peace

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Decorated Christmas Tree
Even something as simple as putting up the Christmas tree could be a great help for Alzhiemer’s caregivers.

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Originally posted 2011-12-10 05:37:08.

FINDING JOY IN SERVICE

Young hand with older hand

The helping hand of service comes to young and old alike.

“Do I have to go?” whined my 14-year-old son Keith, hanging up the phone.  “Go where?” I asked. “And who was on the phone?”  “It’s that old guy from church.  He reminded me that I’ve been assigned to be his junior companion,” he continued.  “We’re supposed to go visit some more old people to make sure they’re all right.”

Although his description was lacking in cheerful good manners and enthusiasm, I had to admit it was honest and somewhat accurate.  I smiled in spite of myself knowing what he was talking about and I also knew who had called.  In our church, the goal is to have every member visited by another lay member of the congregation, representing clergy, on a monthly basis to make sure that all is well in the home, and to leave the family, or member, with a Gospel message.  The old guy to whom Keith had referred, those many years ago, was about the same age as Ken, and each old guy had a junior companion called to do this “duty” at age 14.

“You don’t have to go,” I reminded him.  “You do have a choice, but you know you should go — and with a willing heart.  It really won’t take very long, and guess what?  When you’re finished you will feel good about yourself because you have extended service to those who may be in need.  Perhaps just your visit and concern will bring someone a bit of unexpected happiness.”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t grown up doing good deeds and giving service.  He was a wonderfully thoughtful young man.  Helping his grandparents on their little farm out of Sebastopol was service, but it was also something he wanted to do.  Carrying in groceries for a neighbor was what he chose to do.  Being kind and doing favors for others was part of his nature. Being a junior companion was an assignment by clergy, and different from what had been familiar. He wasn’t really certain if it would fit into his comfort zone.  It was also a step up the ladder in extending service.  Nevertheless, he also understood he was free to accept or refuse the assignment.  When the doorbell rang, though, he greeted his senior companion with a smile and a hardy handshake.

An hour or so later Keith popped back into the room wearing a happy face, and informing me that he “Kinda liked the old guy.”  Then he added, “You’re right mom.  I do feel good and I’m glad I went.”

Whatever the ingredient that makes us feel good following service to others appears to be a mystery; must be some kind of magic that fills our soul and lifts our spirit.  Or, possibly, it isn’t a mystery at all, nor is it magic. Wasn’t Jesus the example for extending service as He healed the sick, paused to give counsel to the wayward, blessed the children, caused the blind to see – the crippled to walk, and cured the lepers?  Could it be that our hearts are somehow touched by His Spirit when giving Christ-like service?

Many are drawn to serving others through career choices: doctors, nurses, health care providers and caregiver professionals just to name a few, but that isn’t the service to which I am referring – although greatly needed and appreciated.  It’s the giving of service without compensation that is true charity: service such as provided by the valiant sisters of the order and Mother Teresa.  While we all can’t dedicate a lifetime to mankind, it’s that spirit of charity which needs to be embraced.  For many, however, this kind of understanding, learning and making it all a part of our lives is a process.

Granddaughter Kristina and her boyfriend Chris had dropped in Valentine’s evening to say hello and stayed for dinner with me and Ken. Then they were off, but not to a party.  Instead the two visited with a disabled couple she had worked for during the past year.  A few days later she told me it was the nicest Valentine’s Day ever.  I asked her what she did that made it so special.  “I spent it with some people I love,” she answered, smiling at me.  I gave her an extra hug saying that I loved her too — and brushed away a tear.

Was her grandfather fun? Was I fun?  How about the disabled couple?  I doubt any of the four of us were a barrel of laughs.  Yet, she felt good about the visits, and I said to me, “She is learning.”  It tells us in Proverbs, “Your own soul is nourished when you are kind.”

So it is as we journey through life we mature and appreciate that our time here needs balance and is made better by many experiences, both good and bad.  It is never made whole with only pleasure and fun.  Actually, it’s just the opposite beginning with some kind of sacrifice —  extending the hand of help and service that helps build our firm foundation – the most important part of us for a truly balanced life.

Admittedly, there are times when we feel we are out of balance.  When the weight of what seems to be never-ending adversity causes us to wonder and ask, “Why me?”  The old axiom, “You have to keep on doing it ‘till you get it right” might be funny when applied to justifying your bank statement, but caring for someone stricken with the likes of AD seems to make one crumble in frustration of doing the same thing day after day wondering if you’ll ever get it right.  Will there will ever be “a time for me “ – a time when this weight will be lifted?  Maybe “yes” maybe “no,” but it’s in that interim where we can concentrate on and accept “what is,” savoring the positive which can come from the negative: the positive being the building of our own strengths and character.  Have I arrived at this destination?  Goodness no, but I’m striving daily in that direction.

Ken and I are into the eighth year in our battle with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve come to accept it as the way of our life for as long as it lasts.  His mind is without memory or reason, but his physical health is very good.  Through these past years I have felt the highs and lows of just about every emotion I can name, gnashing my teeth, shedding tears (I still do), and pounding my fist into a pillow (not anymore) with little changing except Ken’s AD becoming worse. I am certain most caregivers have felt the same anger, frustration and defeat until they reach up to Him who can bless them with peace.

As acceptance became a focal point for me I have learned to be more relaxed, relying on another sage bit of advice, “Let go and let God.”  I strive to do that for I know I am not alone.  I know that my Lord is with me bringing comfort when I despair and guiding me along this rocky path.

I am constantly learning and looking for new ways to be more helpful to the man I married; the man to whom I promised my love through sickness and health, and to care for him in his time of need.

In my role as caregiver, delivering service to Ken who has been my loving companion for more than 5 decades I am reminded, and will quote once again one of my favorite scripture passages.  This one from Matthew when Jesus said, “For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and ye took me in, naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee and hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Originally posted 2011-03-28 02:51:22.

CHOOSING HAPPINESS OVER DESPAIR AND ALZHEIMER’S

For Charlie Brown’s group happiness is a warm puppy.  For many kids it’s Santa Claus in the mall, Christmas morning and a new bike.  For lovers it’s their next meeting; a bride and groom their wedding day; students – graduation; for the unemployed it’s finding a job, and to a billionaire watching his stocks double is cause to gleefully celebrate.  For a young couple happiness comes with a new baby, and baby’s first smile brings immeasurable joy to its mother.   Happiness can be as constant as the surf splashing against the sand, elusive as shadows on a moonless night, and as fragile as a dandelion puff.  Happiness is many things to many people, but for me happiness is a choice.

I used to be a pouter.  Not recently, but when I was a young teen I somehow came to the belief that if I looked sad there would be a vast number of boys and girls who would want to be my friend if only to cheer me.  Illogical conclusion: sad had more appeal than happy. 

Our group of girls often went to local teen dances on Friday and Saturday nights.  The adorable bouncy girls with smiling faces were soon asked to dance while I sat against the wall, arms folded across my chest looking glum, hoping a cute guy, or not so cute, would take pity and ask me to dance.  I was the absolute archetype of a wall flower, and I didn’t know why, nor did any of my friends tell me to put a smile on my face and look happy.  Maybe my girl friends didn’t see me as a sad-looking dance dunce, but I was and I didn’t like it

Eventually I figured it all out.  It was more of a growing process, a maturing process when realization cleared the mystery concerning adorable girls.  It wasn’t about adorable, but more about bouncy and smiling faces.  My friends looked happy and I didn’t.  No one, even the kindest of cute guys, or not so cute, wanted to be stuck for any amount of time with Saddie Sad Sack.  So it was that I began my long journey in choosing to be happy.  Happiness didn’t come from without, it came from within.

Happy is an easy choice when the fates smile, when Mr. Right comes along, when babies arrive in addition to promotions and salary increases, when a new house is acquired and the lawn gets cut.   Just as in the story books:  “And they lived happily ever after.”

Time for a reality check:  Snow White’s babies had colic and threw up all over her favorite dress (actually her only dress), Cinderella’s prince was a lazy oaf who expected her to run the entire kingdom by herself, and Beauty’s beast, after all was said and done, turned out to be a grumbling turkey, but still decked out in the clothing and skin of a handsome fairy-tale prince. 

In spite of it all Snow, Cinder and Beau decided to work through life’s problems with their men, Charming, Charming and Charming, seeking help if needed setting happiness, once again, as their goal.   The babies grew into delightful children; the lazy oaf, threatened by Cinder’s Fairy Godmother who arrived with a pumpkin and a bunch of rats, fully accepted his responsibilities.  Under the prince’s guidance the kingdom flourished even without the touch of Godmother’s magic wand.  The doctor assigned to our snarling, growling beast removed several irritating rose thorns from Charming’s bottomside, which had been hidden under his very tight tights, returning him immediately to the prince of Beauty’s dreams.   

Life does ebb and flow.  While we would all like to remain in the flow, it just doesn’t work that way.  Adversity is a part of everyone’s life no matter what their rank or station.

If we are smart, during the good times when choosing to be happy is easy, we need to recognize our bounty of blessings and place them in a memory bank for future reference.  It’s during the ebb, the tough times, getting caught in the under current of misery when it’s difficult to say, “I’m happy.”  Yes, life can be miserable, and at times we all walk through the Valley of Doom and Gloom.  Interesting place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there.  Remaining in misery unless there is a clinical problem is also a choice.

It is not my intention to be a Pollyanna, constantly in denial, never acknowledging that things may go wrong, did go wrong, are wrong, or that life can become an overwhelming challenge, or that life is, at times, the absolute pits.  However, it is my intention to advise all the Snow Whites,  Cinderells,  Beautys, and their Princes Charming to recognize that life does have a mean left hook and when you get whacked it’s best to meet it head on.  Dodging, denying, and hiding under the covers won’t make adversity go away.

When Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it was a tragic blow even though we were not surprised.  Knowing it was deeply entrenched in the family we had  thought we could somehow sidestep it if he ate right, exercised, and continued to live a clean, wholesome life.  We were wrong.  “Your husband has Alzheimer’s.”  That’s what the doctor said and that’s how he said it.

Did we go home happy, smiling, clicking our heels about his disease?  Of course not!  No matter how well prepared we were, the news was devastating.  We were sad.  We cried and finally we accepted the diagnosis, and then we took a road trip, planning to squeeze everything we could into a limited amount of time before the disease robbed Ken of his ability to be Ken.

I have long understood about the link between acceptance and happy before I listened to Michael J. Fox as he was interviewed for his book, “Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist – Always Looking Up,” but it was good to hear him verbalize what he too had discovered.  It was accepting his disease that finally brought him to happiness after making peace with Parkinson’s and then moving forward with his life.  Fox also emphasized how awful it would be to live in despair, but on the plus side mentioned how this adversity had led to so many amazing people and places.  I couldn’t agree more for I too have rediscovered the goodness, compassion, love and concern which is found in good people everywhere.

So I choose to be happy.  I answer the phone with a cheerful voice and keep the “Woe is me” off limits. Do I have sad times?  Do I cry?  Certainly, but I don’t remain in the negative because I choose to be happy.  There is not room for both.  My new answer to, “How are things going?” is “Smoothly.”  My grandson, Brain, tells me a better word is “Swimmingly,” whatever that means.  But then again “Swimmingly” might be a good response if it means going against the current and making it?  Perhaps I will change “Smoothly” to “Swimmingly.” 

Looking way down from where I perch in the sunlight I see the dark pit of despair, but using my right to choose I choose to not go there.  Being happy while coping with any of the Devil’s diseases is something one must choose to be on a daily basis.  That’s why each and every morning I remind myself, “Today, I choose to be happy.”

Originally posted 2010-09-12 04:16:57.

I PRAY FOR YOU ENOUGH…………

Just after I finished my previous writing, “Through The Storm,” I received a lovely email from my cousin, Penny, in Oregon.  I could see by the enormous block of addresses that she had, indeed, sent it to all of her friends and family.  It was one of those emails worth forwarding titled “I Pray For You Enough…..”  After reading it my thoughts were, “How nice.”  I had received a similar one a while back titled “I Wish You Enough……”  The contents were the same, the story line the same, but a little different in that the prayer story involved a mother and her daughter, while the wish email was about a father and daughter.  I wondered if an original story had been written by the talented writer anonymous, and during the little email’s travels over the waves of the internet, the various recipients tweaked it just a bit to suit their own fancy, with change happening in small increments.  In any event I’ll briefly relate the story in first person, but I’m not the person:

At the airport I was waiting for my flight when I noticed two women standing nearby.  So close, in fact, that I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.  As the daughter said goodbye before rushing to her flight she said, “I pray for you enough……”  The mother returned the phrase, “and I pray for you enough……”  Tearfully, the daughter scurried off to catch her plane as the forlorn mother watched.  I could tell she was near tears, but I didn’t want to intrude.  However, she caught my eye, knowing that I must have heard their conversation and asked, “Have you ever said goodbye for the last time?”  I answered that I had, many times.  Tears began to flow as she sat down next to me, her sad words revealing that she had a fatal health condition and her daughter’s next visit would be for her funeral.

While her explanation allowed me to know she was dying, I wondered about the phrase used by both women.  Timidly, I asked, “What did you mean when you both said I pray for you enough?”  She went on to tell me of a family tradition which had been passed along for generations, praying that their loved ones would have enough to meet their needs and to bring  joy to their lives.  Then, as if memorized she said,

“I pray for you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.

“I pray for you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.

“I pray for you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.

“I pray for you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.

“I pray for you enough gain to satisfy your wants, but especially your needs.

“I pray for you enough loss to appreciate all you possess.

“I pray for you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbyes.”

Seven simple prayers covering just about anything one would need, except when life changes dramatically as it does with illness.  The mother was ill.  What would she need in the way of, “I pray for you enough……” for her condition?  And I thought of AD and Ken, and myself as a caregiver.  Not only us and our needs, but the needs of caregivers all over the world who have accepted this awesome responsibility of caring for the dying no matter what the cause.   (Please note I am not including prayer for healing because I’m only considering terminal illness where there is no hope.)  So for the patient, these six are a beginning:

I pray for you enough peace of mind to get you through the day without — or at least with only a minimum — of anger, agitation and mood swings.

I pray for you enough memory so you can take care of your personal needs: a shave and a shower without help.

I pray for you enough friends and family so you can talk, even if it’s only ramblings.

I pray for you enough strength so you can walk a short distance with your caregiver, and get from one room to another without help.

I pray for you enough respect and love from others, that they remember who you were and not what you have become.

I pray for you enough medication to keep you free from pain, to calm your nerves and allow you to relax and sleep.

As a caregiver, the most often-asked question I hear is, “What can I do for you?”  I have “Ken sitters” a phone call away.  I have friends who drop by with a meal for two, cake, a plate of cookies, a book to read, Monday night dinner at Jayne’s house, phone calls so I can sit and chat, friends who invite us to social events even if Ken acts strange, notes in the mail telling me they are thinking of us.   How blessed I am, but even with such awesome support we caregivers need all the help we can get — including prayers.  I have listed a few for starters:

I pray for you enough sleep and rest.

I pray for you enough knowledge, skills, support and help in handling stress.

I pray for you enough friends with soft shoulders to cry on.

I pray for you enough patience to get through the day.

I pray for you enough memories of the good times in life and enough erasers to dim some of the bad.

I pray for you enough love and devotion from all those who know you, and enough remembrances to know you are cherished.

I pray for you enough faith to remind you that there is life after Alzheimer’s (and all of those other disease horrors).

Originally posted 2009-10-24 06:44:13.

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