FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S

You may recall that back on March 1, we accepted the #40Bagsin40Days decluttering challenge for Lent. We’ve been doing quite well and have come across some interesting and long forgotten items in the process. But, one that I came across yesterday really touched my heart and made me think.

It was a copy of the speech I wrote for an Alzheimer’s Candlelight Memorial Service, about a year after my Mom passed away. It brought back so many memories of that heartbreaking experience, but it was also eye-opening when I realize, as I stare my upcoming 70th birthday in the face, that my Mom had recently turned 71, when she and my Dad moved from Denver back to Sioux City and into our home because neither of them were able to live on their own any longer. The theme of that service was “Face to Face With Alzheimer’s” and I would like to share that speech with you all today. It’s as valid today as it was then as Alzheimers continues to strike so many families. Since this was written, my own mother-in-law and brother-in-law have also fought battles with dementia.

When Alzheimer’s Disease stole Jeannette Williams memory and then her life, she was no different from millions of others facing the same fate…except for one thing. She was my mother.

It started out with little things – lapses in memory – forgetting to call or send a card on my birthday – incidents that we might have found strange momentarily, but quickly shrugged off. She was hundreds of miles away and we only saw her a couple of times a year.

But, in January of 1995 my Dad’s diagnosis of terminal cancer brought my parents from Colorado back home to Iowa…and brought us all FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S.

I know of no other disease that focuses our attention so closely on the human face…because it is the eyes of the Alzheimer’s patient that reflect so much of what they’re going through. In their eyes, you may one day see confusion and the next day see blissful acceptance of their world. One day you see fear and the next day, child-like trust. Eyes that seem to be desperately searching for answers today may, tomorrow, offer an overwhelming outpouring of warmth and love.

Alzheimer’s Disease is often referred to as tragic – destructive – and devastating…and it is all of those things and more. But, over the years, I have come to realize that we can find another side to Alzheimer’s if we try…a side that softens the tragedy, limits the devastation and helps to provide the balance so necessary in maintaining a healthy outlook on life.

Nicholas Spark’s bestseller, “The Notebook”, chronicles the enduring love story of a couple, who in their golden years, suddenly find themselves FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S. It recounts their experiences as they adapt to her gradual loss of memory and function and his discovery that with acceptance of the changes and adaptation to the circumstances, he could, in some way, turn tragedy into triumph. He wrote…”I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered. But most of all, I learned that life is about sitting on benches next to ancient creeks with my hand on her knee and sometimes…on good days…for falling in love.”

I took my mother out to buy a birthday card and gift for my Dad shortly after they moved in with us. When we got home, I gave her a pen and suggested she sign the card. At that time, her speech and writing skills were waning but not gone. She took the pen and wrote Happy Happy. Love J…and the rest of her name just trailed off. She handed the card back to me and smiled broadly. When Dad opened the card he started to cry. It was so hard for him to accept what was happening to her and to see graphic evidence of her decline. But, looking back, I vividly see what he didn’t see…that as she wrote Happy Happy instead of Happy Birthday, she truly was Happy Happy at that moment. Happy that she was able to give him a card on his birthday just as she had for the previous fifty years that they had been married. And, I know that is true because when I close my eyes I can still see hers shining as she handed the card to me.

I had no idea when my parents moved in with us, to what extent Alzheimer’s had altered their lives but I quickly came to realize that my mother had very little ability to care for herself at all at that point. She did not know how to run her own bath water and get in the tub or how to select appropriate clothing and put everything on in the proper order. Since Dad was too ill himself to continue caring for her, I found myself in an abrupt role reversal situation. As I helped her into the tub that first time, she looked at me with the faith of a child, just as I must have looked at her decades before when the roles were reversed, and she said, “You’re a good one.” That scenario brought tears to my eyes at the time, but those words are one of my most treasured memories today.

The following year, after my Dad had passed away and my mother had moved to a nursing home, we had a birthday party for her. She really didn’t understand what was going on or how to open a gift or even what they were once someone else had helped her open them. But, when we sang Happy Birthday, her eyes lit up and she got a big smile on her face and she started singing along with us. That was a Happy Happy moment for her, in spite of everything.

Eventually, the progression of her illness brought her to the point where she could no longer command her mind or control her body. She was unable to feed herself or to walk without assistance. In a very short time, she reached the point where walking to the dining room, even with assistance, was too difficult and Hospice ordered a wheelchair for her. She began having difficulty eating and seemed to be forgetting how to swallow. Yet, even then, her spirit was indomitable. At that point, she seemed to make a conscious decision that enough was enough. Up to then, in spite of everything that was happening to her, there was a spark in my mother’s eyes that you couldn’t miss. The staff who helped care for her often commented on it too. Her face always lit up when we walked in and even though it had been years since she called me by name, I could feel her love by looking in her eyes.

When we went to visit her on Sunday, November 2, 1997, there was a chill in the air and a tiredness in her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It was trying to snow and she was gazing out the window as if she were looking at something that the rest of us couldn’t see

On Wednesday, November 5, Mom laid down on her bed after lunch and went to sleep.

Losing my mother to Alzheimer’s Disease was a very painful experience…but the lessons of life that we learned from that experience offer a special pain reliever that, over time, has been very helpful This experience has taught us, first hand that devastating diseases do not lessen the value of human life…that a distressing end to life as we know it does not have to be a time for anguish and regret. There is value in human life at any stage or in any condition and that value is love.

Later.

Advertisements

My Dad

I have avoided making any political posts throughout this long, drawn out election period. It seemed like doing so brought out the worst in many people and I didn’t want to be a part of that. But, watching Meet the Press this morning, I couldn’t help but think of my Dad. What would he think about this election?

My Dad dropped out of college to enlist in the Navy during World War II. He was an intensely patriotic man…a bit too opinionated sometimes, but very patriotic nonetheless. Even songs like America the Beautiful and God Bless America could bring him to tears.img_4515

I can’t help but wonder who he would have voted for. I honestly don’t know, but one thing I do know is that he would have voted. I hear many say that they don’t like either candidate so they’re just not going to vote. I understand, but I strongly disagree. We can’t change the person Hillary Clinton is…we can’t change the person Donald Trump is. But one of them WILL be our next President.

What we CAN do is vote. We were given that right by our founding fathers and it is the only voice we have. In school, we voted for Class President and Homecoming King and Queen. We vote for our state and local officials. And we vote for President of the United States. In all cases, whether our preferred candidate has won, we always get behind the winner and move on. That’s who we are. But according to the “experts” on Meet the Press this morning, this will not happen after this election. That is appalling. There are a huge group of people who will not feel good about the outcome of this election and many of them, unfortunately, may handle that inappropriately.

What they CAN feel good about, though, is exercising their right and responsibility to vote. It occurred to me this morning that it would be an amazing, feel good event if EVERYONE would get out and vote. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see that the people of this country cared enough to generate the highest voter turnout in American history? I think we should do everything in our power over these next few days to make that happen.

I would like to challenge my kids, my grandkids, the rest of my family and all of my friends to PLEASE VOTE. I apologize for the length of this post, but I am feeling strongly about this. I am not asking you to comment if you voted and I am especially not asking you to share who you are voting for. I am not asking you to type AMEN. But, if you agree with me on this, it would be great if you would take a moment to help get the word out and maybe, just maybe, we can convince some who are not planning on voting to do so. Maybe we can band together and get everyone to use the only voice they have that really counts. Please share if you agree. #vote #everyonevote #pleasevote #trump #clinton #largestvoterturnoutever

Thanks.

TWO HORSES

canstock16119189Working on my book today, I came across this blog post from July 28, 2010. It brought back memories of several co-workers whose cancer diagnoses came on the heels of my own. The story I included in my post is one I believe I found online. The author is unknown, but it carried a powerful message for me at that time. Both of these friends have since passed on, but the bond we developed through our cancer journeys is one I will always remember.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2010

Who knew? Who knew when I was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago that it would just be the beginning of the cancer attack on my work family.

Last week, I asked for prayers for a good friend, just recently diagnosed. Today, another. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is such a devastating blow. You have all kept me going through your prayers and support. I would like to offer that same support to those who are close to me.

I came across this story the other day…

TWO HORSES

“When I was a young boy in Idaho, I remember there was a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But, if you stopped your car, or walked by, you noticed something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse you would have discovered that he is blind. His owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had made a good home for him. If you stood nearby and listened, you would hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you would see that it came from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter was a small bell. It let the blind friend know where the other horse was, so he could follow. As you stood and watched these two horses, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was listening for the bell. He would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stopped occasionally and looked back, making sure that the blind friend wasn’t too far behind to hear the bell. I like to think that, like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we come with problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse, being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. And at other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way.” – Author unknown

How perfect!!

Later.

ELEPHANT APPRECIATION DAY?

I heard this morning that today is Elephant Appreciation Day. elephantNot sure how that would have even gotten started or why. But, while I’m sure it speaks to many of the animal activists in the world, and I can certainly appreciate that, I am more drawn to yesterday’s honored occasion…World Gratitude Day.

It seems that back in 1965, an international gathering of people in Hawaii decided that September 21 would be a perfect day to celebrate all that they were grateful for. And, from that, World Day of Gratitude was born and has stood the test of time. I bring this up, because seeing this, I was reminded of the days when I was a part of the real estate community. I used to attend motivational seminars on a regular basis, and recall especially, the Brian Buffini series, and their focus on beginning every day with a list of your “gratitudes”…those things for which you are thankful. This isn’t difficult. No matter what is going on in your life, you can always find something to be grateful for. And reminding yourself of those things is a great way to start the day. Gratitude is an attitude, and when you accept that attitude as your own on a daily basis, it can change your entire outlook on life…not only how others see you and relate to you, but, also, how you see yourself.

When I saw the reference to World Gratitude Day on Facebook, I was reminded of that and how we should celebrate our gratitude, not just on that one day, but every day. Therefore, I thought I would share with you, a post written by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.  On World Gratitude Day. Enjoy.

I’m grateful for all of my family, friends and followers and hope that you all have a great day!

Later.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

Back to work, and reliving January 15, 2010. I had completely forgotten the highs and lows of that day and the incredible outpouring of love and support which followed. Friends and family are amazing!! But the words of one person in particular were exactly what I needed to hear and I carry those words with me to this day. Another excerpt from The Tunnel Revisited.

blog quote smallJanuary 15, 2010, was, I believe, the only day during this entire journey that took me from sky high to a new low in the course of just a few hours and was the only day on which I felt lead to post twice in one day. The outpouring of support which I received regarding the second post was amazing and, one comment in particular offered me words which I carried through the entire journey ahead. In fact, I carry these words with me to this day and share them often. So many, many people, in an effort to comfort, tell you that God will not give you more than you can handle. While there is certainly truth to that, when you are going through some dark, dark days that knowledge can be hard to swallow. You wonder what you did to be given this. But, the highlighted quote in the second post below put a whole new spin on these words and was an extreme comfort to me. Thank you, John Pehrson!!

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010

When you’re healthy and you basically feel good every day, you don’t even appreciate the fact that you feel good. Anyway, I never did. But, when you only are blessed with a few “feel good” days out of every two week period, you quickly learn to appreciate them.

I stole a few hours to go into my office today in spite of the fact that I was on “Precautions.” Sue and Sandy went in before I got there and completely disinfected every surface. Thanks so much!! And people were very good about standing well outside the door to say hi if they had any signs of a cold, etc. It was funny how many people were amazed by how good I look (in their words) and I believe that is due to what I was referring to above. I am so appreciating feeling good today that it shows. I have two more days to feel this way now before I have chemo again on Monday.

Also, it felt so good just to be back in my element…my office. I work with so many good people and I didn’t get to see anywhere near all of them but those I did get to visit with just made my day. You guys are great.

This was the first time I drove a car in a month. Negotiating intersections with gigantic snow banks which block your vision is certainly no picnic and I quickly saw that I hadn’t missed anything in that regard.

No big news today. Just getting ready to enjoy my week-end. Monday is chemo. Tuesday, the shot after chemo and Wednesday, the visit with the surgeon so lots of medical stuff next week.

Later.

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010 (2nd post)

OK…all that talk about how well I am handling this and how strong I am, etc, etc, etc, is out the window. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING ANYMORE.

I just got a call from my oncologist telling me they are cancelling my chemo for Monday and until further notice. I have thyroid cancer and that has now taken priority over treating the breast cancer. He said it is imperative that we move forward and remove this tumor before it spreads and we can’t do that if I continue chemo.

I am dumbfounded. Does that mean the last month was a waste? I don’t know. I just have to wait until I meet with the surgeon on Wednesday to see what he has planned for my life and then go from there.

Later.

 

COMMENTS

“Cathy…I’m so sorry!! This seems to be a big bump in your road. We are all thinking of you! Stay strong. Luv you!!” – Jen

“What you are doing is taking one day, one hour, one breath at a time. YOU CAN DO THIS! This is why God made you strong. Take a deep breath and focus on beating this.The last month taught you that you can do anything – that lesson was not wasted on you. The truth is, the last month may have just given you the strength to get through the next.Feel good tomorrow. Don’t let this tumor rob you of your feel good days. Your spirit is bigger than that tumor. Go forward. Our prayers go with you.” – Kari

“I am in shock as I am sure you guys are. I was ready to send you a high give for the day when Jennifer called and asked if I had read your second post today – which I had not seen. I wish that you didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to see the surgeon – that seems like a long time. I woke up this morning with a cough, sinus, laryngitis thing so I don’t dare come over to see you but we are both praying so hard for you every day. I honestly don’t know how you are dealing with all of this but I know that you are finding a strength deep inside of you that maybe you never knew that you had until now and the thoughts and prayers of a lot of people are right there with you. Hang on tight – there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Marilyn and Russ

“Hi. The sun is shining so enjoy. We may not have many of these days. Just a little crack in the road. Get it done and keep going. Don’t think about tomorrow. Just enjoy the day you have today. It was so good to see you and see how well you are doing. You are a survivor. Keep up the good work.” – Barb

“No question, this puts a feeling of being in the pits. On the wall in my study is the saying, ‘God doesn’t give us what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given’. Even in the depths of bad news and struggle, it is possible to see hope and find peace. Judy and I continue to keep you in our prayers. We hope that knowing others are praying for you can give you a sense of God’s presence and courage for this day and in the days to come.” John and Judy

“The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. I know he is opening some doors right now that you wish you didn’t have to go through. Know that he is with you every step. You are in my thoughts and prayers.” – Cindy

“Please stay strong – your ability to relate all of this proves your courage. We’re inspired by you and wish you continued bravery.” – Mike

“Cathy. It was so good to see you last week. You looked GREAT!!!! We all needed to see you and talk to you and to hear about your good days and the other days that you have faced. Please continue to stay positive, be brave and have courage.” – Fred

“Dear Cathy – Lindsay and I continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers. This truly has been a bumpy road for you but I know you can get through it. You are a special person and you have to many wonderful family and friends that are here for you. Take care and our love to you and Ken both.” – Donna and Lindsay

“Cathy – we’ll be thinking about you tomorrow and praying that all your questions are answered. Kari is right – the last month has taught you and all of us, just how strong you are. You can do this.” – Jean

 

 

The Voice Update

sara dIn an update to my post from last week, I have come across some new information regarding Sara Davenport. As you may recall, Sara is a beautiful, spunky young lady who grew up here in Sioux City. A good friend of my son, Matt, Sara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January of 2014. Following surgery and months of treatment and recovery, this thirty something was finally able to return to enjoying life to it’s fullest. Then, this past November she discovered a lump on her neck. A biopsy determined that she now has lymphoma.

Sara must now undergo 6 months of heavy chemotherapy, which is already taking its toll.  Sara is a chef and because of the physical nature of her work and the risk of complications to her immune system from a simple cut, her doctors have said she cannot work. So she really needs our help! Friends have set up a fundraising site to help her with the expenses she is rapidly incurring. If you are able and so inclined, here is a link to her page.  And again, prayers are always welcome as well as the simple act of sharing this post to help spread the word.

Now, an update on Becky. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, more than $12,000 has been raised to help this young mother as she makes her way through treatment. The link to her page again is here.

Thanks so much for reading and for caring. And, remember – you can help. Share – share – share.

Later.

 

Think Happy, Be Happy

IMG_1707I’ve been sitting at my computer and looking outside to the dreary day…dreary not just because of the wind and rain but, more so, due to the unmistakably dismal reminder that winter is on the way. I’m not a fan of winter, so between that and the constant bombardment of negative news headlines lately, it’s a little difficult to feel motivated.
“Bomb downed Metrojet plane over Egypt, Russian officials confirm.”
“Eiffel Tower closes again during manhunt for Paris terror mastermind.”
“US taking security measures as ISIS vows attack on American soil”
Even…
Blizzard plasters Denver, big storms rattle Plains”
So I found myself staring at my coffee cup and thinking about the fact that I truly believe we have the ability to either choose to be happy or unhappy. I was drawn to the Today Show’s Season of Kindness promotion. It lends credence to the idea that one of the easiest ways to increase your own happiness is by doing something to make others happy. If you’re feeling a little down, I suggest that you watch some of these videos. I guarantee that if you do, your spirits will be lifted.  Season of Kindness
#ShareKindness
Kindness is contagious. In a world filled with so much tragedy, I challenge all of us to come up with ways to brighten someone else’s day. And, that said, I hope you have a really great day!!
Later.