On this eve of Thanksgiving, one naturally remembers holidays from the past, but on this particular day the memories are especially bittersweet.
My day started by attending a funeral mass for a man who had been in early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s. The sermon given by our priest brought me to tears. It was the first time that I publicly could not control my emotions as I reminisced about my mother and the long struggle she endured in comparison with this gentle mans sudden passing. I have been teary-eyed all day.
This evening, standing in the kitchen making preparations for tomorrow’s dinner, I was looking out the window while mindlessly tearing dried out bread into bite size pieces for the dressing, just like mom always did. When the passing of time and the changing of seasons came into clear focus. I noticed the flickering color from the neighbor’s house across the road. Then realized that all of the trees between our houses are completely barren of leaves. Most months of the year, I cannot even see their house and now suddenly, I am able to watch their TV from my kitchen window. If only the sound on our living room television was up loud enough for me to hear, it would be like having a TV in the kitchen while I work! Where did the summer go?
When I think of Thanksgivings from the past, I think of families and their traditions blended and shared, creating new families and traditions.
I will prepare the same dressing recipe that my mother taught to me as soon as I was old enough to help in the kitchen. The mandatory cherry pie for Dan is baked in the glass deep dish pie pan that once belonged to his mother. My Grandma Wayne always made Waldorf salad, which she simply called Apple Salad. As I look at the package of Brown and Serve rolls sitting on the counter, I can’t help but laugh as I remember that my mother-in-law always made “Burnt and Serve” rolls. The bottoms were always, without fail, burnt to a charcoal black crisp on the bottom. Everyone politely cut off the bottom half of the roll and just ate the top.
Dan and I will have a quiet dinner for two, but generations of our families will be with us in spirit. Reminding us that life is shorter than we think and precious memories will keep them forever close.
Happy Thanksgiving to our family scattered across the world. May memories of the past bring a smile to your face as you share remnants from our past, with your new futures.
Neil diamond wrote a song for Elvis Presley and the first line starts with; “Listen easy and you can hear God calling.”
It has been fifteen months since my mother passed away and nine months since I have written a blog post. It isn’t that I have not written on purpose, I just haven’t thought about it, or I guess I should say I have not been inspired to write. At least not about Alzheimer’s, my focus has changed for the time being. More about that later.
Not only have I not written anything about the ending of our roller coaster ride, or anything about Alzheimer’s, I have not scheduled any speaking engagements or book signings. No real reason, I just haven’t. Maybe I have been so involved in my own self, I wasn’t listening, or maybe God was giving me time to heal, before telling me it was time to get back to work.
The time has come for me to continue the mission that I was given almost twelve years ago. You never know who God is going to put in your path and the purpose they will serve.
Recently, quite “accidently” I met a person whom I now affectionately call my new PR manager. Within days of our meeting, I was booked for three speaking engagements and I have a radio interview coming up next month with MindsEye, which is a specialty broadcast station for the visually impaired.
Today was a group book signing event at a Street Art Festival in a neighboring town. I usually do not do as well as the other guild members at these kinds of events. Today, I did better than I have ever done at a festival, including connections to even more speaking engagements.
On my way home, right at sunset, I saw a sky like I have never seen before. As I topped the hill near my house, the clouds were the prettiest shade of purple that I have ever seen, with horizontal streaks of bright pink. Purple for Alzheimer’s disease and pink was mom’s favorite color, perfectly swirled together. If only I could have gotten to my camera, but I think it was a vision meant only for me. One I will never forget. It truly was an “Alzheimer’s Roller Coaster” sky!! God does beautiful work!!
Two days ago I received a phone call that I was not prepared for and at that very moment, felt like a punch to the stomach. The voice on the other end was from a person that I have never met and would not recognize if they were standing next to me, but it is a well- known name in our community. This person went on to say that they had read my book and were quite impressed and wanted to talk to me, but did not know how. They then called my parish priest and asked for my number in order to discuss the book. Then said, “I have just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, will you come talk to me?” This person is well-educated, a former teacher, principal, and church organist. As I have said in every talk I give, Alzheimer’s disease does not discriminate. A most scary thought is that everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
After scheduling an appointment I hung up the phone and looked up and said, “OK God, I get it, you are not finished with me yet, and with this slap in the face wake up call, I understand it is time for me to get back to doing your will. You got my attention, and I am listening.”
My new focus that I mentioned at the beginning of this post… is the start of a novel that has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s disease. In July, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary at a B&B in southern Illinois. It was a wonderful, relaxing few days. A unique place and owners with the greatest hospitality. As we were leaving, I told them they were an inspiration. Even I didn’t realize the impact of those words. That very evening, I started writing a story that is practically writing itself. The main character wakes me up in the middle of the night with words that can’t wait till morning. If only there were more hours in the day, it could be finished. Writing is all I want to do, my characters have a story to tell. I started with the beginning and the ending, and they are writing the middle and I love the direction they are taking the story. I want to know where they are going to take me.
I do know this much about the story… I am listening easy and I know God is calling!
My husband and I just went on a nine hundred mile (one way) road trip to visit one of our daughters for Thanksgiving. We shared the driving duties. While he drove, I slept or crocheted. While I drove, he worked on his laptop solving work issues. If he was on a conference call, it meant no radio for me. Totally alone with my thoughts on the open road.
There is nothing like being totally alone in your own thoughts with the miles swiftly separating you from the day to day routines to help you put your life into perspective and to let the healing process begin in earnest. As the miles stretched behind me, so did the worries. I also discovered words that I had long forgotten how to put together. I discovered that I really wanted to write again. “Right now!” Not in hour when my drive time was up, but right now! Characters and plots were coming together like never before. I needed to get them down before they were forgotten. I didn’t want to lose them now that they had returned.
These characters and plots are not related at all to the Alzheimer’s Roller Coaster ride that I have been on for eleven years. They are part of a romance novel that I dabbled with more than 15 years ago, when I had a pipe dream of “someday writing a book.” That story has been lying dormant for so long, I had totally forgotten about her. Now suddenly she is alive and becoming her own person with a purpose and meaning. She has spunk and spit. She wants to grow. Much like myself. I have been lying dormant and it is time for me to grow as well. This new found energy totally changes the course that the original first few chapters were taking. It is a whole new story.
In the five months since my mother has passed on to a much better life, I have talked to many people for many different reasons. At book signings, the newcomers to the Alzheimer’s world want to know what to expect and how to cope. I share what I know and let them unload their worries. I unload my burdens to my priest, my grief support group, my very caring doctor and a dear friend who understands all too well. In the Alzheimer’s support group that I have started at church, our small group represents all stages of the disease. We all share equally in our concerns. Each has a story to share and we are there for each other.
A most precious blessing during our trip was spending time with our seven year old grandson. I had taken a brand new 500 piece jigsaw puzzle to work on. Not knowing if he would even be interested or not but it was a very conscientious plan to carry on a family tradition of when my mom came to visit us in Houston, we would spend hours together over a jigsaw puzzle. After the Thanksgiving dinner table was cleared, I got out the puzzle, the little guy right away said that he does puzzles with his Meemaw. He helped sort out the pieces and got started right away with hooking the border together. Over the next couple of days, at various times, everyone had their hands on putting the puzzle together. An amazing thing happened close to completing the puzzle. When there were dozens of random single spots, odd shaped pieces that should be easy to fill and no adult could seem to find the right piece. The little guy would look at the spot, reach into the remaining pile and fill the hole with the first piece he picked up. He did this over and over again.
I would like to think that just maybe he had a guiding hand from above! I know one thing for sure, not only did fill in the holes in the puzzle, he helped fill the hole in my heart this year!
“We are many parts, we are one body, and the gifts we have, we are given to share, may the Spirit of love make us one in deed; one, the love that we share; one, our hope in despair; one, the cross that we bear.”
Our roles in life are indeed many parts, (wife, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, caregiver, friend) connected very much like a jigsaw puzzle.
Maybe now, I can start to put my own personal life puzzle back together again and find the words and the energy to finish many things that have been neglected for far too long.
This morning while waiting for my coffee to brew, I studied my calendar for the week. It looked very strange. I am used to seeing numerous things scheduled for almost every day of the week, but now, only one entry for the entire week. Meeting a friend on Tuesday morning for coffee. Nothing else….no meetings…..no commitments….no appointments….no phone calls that must be made…..I suddenly felt very un-needed.
It has been three weeks since mom passed on to a better life. In the basement are her boxes of personal items waiting to be unpacked, but I am not ready to do that yet.
Looking around the house, there is an endless number of things to do, but not today.
I headed outside in the early morning hours before the sun got too hot. Four hours of weeding, watering, and spreading eight bags of pea gravel (add that to the twelve bags that I spread about a month ago, means that there is only about forty bags left to move from the pallet to my new gravel walkway!) Doing all this outdoor work gave me plenty of time for contemplating where I’ve been and what I should do next.
Over the past eleven years I have made many half-hearted attempts of building flowerbeds and creating curb appeal to our large hilly, but stark, yard. My property is scattered with many incomplete projects because I either lost interest, got sidetracked and never got back to the job at hand, or became overwhelmed with an idea that became a much bigger project than I had envisioned.
What became clear to me today was that I could not fix this eleven year mess of a yard in one day, any more than I can fix me in a day, or a week, or a month. I have neglected me, just as much as I have neglected the yard. We are both going to need time, patience and a whole lot of work in order clear the clutter from our paths.
Yesterday’s sermon at church became a reality as I separated the weeds from the wheat, (no I do not really have wheat!) I discovered a small hydrangea blooming on a plant that has not bloomed in the five years it has been in that spot. Then, while picking cucumbers for tonight’s supper, the words to a hymn rang in my head… “God will provide for all that we need.”
I really must learn to be still and let God.
How many times have you heard someone say, “It is what it is.” This week alone I have heard it about dozen times from various people, each regarding different sets of circumstances. I myself have said it more than once in just the past forty eight hours.
Memorial Day week has always been an emotional week for me. May 30, 1976 – my brother Bob was killed in a car accident. May 26, 1993 – my dad died following seven years of kidney dialysis with mom as his caregiver. So to discover this week of all weeks, mom experiencing a major decline, in some ways does not really surprise me. Monday and Tuesday she was very lethargic, incoherent, not communicating with anyone at all. Eating less than 25% of her food and not drinking any fluids. I had a little chat with God and discussed the timing. I told Him that I was not surprised that this would be the week for me to make some important phone calls to the rest of the family. I knew why I was feeling down this week, but does mom know that it is Memorial Day week? Is she more aware than I realize?
Wednesday morning, I walked in to find mom sitting up in her chair and chatting, alert, bright eyed and responsive to every word I said. Looking me straight in the eye and talking (nothing that I could understand, but talking something serious!) All the while never missing the fact that someone walked down the hall. She turned to watch them, and then turned back to talk to me. We went for our usual walk through the building and she chatted with everyone we passed. While we were sitting in the TV room, she reached for my necklace, I took it off and gave it to her. Then she wanted the other necklace and my watch too. She held on to all of them while we talked. I would love to know just what she was trying to tell me. Her eyes were so clear and intense as she focused on mine. It was a beautiful visit.
I met the hospice nurse in the hallway who had arrived for her bath. We talked about the overnight change. He said he was not surprised, because she always bounces back. He called her a good little bouncer. His final words to me were, “It is what it is.”
Today, I attended the 6th funeral in less than a year for someone from my extended “Alzheimer’s Family.” I knew it was going to be a tough day. Each one gets a little bit harder to bear. When I turned on the car and started to back down the driveway, the DJ on the radio said, “Here now is Elvis to remind you that you are never alone.” I could not control the tears as “my song” started to play. The song always seems to play at just the right time – every time. I think God talks to me through the radio and Elvis.
“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high/don’t be afraid of the dark/at the end is a golden sky…….and you’ll never walk alone.” Rodgers and Hammerstein
It is what it is.
I wish you knew what a special day today is. I have to wonder if you knew the small bowl of pureed cake was for your 85th birthday. Did you know the difference between the cake and the mashed potatoes? The nurses were telling me again how happy they are to see you eat so well. They say you have such a good appetite and so easy to feed. They all tell me how sweet and pleasant you are and they are glad to be a part of your care plan.
I think back to the big party we had six years ago with family and friends celebrating with lots of food and cake. I knew then it would be the most memorable birthday party you would ever have. I also knew your memory of that day would be short lived. But knowing it then, does not make today any easier for me to understand and cope with.
I enjoyed reading the birthday greetings that were sent to you from family and friends who took the time to brighten your room with pretty cards filled with loving thoughts and prayers. Even though they know you don’t remember them, they have not forgotten you. Especially your high school friend Marge in Chicago, she sends a card and note for every occasion. You made a life- long friend in her and she has not let your illness diminish that friendship. She often calls to check on you and me both.
The newspaper called today and they want to write a story about us. They want more people to know what this disease does to people and how it changes lives. You may not know that you are a gift to so many other people, but you are. You are teaching and sharing lessons that no one ever wants to face. There are people who will benefit from our struggles and fears. They will know much more than we did about what to expect and how to get through the hard times.
It may be your birthday today, but you are the one still giving the gift of life and hope to those around you. Pretty typical of the life you have lived, always putting others needs ahead of your own.
Happy 85th Birthday Mom. I Love You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Needless to say, I did not get to do the things that I had planned for this weekend. For weeks, I just knew I was going to go to the hardware store and buy the necessary items for finally building some raised vegetable beds. I have wanted to do this for several years, but it seemed that Spring always turned to Summer before I could get to it, and I was too late to get started, so I always said….”Next Year, I will have that garden.” I am really hoping that this is the year I will be planting lettuce and other fresh veggies and herbs.
I also wanted to go to the Home Show at the county fairgrounds and talk to some people about some basement remodeling ideas. Yes, and most everyone knows that I (we) have not completed the projects that were started last year. But it is always good to dream and design right? Dreaming about those plans is about all that I can do, as the early morning sleet fell like a heavy rain, and later turned to snow. I realize once again that I am NOT the one in control here. My plans were mine, but God’s plans are the ones that I live with and accept. He knows far more than I.
Tomorrow, I will celebrate a milestone birthday. I will be eligible to collect Social Security! Who ever considered that would be a milestone to celebrate? Especially, since I don’t feel that old. What is 62 supposed to feel like? I don’t really feel any older than the young girl who was celebrating her “Sweet 16th Birthday.” Complete with the pink and white carnation corsage that had 16 sugar cubes nestled in among the flowers. What? Nobody does that anymore? No sugar cubes? Not even the corsage? Really? I still feel like the girl in the white lacy mini dress that was a good six to eight inches above the knee, although there is NO WAY I would wear that now! My hair is cut almost identical to the pictures from that day so long ago, except the naturally dark almost black hair, is now a natural smoky gray. Not salt and pepper, because the colors are so evenly mixed, it is just “gray” And I rather like it! Yes, I have added on a few pounds since I was that 110 pound teenager. OK, more than just a few pounds!!! How in the world did I ever walk in those 3” spiked high heels? Good grief, I would break a leg for sure, if I tried that now! I look in the mirror and I see the physical changes, but inside my heart and mind, I really do not feel any different than I did when I turned 16.
Then it hit me, that true AH-HA moment….. I think I know how my mom feels. When she has said that she doesn’t need false teeth or hearing aids, because she is only 18. The times after I cut her hair and hand her the mirror so she can see herself, or when I take her picture and show her the digital image on the camera, she asks, “Who is that old (or sometimes she says ugly) woman?” She always says, “That is not me!” Is she so wrong in picturing herself as still being 18? I guess the reality between her thinking and mine is that I KNOW I am not 16, and she does not realize that she will soon be turning 85. In her mind she will be forever 18! If that makes her happy…so be it.
For a birthday many years ago, a very, very dear friend gave me a perpetual calendar of quotes and passages. She has been an angel in heaven for almost 10 years now. I can’t believe that it has been that long since I have heard her voice or seen her beautiful face. The calendar’s title is, “The Peaceful Heart, Coping with Stress.” At that time, we joked about coping with the stresses of working in an insurance office and dealing with the sales people and the customers and deadlines. I often wonder if she knows what comfort her calendar brings to me now, in these roller coaster days of the Alzheimer’s world. As I was completing this blog, I wanted to see what today’s quote was. Would it be applicable for today? I turned the page and instantly cried great big crocodile tears! Here is the quote I found on today’s page;
“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Teach us to number our days alright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
She knows!! R.I.P. my angel, miss you!
I would say the quote is very applicable!
So on this icy, wet, white weekend, I will forget about the plans that I had made and I will,
“Let go, and Let God.”