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STEP-BALL-CHANGE

I have learned over the past several years that I must remain flexible whenever visiting my mom.  I could never plan what we would do or talk about, I never knew what kind of a mood that I would find her in.  I learned early on to be flexible and just go with the flow.  If she was talkative and happy, that was a blessing.  If she was upset or angry, I tried to redirect, (not always successful) but I tried!  If she was asleep and did not want to wake up, well; it was just best for both of us to let her sleep. Recent weeks have found mom mostly in a pleasant mood and responsive to my visits, communicative, but not always understandable.

Today, when I took her for our morning walk around the halls, we once again ended up at what is becoming our favorite place to hang out.  OK, to be perfectly honest, it is my favorite place and I am assuming she likes it too.  It is bright and sunny, and I always place her by the window so she can look out while we talk.  However, this was the first time that I really studied the book titles on the shelves.  I was immediately drawn to the collection of hardback  Readers Digest Condensed books.  This series of books had been my earliest introduction to best – selling novels.  I remember as a young girl, that it was a big deal when that annual book arrived in the mail, although I do not ever remember seeing either  mom or dad reading them.  I eventually added to the collection with my own yard sale purchases, which I still find hard to resist! So here I am today, looking at this collection and reminiscing about a long ago connection to what I see today.  The first book I pull off the shelf has a title of, “Step–Ball–Change” by Jeanne Ray. I have never taken dance, but I do know that it means to smoothly transition your weight from one foot to another.

I sit down next to mom and start talking about when she used to get these books and how much I enjoyed them.  I said, “Let’s see what this story is about, I like the title of it.”  She mumbles something that I do not understand.  I start reading out loud, and she becomes obviously engaged with what I am saying, she is responding to the changes in my voice.  Though I do not understand what she is telling me, I think she is enjoying it.  I skip over a few pages trying to hurry the story along, to keep her interested.  I realize there is a wedding being planned, I try to focus on that aspect since she used to sew wedding gowns.  I truly animate the antics of the dog so she will laugh. When I read the various dance sections, she becomes even more interested, chattering with feelings, moving her hands and pointing her finger at me.  I realize she is telling me a story.  Could it be about going to dances when she was younger?  It dawns on me that “Step–Ball–Change” is another phrase for flexible!  I never thought about reading an adult novel to her.  I have been reading children’s story books with brightly colored pictures, which she always seemed to enjoy.  Now, I have just realized that I can get in some real reading while entertaining  and spending quality time with mom as well.

Then, I start receiving text messages from two of my daughters regarding a family issue that needs to be discussed.  So it goes back and forth between reading a few pages to mom, to reading and answering text messages, and back to the book again.

“Step-Ball-Change”    “Daughter-Mother-Daughter”

All translate to flexible!!

JANUARY 2014

At yesterday’s visit with mom, I remembered to bring a 2014 wall calendar.  Arriving just as she was finishing lunch, she is awake and content with a full belly!  Her appetite is very good, they all marvel at how well she eats.  I take her to the library where there is a nice bright sunny window to sit near and watch it snow.  Yes it is falling again!  I show her the calendar and tell her that we need to write in  all the special birthdays for the year.  She looks at me and frowns, she asks, “You can’t do that yourself?” I replied with, “Of course I could have, but I wanted you to help me.” She came back with, “Whatever!”  Did we just have a bit of real conversation with a little bit of attitude thrown in?  I chuckled.  I showed her each and every brightly colored picture page.  January’s ice and snow covered scene, looked just like what we could see out our own window here.

I went through each month and made a big deal of whose birthday we were adding and how old they were going to be on their special day (of course I was guessing on some of them, but it didn’t really matter.)  With each one she made faces and mumbled something, and sometimes at great length with great animation and conviction. I wish I knew what she was trying to tell me about that person or birthday!

When we got to April and I decorated the 18th square for her birthday and told her that she would be 85, she said, “What?? I don’t think so!” And then went into a monologue ramble.  Gee what is she saying?  What am I supposed to be getting from this conversation?  Her facial expressions keep changing.  Nor angry, hard, or frustrated, more as if she was  happy and content.  Finally I understand the word “dancing.”  She must be telling me about a birthday from long ago and she was dancing.

Of course she is not turning 85 in her world, she is forever 18!!!

It is only in my world that she will be 85.

We complete the calendar, the snow is falling and blowing so hard across the open fields, I cannot see the road out front.  Without saying anything, I rise from the chair, when mom immediately says, “Are you leaving me now?”  I told her that I needed to leave and get home before the roads get too bad that  I have a lot of hills to travel on and that I didn’t want to slip and slide too much.  She said, “That is OK, be careful!”

Still my mom, telling me to be careful as I leave!

NEW YEARS DAY MEMORIES

This morning while sitting in in my recliner chair, in my PJ’s, wrapped in a quilt, watching the 2014 Rose Bowl Parade.  I was flooded with childhood memories of past New Year’s Days.

As young children we always awoke to the smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven.  Then, the four of us kids, in our pajama’s,  sitting on the living room floor in front of the TV.  Each of us with our plates of the hot rolls with the pat of butter melting and dripping down the sides.

Mom would be so proud to know that this tradition continues on in her honor.  I hope that somewhere deep in her mind she will understand how her love is still with us, when I tell her that the tradition even continued in Okinawa, Japan at 1:00 am this morning.  You see, my youngest daughter is currently living in Okinawa with her Marine husband and teen-age son.  I was brought to tears this morning when I read a note from her saying that she was waiting for the parade to start and that the cinnamon rolls were in the oven. Even with a 15 hour time difference, she still followed our New Year’s Day tradition. That is what I call dedication to a time honored family memory!

We never know what small gestures will make a forever impression in our lives.

Happy New Year to each of you and may you find renewed joy in this new year; as well as many happy memories from the past!

GIVING THANKS

All month on Facebook I have watched friends give a daily account of what they are thankful for.  I have not played along on the grateful journal, however, I have been paying attention and giving it some serious thought. Naturally I am grateful for my wonderful husband, children and grandchildren and all of our good health. But on this Thanksgiving Day, it all comes into very clear perspective for me. I am most grateful for this past year.  Another year with my Mother. While the year started off dark and scary it has turned into a joyful and very memorable year.

A year ago, I was totally drained of all energy, I could barely function.  I  lost my voice last October and did not talk again until this April. I had no idea of the cause,  no amount of medicine, rest or healthy tips and tricks did anything to alleviate the drained, hopelessness that I was living with.  After several different doctors and numerous tests, the diagnosis came down to stress. Imagine That!

Only in the very recent months have I really begun to feel healthy and normal once again.  I have just started to regain enough energy to begin to tackle long neglected chores.

Six months ago, while attending the funeral of a friend’s mother who had also suffered from dementia,  I was totally distraught and wondering why my Mother was still left to suffer from this horrible disease.  My friend took my hands and said, “God has given you a mission to do.  He has chosen you to talk about what we are going through.  There is more for you to learn, in order share with others.”  My reply was that I didn’t want to learn anymore!

Oh, but if I had gotten my way back then….. I would have missed out on so much joy and many delightful memories! Not to mention, additional insight to share with others.

Earlier this year mom would always be found lying in a fetal position, non-responsive, not connecting to the real world in any way. Now, most of our days are spent with her up and alert, she laughs and tries to tell stories. We sing songs and pray together.  She likes when I read simple little stories to her.  I have a new growing collection of Little Golden Books.

For anyone beginning to go through this caregiver path, you might want to consider going shopping in the infant/toddler toy section, also, do not overlook the pet department.  Both departments offer colorful, textured, safe to chew toys without lose parts.

Our children’s toy collection started with a washable, cuddly baby doll for mom to cuddle and hold onto.  A richly textured pet ball offers finger stimulation, as well as safe to put in her mouth. The string of flexible textured teething beads, offer the stimulation of the different textures and colors.  She twists and turns the beads.  Out of the blue the other day, she counted to seven! Unsolicited and un-coached!

When I told her it was almost Thanksgiving and time to cook a turkey.  I thanked her for teaching me how to cook such a special meal.  She said, “You’re welcome, don’t forget to use a lot of nuts.  You need a lot of nuts.”

When she sneezed, she put her hand up to cover her nose, I said, “Bless you.”  She answered, “Thank You.” There may be a lot that she does not remember, but there is still so much that she DOES!  She has taught me to look for the joy and to expect the unexpected.

God has given me a mission that goes beyond being the caregiver for my Mother. As my friend told me a few months ago, He has designated me to tell our story and to let others know that even in our darkest days, there can be joy if we can be open minded and  know where to look!

I am thankful for the many wonderful people I have met during this year that I would not have, if not for this Alzheimer’s Roller Coaster Ride.  I have received cards from people thanking me for sharing my story and reminding them that they are not alone.  People have called to talk about what their loved one is doing and saying and how I have helped them to prepare for what is yet to come. Numerous people who have bought my book, have contacted me to send additional copies to someone else that they know going through this.  A year ago, I would never have thought that there could be anything good to come out of the deep dark days of dementia, but God has shown me the way, the purpose and the joy!

I am grateful for the lessons learned and the continued opportunities to learn, grow and share.

TRYING TO GET BACK TO ME

I don’t know what has happened to the past year. It is very hard to grasp that it has been a whole year, since I lost complete control of me and my own life. Yet, I know this to be true. From July until November 2012, I was completely swallowed up with the ordeal of trying to sell my Mother’s house. This was not the common, everyday responsibility of selling a mother’s house. No, there were two mortgages, both in foreclosure, a roof damaged by a hail storm, only to learn that the home owners insurance had lapsed. Upon inspections, I was informed that there was a gas leak that had to be repaired as well as, many cleaning, painting and repairing projects.

I had an awesome realtor who helped me to fight the foreclosure and we succeeded in selling the house on a settlement agreement. For me that involved long endless days on the phone with bankers and lawyers, court appearances armed with binders full of emails and letters, showing the mess that I was trying to correct.

During this time period, I neglected my home based ceramic business. Fall show time was approaching and yet, I couldn’t find the time to work. The stress took its toll and I hit the brick wall. Absolutely no energy, I could barely get out of bed. I completely lost my voice, it took every ounce of energy to just breathe. I cancelled all of my scheduled shows. Without even starting, it was the end of the season for me. Unfinished projects would just have to wait until I felt better!

It is now fall of 2013, once again time for the fall show season. I am just now beginning to truly and honestly feel better. I am late getting started, but determined to make up for last year’s neglect. I have been saying for weeks that I was going to go out and work in the shop, but something kept getting in the way. Paperwork, housework, phone calls, errands, etc.

Today, I finally said, “Today is the day. I must get busy, I have to take care of business. All of those other things will have to wait…….wait for me!”

Out in the shop, calendar hanging on the wall is opened to September, 2012. I knew it had been a year, but it took seeing those curled pages for my head and my heart to both realize how much time had really escaped me. A whole year! Where did it go? I attempted to turn on the TV, except the batteries in the remote are dead. I am too short to reach the TV to manually turn it on. So I turn on the radio. Hubby has changed my country station to his preferred “oldies but goodies.” That’s OK maybe the rock & roll will help energize me. I look around at the half finished projects, wondering where to start. Do those vases have one coat of glaze or three? What color was I using on these bowls? I can’t tell by looking at them, and the collection of jars and bottles don’t offer any quick clues. Maybe I should just move all of this out of the way and start fresh with something new.

I walk past all the shelves of greenware that needs to be cleaned. I certainly don’t feel like getting into that kind of a mess today. I need to paint. Look for something in bisque, something easy. Not a plate that takes design work and real artistry. Something that can be creative and fun. I settle on a collection of little monster candy shakers. Three-eyed monsters can be fun, colorful and creative. Besides, you can’t really mess up a monster, right? Then I realize I have doubts about painting again, after all, it has been a whole year! I am out of practice. Have I lost my touch? I think I may have even lost the desire.

OK, clean up a spot and get started!! Quit procrastinating! The water bowls were never emptied, the water evaporated and there are layers of peeling dried up paint in the bottoms. There is dried up glaze in a couple of the brushes lying on the table. (So glad that I had a teacher who taught me to never, never, never leave a brush sitting in a bowl of water, at least they are not permanently curled and useless. They are salvageable.) I create a pile of items to take into the house for a good thorough cleaning. In the meantime get out clean bowls and fresh brushes. Go through the paint tiles and choose some colors. I really should do some serious cleaning and dusting, everything needs to be vacuumed, but that will take all day. (aka…procrastination!) So I make a deal with the spiders and other little crawling creatures of God, that if they will leave me alone while I paint, I will leave their cobwebs and dusty homes undisturbed. At least for today. I must paint!

Before I know it, hours have went by, and I have blended and shaded colors, dotted on warts and created some cute big-eyed little monsters. Each with their own personality, no two are alike.

Maybe tomorrow I will work on ornaments.

It feels good to get back to “me!” I have missed “me!”

While writing this little story, a scrap of paper caught my eye. It is a prayer that I copied from a friend’s blog, probably close to two years ago. I keep it close and sometimes, like today, it speaks very loudly to me. I hope that she does not mind that I share it here.

“Precious God, today I let go of wasting time, I let go of procrastination and blocking my own path. I choose to move forward in joy, happily doing those things that are mine to do. Thank you for my abundant life! Amen.” CAM

Thank you my dear friend for your very wise words.

SUNDAY – A DAY OF REST

“On the seventh day He rested.” I took those words to heart today. Upon returning home from church and without a single thought of breakfast, I changed clothes and went back to bed. For over three hours! When I awoke, I declared the rest of the day as a “me” day. A “Chicken Soup” kind of day for the mind, body and soul. I wasn’t going to do anything physical or demanding. I got a bottle of water, and propped myself up in bed with my laptop to do some much needed writing. I have had jumbled words swirling in my head for days. It was time for them to come together and make some kind of sense.

While putting together some short stories for a publisher’s deadline, I also took time to reflect on how my life has changed in the past year. I am grateful for the family and friends that have been by side and supported me during the difficult days. I am overjoyed with friends from great distances and past years, renewed and refreshed who are once again an important part of my new journey. Then there are the many, many new friends that have arrived in my life for a variety of reasons. Each one, I see, has their own God-appointed purpose to become an important part of my life.

Some have encouraged me to write and share my story. Others have paved the way and taught me how to achieve the mission that I had been guided to take on. Some have pushed me to stretch myself to become stronger than I ever dreamed possible. Others have encouraged and even created new paths for me to walk.

There have even been a few that brought forth disappointment, criticism and sadness, but they served a much needed purpose as well. The disappointment helped to put my life into perspective, and give thanks and appreciation for what is truly important.

A year ago I would never have thought that I would be writing anything that had to meet a publisher’s deadline! I would have never expected that I would be meeting and talking to well-known TV and radio personalities, as well as influential business people, asking me to be a part of their lives. Even more surprising is that I can actually stand up in front of a room full of total strangers and tell my story of being a caretaker and how the world of dementia has affected my own life.

I have reason to believe that God is leading me to something even bigger to come. I have a meeting later this week to assist and help guide someone else in telling their own story of Alzheimer’s caretaking. I am still in my own learning process, and yet I am asked to help someone else.

Today’s dinner was also a “Chicken Soup” kind of dinner. Created with left-overs from Friday night’s awesome baked chicken, found on a blog written by one of the new people to come into my life this year. When I first read her blog, bragging about how good the chicken is, my first thought was, “Really? Baked chicken is baked chicken!” WRONG! This really was as good as she said it was! Even my husband commented on how good it was. (If you know him, you know he is a man of very few words!) Check out her blog and try the recipe for yourself. http://www.carischaeffer.com

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES AND LESSONS TOO

I think we are all aware that sometimes a childhood memory will creep into our thoughts without any warning. Sometimes they are happy, others not so much. Sometimes it is such a minor detail that you wonder why it even crossed your mind, and where had it been hiding all of these years?

I had a very full weekend that involved a couple of days of preparation ahead of time. Two full days of assembly line baking for a couple of church events that just happened to fall on the same day. Wishing that I had a couple of grandkids nearby, so they could lick the beaters, so I wouldn’t be tempted to be a kid again and lick them myself! (Yes,of course I did!)
As I had the spatula in hand to scrape the excess cake batter from the beaters, I had a sudden flash of watching my Mother meticulously scraping the beaters clean. So clean, there was nothing left to lick, nor to be wasted in the dishwater. She could scrape a beater “slicker than a whistle!” I can remember commenting that she had left nothing to lick. She told me that she thought I was too old to lick the beaters, but with a smile on her face, she quickly dipped the beater back into the bowl, so that I would have something to lick!
Why the marathon baking sessions?
The second Saturday of the month is our parish Healing Mass and Prayer Shawl Blessing followed by a social hour with coffee and sweets. I usually bake or sometimes buy something to contribute to the event. It also happened to be our parish picnic. Cakes, pies, cookies and brownies were needed for desserts for the chicken dinner as well as prizes at the cake stand. Following in my Grandma Wayne’s footsteps, I baked a little bit of everything, to make sure that all bases were covered. Of course there were a couple new recipes that I wanted to try out, and then there is the no fail standbys’ that you just have to take. Must bake a little extra to insure that there is enough. Oh and don’t forget some cupcakes for the kids!
Saturday morning had arrived, up at 6:00 and at church by 7:30 with two different treats plated. I set up the prayer shawls for the blessing. Other ladies are setting up the coffee and snacks, tables and chairs. Mass starts at 8:00. Followed by fellowship with friends. I return home at 10 to pick up hubby so that we can go downtown to the farmers market for fresh fruits and veggies. Home at noon, time for a nap! Lunch and pack up for my afternoon duties! I carry four different baked goods out to the car for the picnic. (In a flash I visualize Grandma loading up her big red Plymouth with all of her homemade goodies!)

I worked from 2-4 serving fried chicken at the carry-out line, then I changed clothes and shoes, to head across the parking lot to church for evening Mass, where I was scheduled as a Eucharistic Minister, hubby had arrived in time for Mass, afterwards, we sat down to eat dinner with friends that we haven’t seen since last year’s picnic. We then went outside to participate in several games, except for the cake booth!!! I had no desire to win one!! I guess I could have donated it back, if I did win it. I should have played, I would have paid true homage to Grandma. She always ran the cake stand at the Cahokia Fireman’s picnics. She also made aprons for the apron booth, and had done more than her fair share of quilting on the raffle quilts, as well as embroidered pillowcases for the pillowcase booth. Not to mention the group of ladies who gathered in her kitchen to make the homemade potato salad and coleslaw. (And I helped!)

People have always asked me why I thought I had to do it all, especially my Mom. It’s simple, I learned it from my Grandma!

Did she know that she was teaching lessons that would be passed on to future generations? I hope she knows I was paying attention and that I have passed the gene on to my daughters!

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