Santa

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.

RINGS ON HIS FINGERS

Santa and little girl

Over 50 years ago his rings gave this Santa a way.

Men wear rings for as many reasons as there are men, and then there are some who don’t wear them at all.  There was a family tale told by my father about his wearing a ring during his younger years. In the early1930s it could have been a wedding ring.  Whatever it represented is really not important.  By the time he was rescued from the side of a threshing machine where he hung by that ring, his third finger left hand, and his grappling right hand searching desperately to find a saving hold, the ring was history.  With his feet firmly planted on the ground, my father said he pulled the ring from his finger and threw it as far into the field as he could.  Never again to wear any rings until he had retired and my sister gave him a birthstone ring, which he loved.  I suppose he felt by then it was safe to garnish his hand with an emerald set in gold.  My dad was fortunate, and seriously, anyone who works around machinery or construction should leave the rings at home.

When Ken and I married we exchanged rings which had been engraved on the inside with our initials and wedding date.  Romantic as it was, we never looked at the lovely cursive letters after our wedding day because we never removed the symbols of our marriage until they were near worn through and we bought replacements.  But long before the replacements, I purchased him another ring for his birthday.

I had received an introductory coupon for a jewelry store in another city – not far away – but not in our shopping hub either.  The offer was good enough that I drove the miles to see what I could find as a special gift. With the coupon and my tight budget I found just the ring I knew he would like.  The design was probably quite common and might even still be available.  Engraved in black onyx was the head of a knight in full armor, and at the time I thought it was somewhat unusual and very handsome – just like the soon-to-be recipient.  He opened the box, smiled his approval, and slipped the ring on his finger where it remained until it needed repair.

My husband was really very hard on jewelry.  Not removing the rings when he did honey-do jobs around the house or replaced a fence, mixed concrete or changed a tire is not the way to keep rings looking their best, especially when I noticed the palm view.  “Good grief,” I once said, “they’re both bent out of shape.  He reassured me they could be straightened when the time came.  I suppose he was right and being the busy, active man he was I didn’t fret over his decision.

As soon as our children started school, he was involved in PTA, and in our school’s Dads’ Club as well.  There were dozens of activities throughout the year.  Not only projects for the school – building sets, planting gifted trees — but fun events for the children:  picnics for the Traffic Patrol, Easter egg hunts on the school grounds, Halloween parties and bringing Santa Claus to the Dads’ Club Christmas party.

Our close neighbors John and Fred, and Ken were all involved in working together for the good of the schools and the children.  They were almost like brothers, and when they weren’t working with the school, or some other worthy organization, they were helping one another almost every Saturday.   Being close friends, we were constantly in and out of each other’s homes almost on a daily basis.  It was a wonderful neighborhood for bringing up children, and we loved their kids nearly as much as we did ours.

While pleased with their father’s involvement, the children of our three families found there was also a down side.  “I know their costumes were great, but I can’t judge them the best, nor can we allow Fred or John’s kids to win.  As judges and workers in the club, it would look like nepotism.  People would think they won because of us,” Ken explained.  I knew what he said was true, but it just wasn’t fair.

The following year our daughter Julie wouldn’t allow her father to see her costume and arrived that evening as a tombstone which I helped her put on after we arrived at the school because she couldn’t sit down.  Clad in an oblong cardboard box painted gray with the appropriate R.I.P. lettered across the front which covered her head and body with arm holes so she could keep her balance Julie was unrecognizable and a contender.  It was all right that she didn’t win, but she did receive the well-deserved credit despite her father.

With Halloween over, the club jumped right into preparation for the coming Christmas party. “Hey, Ken,” asked the club president.  “Will you be Santa Claus.”  Well, of course, he would be Santa.  He loved that sort of thing, and not even our own children knew who Santa would be.

All the neighbors were there and during the program part where we sang the wonderful old hymns of the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, Silent Night and Jingle Bells while the little ones anxiously watched the empty chair next to the Christmas tree on side stage. Ken sat with me and the children, together with our neighbors and their children.  Our Kevin was best friends with Steve and Doug who were the sons of John and Fred, and all three were among the anxious little boys waiting for Santa.

Ken had slipped away to get into costume, and as the children clamored and began to form a line to visit with the jolly old elf no noticed his exit.  One by one the children took their a turn sitting on Santa’s lap telling him how good they had been and reciting their list of hoped-for toys to be delivered on Christmas Eva.  Santa gave each visitor a gift and they went their merry way.  Many of the small ones still believed and came away wide-eyed and excited about their experience.  Steve, Kevin and Doug wanted to believe, but they knew better all the while rattling off their list of wants and accepting the small gift.

Later that night as Fred and his wife Phyllis were putting Doug and little sister Lisa to bed Doug whispered to his dad, “I know who Santa was.”  Fred looked at his boy disbelieving, yet smiling, and replied, “No, you don’t.”  “It was Ken,” said Doug. “I could tell by his ring.”  I guess that’s why Santa should always wear gloves.

Many years later, and it was no wonder, the shank on the knight ring broke so it was away to the jewelers for repair.  Other than a few minor chips on the onyx the ring looked almost new when we picked it up.  Pleased, Ken slipped it back on his finger.  There it remained; the knight on the right hand and his wedding ring on the left.

Several years into Alzheimer’s when the mind begins to play tricks, and forgetting is the usual, I noticed he began to fidget with things: rearranging decorating items or taking them, putting magazines under sofa cushions, hiding keys, confiscating the remote control, insisting it was one of his engineering tools – more signs that AD was winning.  He also began slipping the rings off and on his fingers, playing with them like prizes from a gum ball machine.  One day I found the rings rattling around the bottom of my washing machine after removing a load of laundry.  Ken, no doubt, had placed them in his shirt pocket, soon to be forgotten.

A few days later he asked, “Have you seen my rings?”

Reluctantly I returned them explaining where I had found them and suggesting that he leave them on his fingers.  A week later while dusting in the living room I found them looped onto a fern nearly lost among the greens.  Enough, I thought, I’ll just put them away for safe keeping.  I believe he asked about them once.  I told him if I found them I would give them back.  I didn’t, and soon they were forgotten.  Apparently, the sentiment and the value of cherished items had slipped away with so much of who Ken was.  The rings:  Still put away safely until one day, perhaps, one of my grandsons will grow up to be someone’s  knight in shining armor — just like his grandpa – and I will pass them on.

Originally posted 2011-12-17 04:08:47.

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