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.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COMING OUT OF HIBERNATION

As terrible as it is, I realize that I have become lazy and unmotivated during this past winter. I DO NOT like winter and prefer to wrap up in my blanket and read, get on my laptop, watch movies or whatever…anything rather than go somewhere. That is exactly what I said I would never let happen when I retired. But now, hallelujah, spring is officially less than a week away. Time to shake off that lazy personality that I do not admire and spring forward. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

I got back on the treadmill this week. I have one of those big milestone birthdays staring me in the face this summer and I intend to meet it head-on. My friend, Fred, used to always quote that TV commercial, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So, I best get moving again.

When we got back from Texas, I harvested the remainder of the herbs that I had planted at Christmas time, cleaned out the Aero Garden and, last week, replanted with lettuce and kale. It’s up already!! Aren’t you excited? Well, it’s a small amount, I know,  but, hopefully, enough to tide us over until we can plant outside.

Yesterday, I started the vegetables for this year’s garden. So many plants – so little space. Should be interesting. Now, once I replenish my supplies, I can get some flowers started. Can hardly wait until we can get outside and start planting. I know – that will be awhile. But, how uplifting to get the process started anyway.

Still working on my 40 Bags in 40 Days de-cluttering project. Got a little behind but did some catching up today and DEFINITELY WILL catch up and complete by the end of the 40 days. Today is the 15th day and I think I’m at 13 bags right now. Not too bad!

And, here’s a big one. I got back to my writing this week. In fact, this afternoon I even submitted an excerpt from what I have completed so far to a publisher for possible feedback. What are the odds? Probably not great, but better than if I didn’t even try.

Now, if I can just get motivated to finish our tax stuff and get it to the CPA!

Yep…I’ve definitely come out of hibernation and it feels good!

Later.

FORBIDDEN ZONE – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted

 

686108749_51165706df_z[1]Having the freedom to spend some time traveling now that we are retired/semi-retired, is allowing us to experience some new things which from time to time will pique our curiosity and offer just a bit of the spirit of adventure, no matter how small. Like these signs we saw posted every few feet on a several mile stretch of Texas highway 287. Suddenly it was like we were being transported into the Twilight Zone. (I’m sorry – I guess you have to be old to understand that reference) But we couldn’t help but wonder what in the heck the Forbidden Zone was. So, of course, I googled it – several times. Never did get a clear answer. I did find one response that indicated there are some massive pigs in there. Another reference mentioned Big Foot but I’m sure that was tongue in cheek. One forum suggested that someone claimed that he knew the secret but was afraid to post it. The best I could determine is that it is some sort of Water District and there is research of some kind being conducted there. But if so, why not put up signs that say water research area. Why Forbidden Zone? So very odd, yet interesting.

Speaking of odd. While walking the beach one day, my sister and I noticed two ladies engaged in, what seemed to us, to be very strange behavior. One had what appeared to be a piece of pvc pipe which she was using to fling sand at the other. And, they weren’t kids. They were every bit as “senior” as we – maybe more. As we got IMG_1966closer I could see that the one with the pipe was sticking it down into the sand and then as she pulled it out she flung sand and water toward the other lady who then bent down and picked something up.  I just couldn’t walk by and not ask, so I questioned them about what they were doing. Turns out, they use this pipe to suck Ghost Shrimp up out of the sand and use them for bait. They offered to let us try it but we declined, knowing how foolish we would look. However, after talking about it and googling it, we decided it might be kind of fun to try – not to mention a source of free IMG_1963bait. So we did. What a crazy scene that was as we attempted to figure out how to suck those things up out of the sand. It’s more difficult than it looks, let me tell you. We all tried our hand at it, with, eventually, some success. But, my son-in-law, Brett, is the one who really got into it. He even drew a crowd of people who, like Susan and I had done, approached him to ask what in the heck he was doing and to watch him do it.

Little things – both of these – but so interesting and so fun.

IMG_1984Yep – retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

BTW – did you know that you can drive and camp on the beaches in Texas?

Later.