Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘gifts’ Category

old clock

This Alzheimer's caregiver is grateful for the gift of time.

Some of the most quality thoughts and essays seem to be on a continuing ‘round-the-world track through cyberspace.  Year after year they reappear in my email inbox.  There is a lot of junk I could do without, but I am grateful for the good items that show up even though I’ve read them before.

This particular essay is titled “Thank You For Your Time.  No matter how often I read it I not only ponder, but count my blessings – again and again.  Time is something everyone has in equal abundance or want: minutes, seconds and hours.  It can be used wisely, wasted, frittered away, given away, killed, coveted, lost or found.  We can experience good times, bad times, melancholy times, glorious time and children are sent to their room for a time out.  But it’s the gift of time which is actually one of the most precious gifts, and the subject of this day’s thoughts.

The email tells the story of a young boy who had lost his father.  Next door to where Jack and his mother lived was an older man who became the boy’s mentor and friend.  Mr. Belser taught Jack carpentry and tried to fill in some of the blank spots providing the needed male influence in the youngster’s life.

In turn Jack often lingered long after their building project, rejoicing in the camaraderie of the old man who was without children. The ancient house was like a slice of yesteryear and the boy was fascinated with all that was within, especially the gold box on Mr. Belser’s desk.

“What’s in the gold box,” the boy would ask.

“It’s what I value most,” answered Mr. Belser.  Curious though Jack was, he never pressed.

The years drifted by, Jack grew up, went to school, moved away, got married, and established himself as a highly reputable building contractor in great demand.  One afternoon his phone rang.  It was his mother telling him that Mr. Belser had passed on and the funeral would be the following Wednesday.  Jack had to admit he thought the old man had passed long ago, but as they talked a flood of fond memories washed over him.  Suddenly he realized that had it not been for Mr. Belser and all of those hours spent together he probably wouldn’t have entered into the contracting business.  “I’ll be there,” he promised his mother.

Following a small funeral, mother and son wandered for the last time through the old house.  It hadn’t changed one iota since Jack was a boy except the gold box on the desk was gone.  Noticing and believing a relative had taken it, Jack lamented, “Now I’ll never know what the old man valued most.”

Back at work Jack was soon engrossed in his self-driven work schedule.  Arriving home one evening he found a notice for a missed delivery which needed his signature.  The next day on the way to his work, he dropped by the post office and found his package with the return address of Harold Belser.  Quickly he ripped open the carton.  Inside he found an envelope with instructions for delivery to Jack, a small key and the gold box.  His heart fluttered as he inserted the key and opened the secret box where he found a gold watch and a note which read, “Jack, Thanks for your time.”  Bushing a tear from his eye he called the office, “Janet,” he said, “Clear my schedule for a few days or so.  I’m going to spend some time with my son.”

The boy and the man had given one another, without a thought, that which was most valuable:  their time.

I know my life has been blessed, and I am grateful to so many for their kindnesses and time especially during this difficult period of Ken’s illness.  Offers of help are like gift cards to be used now or when needed, and I know there is no expiration date.  I have one friend who even gets a little annoyed with me because I haven’t called on him to use his gift of time.  Don’t worry, Dennis, I will.

Dennis is a wonderful example of what was once referred to as America’s melting pot:  his father was Irish, his mother Jewish, and when he mentions his home state you can hear the “o i” instead of the “e” in Jersey. He is an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart measuring bigger than the state of Montana.  Dennis has seen life in its rawness, and tasted also of its goodness.  I know him because we all go to the same church where his main concern is people.

Going the second mile with his church callings is normal for Dennis and his wife Carol, so it isn’t surprising to find his heart open to the community at large.  I was touched by his willingness to go just about anywhere he is needed.

Driving from the East Bay to San Francisco’s Children’s’ Hospital was becoming routine as Dennis and his wife Carol paid their third visit to a young friend who had been born with a hole in her heart the size of a quarter.  Consequently, the child was in and out for constant checkups and stays, and had asked if Dennis could give her a blessing of comfort and healing, to which he was more than happy to comply.

“She has this attitude that she has no limits on her activity,” recalled Dennis, “which sort of drives the doctors nuts.  Children are pretty special to me and Carol, especially when they are sick.  I want to bear their illnesses instead of them having it, and being in a hospital is pretty depressing so we try to bring in a bit of sunshine.”  Recalling a small gift shop in the lobby, Dennis decided to see what they might have to cheer the little patient.                       

“While I was there, three or four children came in with their medications attached.  They all had cancer and not one of them wore a smile on that sweet face, nor did any of them have a single hair on their heads due to the medications they were taking.  When they came in, the shop got very quiet with an air of discomfort.  People tend to forget that children have this natural sense when people feel uncomfortable around them.

“I could see their beautiful faces and those beautiful eyes taking on a look of rejecton and hurt.  To me it appeared they were ready to cry.

“I had to do something to make them smile,” Dennis explained. “I shave my head every day, so I walked over to them and asked if they went to the same barber as I did.  Smiles flashed across their faces and it was agreed, ‘Yes, they did.’  I told them I thought their hair cuts were pretty cool, and that I had been wearing the style for going on eight years.”

Dennis leaned over so the children could run their soft hands over the slick and shiny head of my friend. “There cannot be a price for the smiles on those faces at that moment,” Dennis continued.  “Holding back tears, I got a hug from each of them, and then we all got what we came for and went back to the floor.”

There were tears on the way home – all the way home.  Recalling scripture, Dennis reminded Carol that the Lord, Jesus Christ, loved the little children.  To his apostles, He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me for such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

“We know that all children who have cancer won’t make it, but still we pray for them, hoping for a miracle.  Looking at their innocent faces they seemed like angels, especially in their hospital gowns and slippers.  The hugs and smiles — I will never forget because I was blessed by them.” 

Like the young boy and the older man, Dennis, Carol, the children, and even the uncomfortable customers in the gift shop were blessed by the experience: the gift exchange of time.  As for me, I am bursting with Thanksgiving gratitude for family and friends — many  like Dennis — who share with Ken and me their most valuable possession:  time.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Father's Day gift

Most times the best present of all is a visit from a loved one.

“What should I get for Dad?” seems to be one of the most-asked questions falling from the lips of all children whether they are adults or still youngsters.  I recall Ken asking his mother, Rose, what we could get for his father as the arrival of either his birthday, Fathers’ Day or Christmas popped up on the calendar. I wasn’t any better with my dad.  The needs of these two men were next to nothing – minimal – and even minimal was too much.  They had everything they wanted and if they wanted or needed anything else, it seemed they just went out and bought it.  So much for gift ideas!

Nevertheless, we tried, and our children tried.  We might upgrade Dad’s hammer or get a new set of screw drivers, but how often could we do that.    Ken’s father was so funny about gifts.  He loved having us congregate for his birthday and other special occasions or for no occasion at all. But on present days we wanted so much to find something special for him; something he would remember and enjoy – from us.  Nick was an appreciative man, and when he opened our gift we were certain we had selected the perfect item.  Gushing with enthusiasm, he held it up for all to see exclaiming loudly, “Thank you very much.  Thank you very, very much.”  And he was sincere.

He blew out the numerous candles on his cake, and then Rosie served slices of her yummy chocolate confection with ice cream and 7-UP for all.  He was the life of his own party even if they were always the same. 

Lovingly, he would stand at the door as we left expressing how much he appreciated our coming and thanking us over and over for the gifts.  Then he would say to one of the older boys, “Why don’t you take this home?” handing him the after shave lotion which was the gift from Loretta.  To Ken he offered the screw drivers our children brought, and Loretta got the hammer. “Please,” he coaxed, “take these home.”  Now we, the guests, were the ones saying, “Thank you.”  Every gift-giving session with Nick ended in the same way.  “And thank you too,” we all called back relieving him of his just-opened presents. It was useless to object.  No matter what we brought to him, he gave it back to us, or to one of the other guests.  We all just shook our heads and laughed.  I suppose the gift he wanted most, and received, was having his loved ones near: our presence was his present.

My father wasn’t much better although he did keep everything.  He was a handyman so he used the tools, but when they moved and we cleaned the medicine cabinet we tossed the old after shave lotions with the seals unbroken certain the fragrance was long gone – or worse – drastically changed.

Ken was different, truly loving everything given to him.  His interests and collections covered many bases.  A kid at heart, our children and grandchildren knew they could even buy him toys, which the children were allowed to enjoy, but only with Grandpa.  Furthermore, he never gave any of them back.  He was not like his father.  Having once worked for the railroad he was the recipient of a phone shaped like a train locomotive, a miniature train and railroad station which in reality housed a clock announcing the hours with train whistles and a conductor shouting, “All Aboard.”  Grandpa was showered with trains of all gages from “N,” and “HO,” all the way up to match the train he had as a boy. The shelves were lined with miniature cars, trucks, semi cabs with trailers, and heavy equipment.  As a Navy man Ken enjoyed the tiny replicas of WWII battleships, cruisers and PT boats, “The Lone Sailor” figurine standing watch, and to hold up a section of Navy books our son had given him anchor bookends.  One year I asked our daughter-in-law Peggy to finish a hooked rug bearing the Navy seal which Ken had started but never finished — being the great procrastinator.  She did, and he was thrilled as we hung it on the wall. Ken even let everyone know he collected teddy bears.  His home office was the envy of all the grandchildren looking more like a shop filled with collectibles than a serious spot where the man of the house wrote monthly bills and figured his taxes.  After all was said and done I found it to be an endless chore to clean, and a pain and a half to dust, which I did, but only if and when Ken was willing to help.

He also enjoyed new shirts, new wranglers and new ties.  His first gift tie came from our daughter, Julie, when she was 9.  With white-elephant donations through the PTA and a two-day sale, the children were able to purchase affordable gifts for dad come Fathers’ Day.  Selectively, Julie chose the prettiest tie in the whole lot — a wide, hand-painted number sporting a garish Hawaiian sunset that was certain to blind onlookers.  He wore it all day — even to church.  “Nice tie,” commented the brethren – knowingly — “Fathers’ Day gift?”  He nodded and they all smiled.

As Alzheimer’s took his mind, it also took his happy spirit, his joy, and his sense of humor.  His curiosity about a colorfully wrapped package slowly ebbed until there was no longer any interest.  Even the greeting cards that were enclosed are now without meaning – just something to look at and toss aside.  So here it is again: Fathers’ Day, and the question still arises, “What can I get for dad?”

Whether it’s Dad’s Day, Mom’s Day, or Aunt Elaine or Uncle Tony’s birthday, or anyone else’s special day who is stricken with any of the vicious mind diseases the answer is usually the same.  “He/she really doesn’t need anything,” or the caregiver may say, “How ‘bout some new sweat clothes,” realizing the uniforms of the day are looking a bit shabby.  The only real need the victims may be aware of is a need to be fed when they feel hungry.   A plate of cookies brings a sparkle to Ken’s eyes and he might say, “Those are mine, thank you.”  So cookies are always a good gift, or candy; both can be rationed if there is a health problem.

Other than sweets and treats one suggestion as the best of gifts for the afflicted, and the caregiver as well, would be time – your time – time in the form of a visit given by friends and time given by family.  Not a lot, stay for just a little while and then you can leave, but please come again.  From what we, as caregivers observe AD has stripped their memory of everything once held near and dear.  Ken’s face is usually a blank wall as he stares up into the face of a visitor.  Perhaps, he may shake hands – or not.  Typically, there appears to be no recognition, nor does he make much of a comment as he did during the earlier stages of the disease.  At times Ken is chatty, or he may ignore the visitor altogether, or take a nap.  There is no “best” time for a visit.  Most of the day he is unpredictable; at times dozing off while the visitor sits nearby wondering what to say next.

Later, though, after someone has come and gone, and toward the end of the day Ken seems a bit calmer, more pleasant, happier if that’s still possible.  Prehaps deep in his soul the voice of the “stranger” works its way through the slime covering the brain and settles in a place that brings him the most comfort: in his heart where he may feel the reassurance that he is still cared for and loved.

Read Full Post »

Or perhaps I’ll call it The Fourteen Days of Christmas.  Today, as I am writing, it is January 6, 2011, a little off my usual schedule because we’ve been celebrating a long Christmas, but now it’s over.  And you know what?  I really like Christmas spread  o  u  t,  taking as much of  December as it needs.

If you are among the generations of through-and-through Americans whose big days are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day your holiday ended at midnight, December 25th, just as ours did before this year.  Craming so many celebrations into such a small space of time, it would seem the date was more important than the day.  After weeks, and even months of preparation Christmas is over in a flash, and now it’s gone for another year. The jolly old elf, his reindeer, and all of his helpers are taking a well-deserved rest, and that includes moms and dads everywhere.

However, if you don’t live in the USA customs for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ can be different, and are actually more in keeping with the authentic event than all the frantic madness we impose upon ourselves. 

Don’t think I’m a Scrooge grumbling “Bah-Humbug” through this wonderful season of merriment and joy. I’m not.  I love Christmas, the carols, the cards, the parties, the well wishes and even the shopping.  And more; before AD, Ken and I so looked forward to driving through the neighborhoods seeing the decorated homes, malls and the beautiful displays on the grounds of churches everywhere, especially the live nativity scenes where we could let our imaginations go and become part of what occurred more than 2,000 years ago: the birth of a tiny baby whose life and teachings have changed the world.   Yes, Christmas is a beautiful and unique celebration – and different – as we all know elsewhere in the world.

My family and friends who have close ties to Mexico tell me that it is January 5, when the children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts – not their stockings, but their shoes – and gifts not coming from our white-bearded friend – but from the Three Wise Men who arrive on January 6.  Think about it; isn’t the tradition of gift giving at Christmastime based on The Three Wise Men who traveled from afar bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh as they worshipped the New Born King?

Leading up to the 24th and 25th of December there are posadas and celebrations where loved ones reenact the blessed event, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being a more reverent time.  But no matter what the custom or tradition, it is a joyous celebration for Christians everywhere.

This year I have found wonderful flexibility in December.  Perhaps taking a bit of the customs from south of the border.  Singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas, while being a delightful carol, sounds a little much for me.  Who needs all of those maids amilking and noisy French horns?  But 14 days of Christmas with some light festivities, and then a few days of rest in between parties is perfect.  When Ken was well, it was tradition to spend Christmas Eve at daughter Julie’s house, Christmas morning at our house, and Christmas afternoon at grandson Sean’s house.  It seemed we spent as much time in the car as we did with family.

Ken no longer travels well, so I declined all invitations to leave our home.  “Then we’ll come to your house,” said Sean.  “What evening would be good?”  I gave him a date and beginning the Tuesday before Christmas we dined and relaxed with those who could attend, and then opened gifts with no rush in having to get the kids home and in bed, or dropping someone off at the next stop.  A few days later we did it all over again with other members of our family.

“How joyful it has been to spread out the Holiday,” I emailed our cousin, Penny, whose family has also multiplied over the years, living in various parts of Oregon.    She agreed, saying  they also spread the Holiday over several days, commenting on how well it has worked for their family.   Christmas Day can be any day we choose.

If any of these changes mattered to Ken it’s highly unlikely.   He no longer has any curiousity or interest in brightly wrapped gifts, decorations, or colorful lights, and has no understanding of the holiday.  But always a social person, he still seems to enjoy having people around him, and especially the little ones.  Our last Christmas celebration was Monday evening with daughter Julie, husband Tim; son John and wife Marisol, and their two little ones, Joaquin and Maya.  The eight of us represented four generations, and when Ken looked at four-year-old Maya, seeing her beautiful brown eyes and dark hair, he exclaimed, “What a little doll.”

With no memory of who she is or where she fits into this vast puzzle we call family, Alzheimer’s has not taken away his appreciation of the beauty of children, and for that I am grateful. 

So after all is said and done, the gifts opened, hugs and kisses for everyone, and the last guest drove out of sight what did we get for Christmas?  The best gift of all:  Family and friends – in and out of our home — bringing their presents and presence, giving us their gifts of time and themselves.  Who could ask or want for anything more?

Read Full Post »

We were on a date, Ken and I, just getting to know one another.  We had been to the zoo in San Francisco.  While walking back to his car we noticed a man in the parking lot with a handful of tiny American Flags – paper – the size of a postage stamp – glued, possibly, to a tooth pick.  Wearing a military cap, and one of the picks stuck into the button hole of his lapel, he didn’t have to say he was a veteran.  We just knew.  It was also Memorial Day and the veteran was soliciting donations for the VFW or some other worthy veterans’ group.  Ken stopped, took out his wallet and handed the man a dollar bill.  In return my date accepted one of the tiny American flags and, with the accompanying straight pin, I placed it on his shirt collar.  Mind you, when we were dating, a dollar bill was worth a dollar – 100 pennies — and could have paid for both of us at the neighborhood movie.  I was impressed.  My boy friend was generous. 

My husband – who happens to be the same guy who took me to the zoo – has always been generous; not only with money, but with his time and energy.  If someone needed help he was the first to step forward.  Saturdays were often lost at home because Ken was helping a friend or a neighbor do some job that needed one more pair of hands.  So the chores I had lined up for “Honey” to do were postponed until another Saturday.  He had an insatiable desire to help others – to be of service – to “Pay It Forward” long before anyone ever heard of the book made into a movie.

 Several years ago, when Ken was better and we enjoyed life together, we saw the movie titled “Pay It Forward.”  If you didn’t see it the story was about a young boy who believed in doing good.  No one taught him, no one told him to be kind, to be caring, and to think of others.  The gift of charity came with his packaging – a spiritual gift.  It was one of those feel-good movies with a sad ending, which possibly sealed his message of paying it forward on the hearts of all who saw it.

          

The boy’s outline for doing good lay in three steps:  Watch for opportunities to help someone, do something nice for someone you don’t know, and spread the word.  When a surprised recipient asked “Why are you doing this?” the answer was to pay it forward, and the recipient could continue the good work by helping three other people — instantly making the world a better place – and then those three people could help three more people until everyone everywhere understood about paying it forward.

 

Surprisingly, I found on line that through the book and the movie a foundation was created to educate others about changing the world through good deeds, and November 17 is “Pay It Forward Day.”  I am also impressed at how contagious it becomes.

 

My friend Jack who is on Facebook wrote on his page, “I stopped by the grocery store and just staked out the people waiting in line.  I noticed an elderly lady, and as she neared the check out I politely asked if I could pay for her groceries?  ‘Yes!’ she answered, shedding a tear, as did I, and I paid.

 

“When she was through the line I explained how ‘Paying It Forward’ works.  Thrilled with the whole concept, she left saying that she was going home and bake cookies for the ladies at the bank.”

 

Jack later told me he went back to the store the morning after he had paid for the older woman’s groceries.  “The same cashier was working and said she could not stop telling people what I did, which inspired them to follow the example.  She, for instance, paid the dinner bill for an elderly couple at a Mexican restaurant.  The response from their waiter, the manager and the couple was unbelievable.”

 

Comments from other friends quickly filled Jack’s page, and with his permission, some posts are printed below:

 

“Wanted to follow up on the ‘Pay It Forward’ idea, but since I missed the actual day I decided to make it a quasi ‘random acts of kindness’ instead.  I was at IHOP w/my Mr. & son, and noticed there was a woman eating by herself.  When my waitress gave me my check, I asked for the gal’s also.  The waitress thought it was great.  I told her it was because of my friend Jack and paying it forward.  Jack, you are an absolute doll! Someone who understands true charity and practices it.  LOVE and admire your huge and expansive heart.  I am grateful to be your friend. You are amazing, Jack!  Now, that’s the Holiday spirit!”

 

 “Awwww Jack.  I love it. I’m going to do the same……”

 

“I try to do this on a regular basis!  It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to do something unexpected for others.”

 

“I’ve done that on the Bay Bridge – paid for the person behind me as I drive through.”

 

“You made me cry, Jack, you are too kind.  God bless you.”

 

“What a beautiful thing you did Jack.  Brought tears to my eyes.  I will certainly begin to pay it forward.”

 

“You topped me, Jack.  Near Halloween some bigger kids saw my ‘Trick or Treat’ candy in my cart and said, ‘I want to come to your house.’  They were buying a bag of cookies, and I grabbed their bag, handed it to the cashier for her to ring up on my bill, and tossed it back saying, ‘Happy Halloween.’  They were shocked and said, ‘Thank you, ma’am!’ Kidding, I said, ‘I’m going to take those back.  How about Miss.’ I love surprising people like that.”

 

“I give candy canes to the toll takers on the bridge.”

 

“Jack, I haven’t seen you or spoken with you in a decade or more.  When I read your post, memories of you came flooding back!  This is SO YOU!  I will put this on top of my TO DO list for tomorrow.  Thanks for reminding us to take the time to pay it forward.”

 

 If Alzheimer’s had not been in his way I know Ken would be doing good deeds for other people the year round not even remembering the movie.  After all, he was known to many as the nicest guy in the world. However, I know he is not the only one with that title, especially as we enter into this wonderful season of hoped-for peace and goodwill to all mankind.

 

It’s good to know that there are so many nice people out there doing thoughtful things for others, and many more who just need to be reminded. The only thing I will challenge about the November date is that it’s too close to Christmas. Christmas: when most everyone is kind-hearted and thinking of others.  Perhaps they should have made “Pay It Forward Day” sometime in mid-January – after the Holidays are over; when it’s cold and full of winter, when the lights are gone and the Christmas trees are waiting at the curb for the recycling truck, and our thoughts are about just getting home where it’s warm and inviting; when we might be inclined to fall back into thinking mostly of our own comfort — ourselves. January: when it can be dark and gloomy, and the storms of nature and life keep pounding at our door.  That’s when we need to do and say, “Pay It Forward and Keep It Going.”  Keep it going into the brightness of spring, the lazy days of summer, and into the colorful charm of autumn as Jack Frost reminds us once again of another winter, and a year filled with generosity. May we all strive to make the entire year glow with the Christ-like goodness we all have deep within our hearts.

 

Meanwhile, as you are finishing that last bit of Christmas shopping, don’t forget to pay a little something forward.

.

Read Full Post »

A few months ago while still healing from major injuries, I browsed through a stack of magazines, mostly untouched. However, as I shuffled through the pile, I noticed my church magazine, the pages already dog-eared, was opened to an article intended to be the next read. Interesting, I thought picking it up and noting the eye-catching title, “GRATITUDE,” then asking, “Was this a message for me?” Certainly, I felt gratitude. After all I was alive and recovering, and yet I was nudged at times with, “Poor me.  Angry me.  Why me?”  Perhaps I needed to ponder about gratitude a bit more deeply.

Written by a practicing psychologist who had researched the use of gratitude interventions in promoting well-being, he found that by interceding at appropriate times during counseling, thoughts of gratitude were helpful in treating depression and other problems. The doctor also advised that acknowledging thankfulness would be helpful to everyone’s mental health no matter how grave their situation. As a result of being grateful, we could all lead richer, fuller lives.

He also defined gratitude: a positive experience when we recognize gifts or blessings and feel thankful.  It sounded so overly simplistic, yet I continued reading.  Soon I began to reflect on this later portion of my life concentrating on the positive rather than the negative.

In my own defense I counceled me that I have always been prayerful.  As a child, my teachers of faith described prayer as like a sandwich:  a top and bottom piece of bread, or better known in addressing Diety as a beginning and an ending.  Inside of the prayer sandwich we were to express our thankfulness first.   “Before we ask our Heavenly Father for anything,” he explained, “we must always remember to thank Him for what He has given us.”  That could be the peanut butter portion of the sandwich.  The teacher followed giving thanks with permission to ask — the jam or jelly.   As an adult I have wondered if this pattern for prayer was a bit irreverent, but it is such a good pattern, one which I have followed all of my life, and long ago I put aside any thoughts of peanut butter and jelly when making supplication.  Perhaps now, I needed to be more outreaching in my gratitude. 

I recalled from the past that Oprah devoted the better part of a year’s programming to gratitude and journal writing. At the time, I too was caught up in the thought process of making myself more aware of blessings, but never kept a specific journal. Recently, in her magazine, Oprah admitted that through the years she had become so consumed with work there was no time left to write about the good happenings of each day. Reading from an old journal she recognized those great years from before, and commented on how happy she had been.

 The author of the “GRATITUDE” article encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal as well, with the purpose of recording several remembrances each week, but not just in list form. He suggested describing the experience, recording thoughts and emotions for the purpose of savoring and reliving what you had experienced.

In reviewing the past six years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, battling the war which is never won, I remember my friend, Madalyn, who had also battled the same war, until her husband, Darwin, died three years ago. “It wasn’t all bad,” she would tell me, and we often laughed about some of the funny things Alzheimer’s victims do and say. She reminisced about trips they had taken, visits with family which brought joy to her and momentary pleasantries to him. Her happier times with Darwin were similar to mine with Ken. These were all positive experiences: gifts and blessings recognized and thankfulness felt: gratitude.

When I came to the paragraph titled “Express Prayers of Gratitude,” I decided that would be my new beginning. As I continued my recovery in the quietness of my daughter’s home I reflected on being grateful for little things:   One at a time I could lift each foot, place it on the opposite knee and tie my own shoes, I could shower alone and I was beginning to feel confident once more. I wasn’t searching for big, dramatic epiphanies.   Deliberately, I looked for small things to appreciate because there are so many, and small blessings are often overlooked.  Every morning before I struggled out of bed I would look up at the ceiling — still wearing my neck brace and unable to kneel in formal address to Diety — close my eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude without pleading for any favors. (The favors could be requested in later prayers.) My morning prayers would be only of gratitude. I was amazed by the multitude of gifts taken for granted  for which I had to be grateful.

I have been home now for more than two months and my gratitude list grows each day. Ken’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, but because of his caregiver, Ben, I have a sense of freedom. If I write for a few hours during the day, I know Ken is all right. Ben is with him, and I can nap undisturbed because Ben is here. I am grateful for Ben and for his relief, David. I am grateful for each new day, and my growing ability to actually help Ben with Ken. I am eternally grateful for family and friends. I won’t say I’m grateful for Ken’s illness, because I am not.  I detest this dehumanizing disease and how it has robbed us of so many good years. However, I am grateful for my coping mechanism, my compassion and awareness of others who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other devastating illnesses. I am grateful that through my writing I may help someone else; letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. I am grateful for Ken and the wonderful years we have spent together. Every so often, I see a spark in his eye and a smile. For a moment he is the man I married. Feeling gratitude and offering thanks each morning for all of this and more gives me strength.  Each day I can and will go forward into our daily battle, beginning with a prayer of gratitude.

Read Full Post »

NORMAL

I strive to be normal among the craziness of living with an Alzheimer’s victim, and keeping normal in mind, I do believe we are doing all right;  times when Ken is gentle and cooperative.  Then there are times when it seems his mind must  go through a session of agitation each day.  The hour varies, usually around dinner time, but it can be later and every so often it is later — much later.  His neurologist has prescribed a tranquilizer for him and it helps.  In addition I give him Tylenol PM to continue his relaxation and hopefully induce sleep, but there are still times when the agitation becomes very intense.   Often he paces around the house, washes clean dishes, polishes the sink, rummages through cabinets and the refrigerator until well past midnight.  No amount of coaxing will bring him to bed.

In my desperation I lure him out of the kitchen, lock the door and tell him he has a few minutes before the electric company turns off the power.  He doesn’t believe me, so I get my flashlight, sneak into the garage and pull two circuit breakers shutting off the bedroom and living room lights.  With the kitchen locked and the lights out, I turn on my flashlight and show him the way into the bedroom.  Not ready for the blackout, he fumbles at all the switches until he is convinced the power is really off.  Within a few minutes he follows my light beam and comes to bed.  Another three minutes of relaxation and he is asleep.  However, when he falls asleep with so much pent-up agitation, he talks all night long.  To get some sleep I turn on the breakers and go to bed elsewhere.

Sleeping in the next room. I was awakened by a thump in the night.  The house was once again dark.  Not even the night lights which I always leave on were working.  With my flashlight in hand, I slipped around the house and found that, indeed, we had no lights.  Looking out into the neighborhood, I saw our grid was off, darkness prevailed.  Checking on Ken, who was still babbling and making no sense, I went back to bed and fell asleep.

Another thump in the night awakened me once again as darkness still prevailed.  In the beam of my flashlight I could see a scattering all over the floor.  The day before Ken had spilled a bowl filled with potpourri.  “What now?” I asked myself.  On further examination I realized the floor was covered with feathers.  Scanning the room I caught the bright green eyes of granddaughter Kristina’s cat, Ghouda.  Crouching low, her paw holding down a mysterious object she glared at me with squinted eyes.  No longer was she the sweet, loving cat that just hours before had nestled demurely on my lap purring contentedly.  Somehow, she was transformed into a miniature jungle beast, wild in her intent to keep what belonged to her.  I reached and she ran behind the bed, prey in her mouth.  No way did I want a dead thing under my bed.  To confuse her I shinned the light in front of her.  It worked; Ghouda turned and ran down the hall into where Ken was sleeping.  Her dead thing was not dead and made its own attempt for freedom.  Ghouda slowed to gain control and I grabbed it, which was, of course, a bird — actually a dove.  How this small, delicate cat caught a bird nearly a fourth her size baffled me, but then I was baffled how she could be so quick as to catch two humming birds and a mouse.  Well, catching the mouse in normal.  But all of these finds, she brought into the house each time I left the sliding glass door open.

With me in possession of her catch, Ghouda was not a happy cat, under foot with my every step — a bird in one hand — the flashlight in the other casting dancing light everywhere as I dodged Ghouda and skulked around the house wondering, now what?  I had taken time to examine the bird.  Ghouda had feasted all down the bird’s back.  No doubt there was  major nerve damage as I felt no response from the wings.  The bird would die, but when.  No longer Ghouda’s prey, it was now my bird.  How could I allow it to suffer?  At 3:00 in the morning what was I going to do?

Spending the first several years of my life on a farm, I observed that life was often brutal.  Farm wives during the Great Depression learned, and did, what had to be done.  It was normal for my mother to select an old hen that had stopped laying eggs from the chicken coop, do what was necessary in a fast and humane way so we could have chicken stew for dinner.  I had watched her many times master the technique of a chopping block and a very sharp hatchet.  Remembering Mama, I knew I had little choice, so being a good farm girl, still working with flashlight, I did what I had to do with what I had available, finally wrapping the lifeless bird in a newspaper for burial the next day.

I am sure that if cameras had been rolling, the entire skulking-flashlight-cat-bird drama would have looked like a Steven King horror film.  When it was all over, I picked up Ghouda, pushed her out through the sliding glass door, closed and locked it, asking myself, “How normal is this?”

I checked again on Ken.  He was fine and still talking.  Crawling back into bed, I couldn’t help but think about Ghouda.  Animal psychologists advise that when a cat brings prey into the house, the animal is bringing gifts.  If Ghouda is planning “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for me, I still have another dove coming and a partridge in a pear tree, to say nothing of the calling birds, all those geese and three French hens.  The sliding glass door will be permanently locked.

Read Full Post »