music had reached him, and he must have experienced a spark of reality and realized that something pleasant had taken place. For a time he was social and polite. “Thank you,” he called as the two women left.  I walked them to the door and gave each another hug and another “Aloah, thank you.”  “It was my pleasure,” Marvalee whispered.  “I got to see Ken smile — just at you.”

Originally posted 2010-08-01 00:42:16.

GRATITUDE PRAYERS

A few months ago while still healing from major injuries, I browsed through a stack of magazines, mostly untouched. However, as I shuffled through the pile, I noticed my church magazine, the pages already dog-eared, was opened to an article intended to be the next read. Interesting, I thought picking it up and noting the eye-catching title, “GRATITUDE,” then asking, “Was this a message for me?” Certainly, I felt gratitude. After all I was alive and recovering, and yet I was nudged at times with, “Poor me.  Angry me.  Why me?”  Perhaps I needed to ponder about gratitude a bit more deeply.

Written by a practicing psychologist who had researched the use of gratitude interventions in promoting well-being, he found that by interceding at appropriate times during counseling, thoughts of gratitude were helpful in treating depression and other problems. The doctor also advised that acknowledging thankfulness would be helpful to everyone’s mental health no matter how grave their situation. As a result of being grateful, we could all lead richer, fuller lives.

He also defined gratitude: a positive experience when we recognize gifts or blessings and feel thankful.  It sounded so overly simplistic, yet I continued reading.  Soon I began to reflect on this later portion of my life concentrating on the positive rather than the negative.

In my own defense I counceled me that I have always been prayerful.  As a child, my teachers of faith described prayer as like a sandwich:  a top and bottom piece of bread, or better known in addressing Diety as a beginning and an ending.  Inside of the prayer sandwich we were to express our thankfulness first.   “Before we ask our Heavenly Father for anything,” he explained, “we must always remember to thank Him for what He has given us.”  That could be the peanut butter portion of the sandwich.  The teacher followed giving thanks with permission to ask — the jam or jelly.   As an adult I have wondered if this pattern for prayer was a bit irreverent, but it is such a good pattern, one which I have followed all of my life, and long ago I put aside any thoughts of peanut butter and jelly when making supplication.  Perhaps now, I needed to be more outreaching in my gratitude. 

I recalled from the past that Oprah devoted the better part of a year’s programming to gratitude and journal writing. At the time, I too was caught up in the thought process of making myself more aware of blessings, but never kept a specific journal. Recently, in her magazine, Oprah admitted that through the years she had become so consumed with work there was no time left to write about the good happenings of each day. Reading from an old journal she recognized those great years from before, and commented on how happy she had been.

 The author of the “GRATITUDE” article encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal as well, with the purpose of recording several remembrances each week, but not just in list form. He suggested describing the experience, recording thoughts and emotions for the purpose of savoring and reliving what you had experienced.

In reviewing the past six years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, battling the war which is never won, I remember my friend, Madalyn, who had also battled the same war, until her husband, Darwin, died three years ago. “It wasn’t all bad,” she would tell me, and we often laughed about some of the funny things Alzheimer’s victims do and say. She reminisced about trips they had taken, visits with family which brought joy to her and momentary pleasantries to him. Her happier times with Darwin were similar to mine with Ken. These were all positive experiences: gifts and blessings recognized and thankfulness felt: gratitude.

When I came to the paragraph titled “Express Prayers of Gratitude,” I decided that would be my new beginning. As I continued my recovery in the quietness of my daughter’s home I reflected on being grateful for little things:   One at a time I could lift each foot, place it on the opposite knee and tie my own shoes, I could shower alone and I was beginning to feel confident once more. I wasn’t searching for big, dramatic epiphanies.   Deliberately, I looked for small things to appreciate because there are so many, and small blessings are often overlooked.  Every morning before I struggled out of bed I would look up at the ceiling — still wearing my neck brace and unable to kneel in formal address to Diety — close my eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude without pleading for any favors. (The favors could be requested in later prayers.) My morning prayers would be only of gratitude. I was amazed by the multitude of gifts taken for granted  for which I had to be grateful.

I have been home now for more than two months and my gratitude list grows each day. Ken’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, but because of his caregiver, Ben, I have a sense of freedom. If I write for a few hours during the day, I know Ken is all right. Ben is with him, and I can nap undisturbed because Ben is here. I am grateful for Ben and for his relief, David. I am grateful for each new day, and my growing ability to actually help Ben with Ken. I am eternally grateful for family and friends. I won’t say I’m grateful for Ken’s illness, because I am not.  I detest this dehumanizing disease and how it has robbed us of so many good years. However, I am grateful for my coping mechanism, my compassion and awareness of others who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other devastating illnesses. I am grateful that through my writing I may help someone else; letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. I am grateful for Ken and the wonderful years we have spent together. Every so often, I see a spark in his eye and a smile. For a moment he is the man I married. Feeling gratitude and offering thanks each morning for all of this and more gives me strength.  Each day I can and will go forward into our daily battle, beginning with a prayer of gratitude.

Originally posted 2010-07-25 07:18:33.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US

My sisters and I have unusual birthdates.  Not because 2, 6 and 9 are unusual, it’s that all three numbers are in March, and had I not been born in a leap year, the day of my birth would have fallen on March 3 instead of March 2.  That one day would have made the three of us three years, three days apart.  Even without me messing up the numbers by arriving a day early, the closeness of the dates is still rather unusual.

Consequently, my middle sister, Janet, and I often shared a party:  a few of her friends and a few of mine.  This was acceptable until we outgrew parties with little friends, “Pin The Tail On The Donkey,” and the need for a party.  But do we ever outgrow that need for a day of celebration and recognition for our arrival on planet Earth?  Thinking about it in that manner, birth is really a very big deal, as is its yearly anniversary.

The first year of our marriage, Ken prepared a special dinner for my birthday.  As a former Navy cook, he liked to cook and had a lot of experience, serving me an entree of stuffed pork chops with complemenary side dishes.  What the side dishes were I don’t recall, but I will always remember the delicious pork chops.

Our old movie  camera and 35mm snapshots recorded the Kodak moments of our children’s parties with the neighborhood kids as guests.  All of them dressed in their Sunday finery, arriving through the side gate to celebrate each gala in the back yard where spilled drinks, ice cream and cake could be washed away with the garden hose.

Then as the old film commercial crooned, “Turn around, turn around…..” ending in something like “…with babes of their own.”  In agreement, it seemed that as quickly as our babies came into our lives, all of them grew up into adults and now have families — “babes of their own,” but the birthday parties continue, the family having extended into four generations.

Our daughter, Julie, entertainer extraordinaire, with Ken’s input and help, took it upon herself to host my birthday celebrations with lovely dinner parties at her home.  When that didn’t happen we went out for dinner; birthdays being something to place in a fond memory bank.

This year, my birthday was two weeks after the accident and was spent in the hospital.  Family came for a visit as did friends.  One of my younger friends, Christine — a beautiful purple orchid in hand to mark the occasion — assured me that my neck brace would take away any signs of a double chin, or chins.  Of course, she lied, but I loved her for it.

“We’ll have a bar-b-cue at the ranch when you’re better,” promised Keith.  “My birthday is in May,” added our friend Don.  “We can celebrate together when the weather is good.”  “That will be something for me to look forward to,” I replied.  I needed that — a  happy time to think about beyond the neck brace, broken ribs and bruises.  So for the first time in my life, and with warm weather prevailing I celebrated my winter March 2, birthday in late spring.

In all the years of our marriage, there has always been a party for Ken.  June 10, is his birthday, or as some purest say, “the anniversary of his birthday.”  Some parties were smaller than others, but the important people were always there:  our family.  Other years, especially when time ticked off another decade, we had “grand” parties inviting lots of friends, as well as family.  Some were surprise parties, others were not.  In any event, he was definitely “the birthday boy,” finding joy in the celebration.

“Are you going to have a party for Ken’s birthday,” asked Ben, Ken’s caregiver of four months.  For a moment I was left without an answer.  Ken no longer knew “up from down,” nor did June 10, have any meaning for him.  Furthermore, he no longer had “wants” and all of his needs were met.  “A little party,” I answered, seeing that Ben didn’t understand my lack of enthusiasm.

Ben brought a party bag with cookies inside when he came to work on June 10, and I gave Ken a card and more cookies.  Our children called or dropped by.  If  it was convenient and the phone was close he would speak to them.  If he had to get up to answer, he didn’t bother, saying, “No.  Now now.”  They understood.

At dinner we sang “Happy Birthday,” presented him with a flaming candle stuck in a scoop of ice cream and cookies, and presents.  “Blow out the candle,” we coaxed.  “You blow it out,” Ken grumbled, not interested in the silliness of the exercise.  If birthday wishes were meaningful to him, it was hard to tell.  He opened the cards, read them aloud and tossed them aside. Quickly forgotten, he ate his ice cream and cookies.  Birthdays had lost their charm and  meaning.  Like all of the other pleasurable things in life, Alzheimer’s had taken away that last bit of joy.

However, in the midst of being sad about memory lost, I remembered a few lines from one of my favorite poems:   “Intimations of Immortality” by Wordsworth: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, the soul that rises with us, our life star, hath had elsewhere it’s setting, and cometh from afar…………”  Believing we have always been “us” — individual spirit children of God — living before in a pre-mortal state of being makes us eternal.  What’s more is that I continue to believe the same “us” will  go on existing after this life.  I find comfort that somewhere in time and in another place, Ken will remember and celebrate his day of arrival in that future place.  I doubt it will be known as a “birthday,” but it will be a day to commemorate which, surrounded by loved ones, will bring him, once again, joy.

Originally posted 2010-06-14 00:55:21.

A WINTER’S EVE — FEBRUARY 15, 2010

A WINTER’S EVE — FEBRUARY 15, 2010

It was still daylight when Ken and I left our house to do a bit of shopping on that brisk Monday.  Daylight, yes, but darkness comes quickly in winter.  I had hardly parked the car in front of Radio Shack as dusk fell.  I needed only two small items: a new cord for one phone and an extension line for another, and then we were off to enjoy dinner with our friend, Jayne, at 6:30.

Getting Ken ready and out of the house to go anywhere was becoming more and more difficult as he slipped further into Alzheimer’s.  Nevertheless, he always liked getting out once he was dressed.  I believe winter is often a problem with dementia and related illnesses, the season having so much gloom — so few blue skies and sunshine.  The world had been very gray this season with lots of rain, which California has so badly needed, but the storms came one following another, often without a break.  Ken does better when the days are long, light and bright.  Each year, it has become more of a struggle getting through the dark months.  I’ve often said December 21, is my favorite day of the year because the sun begins its return journey “home” to our house.

I looked at the time — a little before six — time enough to stop a few doors from Radio Shack and pick up a few more items at CVS Drugs.  While we were out, we might as well get everything on my list, I thought to myself, and no crowds.  I’ve always liked to shop during the dinner hour; it seems that everyone is either at home cooking or eating.  With no one in line, we moved along quickly, and then headed back to the car.

Inside our older 1995 Ford Explorer I buckled my seat belt.  “Do you have your seat belt on?” I asked Ken.  “Yes,” he answered, pointing to the belt around his waist.  When his focus is on the belt holding his pants in place, I know I can’t change his thinking.  I don’t even try.  Unbuckling my own seat belt, I leaned over with one arm around his back and the other in front of him, I handed my left hand his seat belt, guiding the locking piece into its slot.  Then, I rebuckled my own seat belt.

I made ready to exit the parking lot, waiting until traffic from both directions had cleared, and then began my left turn, crossing the clear west-bound lane, flowing easily into the medium strip, and then turning and merging into the inner east-bound lane.

Glancing to my left I noticed the solid double line of cars coming from the direction of the freeway.  How odd they looked in the blackness — almost surreal.  Blending together, the moving vehicles appeared to be a horde of great prowling beasts with enormous yellow eyes, appearing almost liquid in their pack-like movement.  Suddenly one of the automobiles — a maverick of sorts — pulled out from the mass of cars, crossing into the medium lane.  I wondered if the fool planned to pass the unyielding line of west-bound vehicles using what was an illegal passing lane for him, but also noted he hadn’t made the necessary hard-right turn which would have placed him parallel with that line of traffic.  Rather, he was pointed in a diagonal path toward me.  I was not concerned as he was a distance from me, with time and space to correct his direction.  Convinced he would make the adjustment, I turned my eyes to my own traffic lane.  Within mere moments my world went black.

Originally posted 2010-05-06 20:15:29.

ALZHEIMER’S IS NOT FUNNY

I couldn’t agree more.  After six years of watching the cruel disease destroy my husband’s mind and the life we had together there is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, but death isn’t funny either.  Yet, we all make jokes about death and think nothing of it.

Recalling a scenario of two golfers at the 18th hole:  The one golfer took off his hat in respect as a funeral procession drove by on an outer highway.  Bowing his head and standing silent for a few moments, his partner commented on his thoughtfulness.  “It’s the least I could do,” stated the now-attentive golfer, “we were married nearly 50 years.”

Obviously, his dedication to golf was more important than paying a last tribute to his deceased wife.  It is so improbable, it makes good humor.  It’s a joke.  Certainly, someone from Comedy Central doing stand-up about dying  at a funeral would be totally inappropriate, but then again at the reception following a burial we gather as a grieving family and friends and relate remembrances of the departed with laughter and with tears streaming down our faces about their life and living as we recall numerous funny moments.  There is a parallel between happiness and sorrow, sweet and bitter,  joy and grief, and it’s through that parallel that we find humor and often a release for pent-up saddness.

It’s true, I’ve never heard cancer jokes, nor have I heard jokes about many other devastating diseases which ravage so many, but there is something about being forgetful and confused that lends itself to humor, especially in the beginning.

When my father-in-law was given his last driving test, the examiner told him to make a left turn at the next corner.   He did exactly as instructed.  However, it was during morning commute hours and the next street was a main thoroughfare.  Nick made his left turn as the sounds of cursing, horns blaring and brakes squealing filled the air.  The examiner turned white and instructed my father-in-law to stop the car and get out.  Driving back to the DMV, the shaking man removed himself from the driver’s seat and told my husband, “Your father’s license is permanently revoked.  He is never to drive again.”

All the way home Nick complained that the examiner had tricked him, failing him after he had followed instructions.  “But Dad,”  Ken told his confused father, “You must obey the traffic signals first.  You drove through a red light.”   No accident followed his error and no one was hurt.  Did we laugh?  Yes, and we have laughed for years.  Is it an AD joke.  Yes, and I laugh, even now at some of my husband’s confusion.

Midway through our marriage, we invested in rental property as retirement income, and for years have dealt with tenants, maintenance, rents, rental agreements, and collecting rents.   Every business has its own jargon with which the owners become very familiar and those terms become part of our everyday conversation.

Early on in Ken’s AD, there was an evening when he looked at me and knew me not.  Suddenly a stranger in his home, he ordered me to leave, firmly saying, “You don’t belong here, get out of my house.”   I replied with equal firmness, “I am not going anywhere, this is where I live.”  Flustered that I would not leave, he looked at me and with all the authority of an irate landlord demanded, “Show me your rental agreement.”  I burst out laughing.  I was his straight man and he was the comic.  Whenever I tell the story, people laugh.  It is a funny Alzheimer’s story.  Is Alzheimer’s funny?  No, but there are times when what the victim does or says is funny, and why shouldn’t it be all right to laugh?

Granted, there must be parameters guiding what is a cruel and in bad taste, and what is okay.  Admittedly, humor walks a very precarious line when making jokes about such sensitive subjects as illness, disorders and even death.   Remember Tim Conway doing his shuffling old man?  Offensive?  No, but it could have been.  But Conway did it in such a sweet sensitive way, that even the elderly, shuffling old people could laugh at the truism.  That same kind of sensitivity is what opens the door so we can laugh away a portion of the pain of some of the terrible challenges which life gives us.

A few years back I read a letter to the editor of an AARP publication in which the writer stated that she would never again see or listen to Bob Newhart.  Continuing her complaint she said, “Alzheimer’s isn’t funny,” citing  a Newhart  joke about his dog having Alzheimer’s, which she considered poor taste.  However, the audience roared — she was greatly offended — and no doubt overly sensitive because of a close loved one having the disease.  For me, being able to laugh — even about this terrible monster — is part of the armor I wear in my day-to-day battle of living with its life-sucking destruction.

Recently on the sidebar of my Blog there was a reference to “Onion News Network.”  The htt://wwww etc. that I zapped didn’t define where I was going until I got there.   Nor did I notice the clever onion graphic because of the slick professional and serious look of the mast-head.  Intrigued by the blurb which said something about laughing a lot or you cry a lot, which has been my motto since the mid 70s when I began caring for my AD in-laws, I clicked to the web.  Popping up on the screen was a very serious-looking newscaster commenting on the results of a study by a “well-qualified” doctor who stated that over 80% of Alzheimer’s patients were  misdiagnosed.

So sincere was the broadcaster I believed I had clicked on to the wrong website, but I listened because of the stunning announcement.  He continued, stating that an 88-year-old woman had been held for months against her will, but was released when she convinced authorities her small children were left at home unattended.  Excuse me? I thought.  An 88-year-old having small children at home — finally realizing that I was, indeed, at the right website.  Continuing with the “newscast,” and a few more startling (and funny) interviews the last clip showed attendants guiding and wheeling elderly, confused and often decrypt men and women out of a care facility into the sunshine, supposedly on their way home.  One agile old man, still in his bathrobe was running across the lawn shouting, “I’m free, free at last.”  I watched the clip a few more times to catch the full humor and it did give me my giggle for the day.  It was funny.

Is Alzheimer’s funny.  No, definitely not funny, but we can laugh at some of the situations produced by its presence.   It isn’t being calloused to see humor in life’s journey even when it’s sorrowful, remembering that laughter is the best medicine in becoming strong.   As caregivers, family and friends of the stricken, we must fortify ourselves with all the strength and energy we can muster in order to continue fighting the discouragement, the frustration, the anger, the depression, despair and the futility of battling this monster of a disease which ultimately will triumph.  Until then, and long afterward, I will hang my banner high for all to see, “If you don’t laugh a lot, you will cry a lot.”

Originally posted 2010-02-11 05:53:13.

SEARCHING FOR THE MAGIC

From the time I was old enough to remember hearing adults shout “Happy New Year,” I believed there was something magical happening as the clock chimed 12:00. Furthermore, I was missing it all because I was a child and had to be in bed early.  Then one year my parents went out with friends on December 31, leaving my sister, Janet, and me in the care of our older sister, Polly, who was 16.  At last, Janet and I knew we could stay up until the bewitching hour because Polly was caught up in her own reverie of sadness in not having a boy friend at year’s end. 

The two of us knew there must be noise to welcome in The New Year so Janet fortified us with metal dish pans and heavy spoons.  Polly didn’t care what we were doing, taking to her bed early.  My favorite big sister planned we would march up and down the sidewalk in front of our building (the fourth floor being our home) banging our dish pans at the first sounds of celebration.   At 12:00 we heard horns honking and whistles blowing in the distance, but that was all, so we high stepped our march and drummed our pans more vigorously.  Still nothing.  “Is that all?” I whined with great disappointment.  “Come with me,” ordered Janet.  I followed her up the flights of stairs into the kitchen where she took one of  Mama’s best cooking pots (the heaviest of her hammered aluminum cookware) and ran to the front of the flat overlooking the street.  Throwing up the window and calling, “Look out below,” she tossed the pot into space watching it fall down and down until it hit the sidewalk.  Still no magic.  If San Francisco had no magic, where could it be found?  Janet tried three more times with the same result, “Thud, clunk, clunk, clunk.”  We retrieved the pot (fortunate that it hadn’t taken out a drunk from the corner bar) put it back in the kitchen and we both went to bed still wondering where was the magic —  the celebration — this miraculous thing that changed one year into another — where was the old bearded man carrying the sickle — and the stork delivering the Baby New Year?

The next morning, Mama tried using the pot being puzzled about why the lid didn’t fit.  Among her many talents, the woman of our house was also an excellent detective.  After a few minutes of interrogation, then piecing together the events of the previous night she was less than happy.  Having saved precious dimes and nickles through long Depression years until there were enough dollars to buy a complete set of cookware, she cried over the bent and apparently ruined pot.  My father tried to reshape the damage by clamping one side of the utensil into a vise and pounding the other side with a hammer.  In doing so a two-inch zagged line appeared down one side of the traumatized pot.   The lid fit, but when Mama used it, a thin spray of telling steam escaped through the crack, forever reminding me and Janet that the magic wasn’t found by throwing pots from a four-story window.  That New Year did not begin on a happy note.  Even so I was still convinced that somewhere there must be wonderment — something spectacular — something special — happening at year’s end — and I would continue my search.

As young adults we gathered with friends, tossed confetti and serpentine, put on party hats and blew tiny tin horns.   Marriage and children brought us together with neighbors to celebrate the incoming year, while keeping our little ones close by.   As the children grew older we were free to house hop, visiting other friends wishing them well, ending with Sofia and Don at their home where we watched the ball drop at Times Square in New York.  Instead of confetti we tossed popcorn, exchanged hugs and kisses and wondered what this New Year would bring.   When our nest was empty Ken and I often took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the city in the late afternoon of December 31.  Getting off at mid-town we walked up Powell Street, through China Town, and over the top of Nob Hill and down to Fisherman’s Wharf which was still sparkling with Christmas decorations.  We wandered the shops of Pier 39, had an early dinner, took the Cable Car back to Market and Powell, caught BART and were home before midnight — usually asleep as the clock struck 12:00.

The last time we celebrated New Year’s Eve was in 2006.  Our daughter, Debbie and her husband Mark, had moved to Ogden, Utah a year before.  Following Christmas, we flew back to spend time with them.  “Come with us,” Debbie urged as the end of the year approached.  “New Year’s Eve in Salt Lake is so much fun.  In a few selected buildings on Temple Square they have great entertainment until about 11:30, and at midnight the city puts on a fireworks display from the rooftop of a downtown building.” 

Ken’s AD was evident with considerable memory loss at the time, but he was aware enough that he still enjoyed life.  He remembered Christmas and its meaning and the Holidays in general — and me — most of the time.   At midnight the four of us stood among the crowd, huddled together, arms around one another as snow flurries melted on our cheeks while watching the sky light up in a spectacular welcoming of another year.

So did I ever find the magic?   I’m not even certain when my “Search” lost its importance, but about magic:  it doesn’t have to come at the end of the year, nor does it come in a puff of smoke, or out of a tall silk hat, or at the wave of a wand, or even with fireworks no matter how beautiful.  It comes in small things and in small ways, appearing so naturally it’s hardly noticed; and  yet it can be wonderment and often spectacular and oh so special, but you have to watch for it every single day or you might miss it.   And what’s most important; rather than finding it at midnight of December 31, I have found it in bits and pieces, sometimes big chunks of it on any number of the 365 days that have made up each incredible year of my sojourn here on earth.  It’s life at its best and at its very worst.  It’s love and marriage — or not — love extended to our fellow-man in the way of devotion and service.  It’s also caring, friendship, success and failure, falling down and getting up, faith and hope, family, birth, a baby’s first smile, first word, first step;  it’s fear, anguish, adversity, worry, work, wealth and poverty, abundance and hunger, disappointment, unbearable sorrow and despair, pain so intense you believe you cannot survive, but you do, sickness and, yes, ultimately death.   But there is also magnificent happiness and joy beyond measure to be found.   Yes!   It is magic:  this grand experience of life is magic, and for those of faith, an even greater magic is yet to come.  So, Happy New Year — and during this new beginning of 2010, go out and find the magic for yourself.

Originally posted 2010-01-01 10:50:52.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

My friend Dorothy cared for her father following the death of her mother at 94.  Dad was 96.  The couple married in their early 40s, had three girls, and managed to stay alive long enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, plus a few more before she passed.   Had the old man been given a choice he would have continued living in the family home by himself because he felt capable.  He never owned a car, nor did he drive.  Instead he rode his bicycle to places he needed or wanted to go, often declining a ride offer.  His dear wife either walked or accepted that offer for a ride to get her to those places she needed,or wanted to go.

A self-taught man and an avid reader Dorothy’s dad would sit for hours, the newspaper held up to his nose as he laboriously studied each blurring word  through what we all called his thick “coke-bottle” glasses.  He was determined not to slip behind on what was happening in the world.   In addition to his fading eyesight, Dad’s hearing faltered even with the best of hearing aids.   Therefore, conversations were cranked up a few decibels allowing him to share some of his insight.   A delightful old man, with a clear mind, sagging shoulders, a hesitating gait and a good black suit for church come Sunday morning,  he could still preach along with the best.   Surrounded by a loving family, grandchildren and great-grandchildren he often lamented he was alone and lonely.

“But, Daddy,” Dorothy would say, her head cocked to one side trying to convince him that life was good and worth living, “you still have us.”   “I know, Sweetheart,” he would reply patting her outstretched hand.  ” but with Mama gone, and all of my friends gone, I don’t know why the Lord keeps me here.  I need to be with them.  I miss my friends.”  Dorothy’s dad lived to celebrate a full 100 years.  Ken and I went to the party.  A few months later he joined his wife and friends.

Back then, during our middle years, our lives sprinkled with grandchildren, family and friends intermingling; none of us, neither Dorothy or husband, John, nor Ken and not I fully understood why the old man couldn’t grasp his still  rich life.   If all friends, contemporary friends, were departed, certainly with sadness, life  had to be all right because there was still family.  Right?  Wrong!  Mankind thrives best when they have both.

Friends and siblings are those with whom we grew up.  They laughed at our skinned knobby knees and we cried together at the movies, and, again, when we got dumped by that really cute guy or gal.  Their concern was pure and meaningful.  Friends were with us at our wedding, wishing us well and cheering that the groom wasn’t that jerk who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and we returned the favors when they stood at the altar with their chosen mate.   As friends we all posed for pictures with our babies and our families grew up together.  Friends shared all of the world and national events of our parallel lives, making our period in time important beyond measure for us.  We wore the same fashions, the same funky hair styles, sang the same songs and danced to the same music.  The “good old days” are still conversational when we get together, our sentences beginning with, “Remember…….”  Friends remember the way we remember.   Now, looking back we see our children have developed their own important friendships, and how their friends are loved by us almost as much as we love our children.  Like us, held together within our own generation, their commonality will keep them close in their own social capsule of time.

With family, and as we are now the seniors, family is mostly our children who are only a phone call away and here at a moment’s notice,  it’s also them we call first with good news or bad.  But  it’s still our generation of friends who know and  understand us, whether they be newly acquired friends or friends since our childhood.   Some of our friends have already passed on, and we miss them terribly.  Now I understand the longing of Dorothy’s dad.   It’s a special missing, a special kind of loneliness.  Yet, there are many friends who remain and for them I am grateful.  They seem to have an  uncanny sense in knowing when to call or drop by often bringing us small tokens of their love when their presence is more than enough.  We still share one another’s joys and sorrows, remembering the good times of our younger lives — and the bad — and they help carry our heavy burdens of illness, no matter what the disease.   Friends and family — family and friends — I am so grateful they are  all a part of my life.  What would we ever do without them?

Originally posted 2009-11-14 09:03:01.

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