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Posts Tagged ‘journey’

If anything, I would say that Boy Scout Mark had an extraordinary spurt of character growth at the tender age of 12.  Not only had he learned to cope with some of life’s heavy loads through what had been fun and games for the older scouts, he would also receive insight into another of his character traits a few weeks after the big hike.  While being a pre-teen at 12 can be a stepping stone into growing up, age doesn’t really matter as long as those valuable lessons learned are incorporated into one’s life.

Mark had already learned that if you remove the excess rocks – things you don’t really need — from your pack – your life — the load is lighter, and he cheerfully applied what he had learned to the remainder of the 50-miler.  It wasn’t as if Scoutmaster Ken hadn’t been aware of the shenanigans pulled off by the older boys; what he had been impressed with was that Mark didn’t complain. He also noticed the camaraderie that developed among the multi-aged troop during the seven days in the mountains where they recognized that the competition was not among one another, but between all of them and the challenge of the wilderness.

Mark continued to write:  “We learned about trees, poison oak, and edible and non-edible plants along the trail.  We crossed a glacier, and ate food with a little dirt; we learned respect for nature, which was all around us, and we learned to respect each other, and of course, to always be prepared.  It was seven days filled with learning, but it was what happened after the trip that changed my life forever.”

Ken always liked to give each boy the recognition he deserved at the Courts of Honor which were conducted for not only the young men, but for friends and families.  The Court was always well attended, and after the 50-miler the room soon filled with eager scouts and proud parents.  One by one the honor and merit badges were awarded, including a special 50-miler remembrance in the shape of a hiking boot.  “But I had not received my award,” continued Mark, realizing that all of the awards had been handed out.  “Then my Scoutmaster called me to the front as he had all the other boys. ‘I want you to know,’ Scoutmaster Romick stated, ‘that in all my years of scouting I have never seen a new scout like Mark.  He never complained, nor did he give up, not once did he quit on the entire trip.   He is not a quitter nor is he a complainer.  I am amazed and impressed.’  He then handed me my award and patted me on the back.”  Applause filled the room.  Basking in his moment of glory Mark later declared, “I believe I grew 12 feet tall that evening.

“That statement of 30 seconds, and the following accolades, changed my character and my life forever.  An adult had recognized a positive trait in me, told me about it and I believed it!”

For Mark it was a year of epiphany, discovering a part of his self, part of who he was which provided a guideline to the man he wanted to become.  With that inner knowledge he established a creed of determination by which he lived, and he has continued to do so all of his life.  Now, a grown man with a family of his own, Mark still recalls that evening with Ken, and wrote, “Even now as I think of my Scoutmaster I thank God for that man who showed me the way.” 

When I read Mark’s words I am in awe of my husband who was a very likable, but ordinary man, yet he was able to reach through that invisible armor of youth, see the boy’s potential and impact him with self-motivation and power.  I am humbled at Mark’s accolades for Ken.  But even more I am inspired by Mark’s every-day use of his own established creed, which I’m striving to make my own.

As the “boss” caregiver for Ken with his Alzheimer’s there are times when I would like to quit and times when I am tempted to complain.  Actually, I know that neither is an option.  I’m not going to quit, and I have found it doesn’t do much good to complain; besides few want to listen.  Of course, we are allowed to vent and to share our sorrows and woes with friends who have fought the battle, and with my wonderful internet friends who read my blog and share their stories about their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows while living with AD.  They provide (and I hope I do as well) the soft shoulder to cry on, and with them I can vent – knowing that venting is good.  Even the best of machines needs a vent.   But I’ll try not to complain or whine about those things which cannot be changed, and I’ll remember the wisdom of a 12-year-old boy who grew to be 12 feet tall in 30 seconds because of Ken.

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pile of rocks
 As Scoutmaster for many years, Ken spent a lot of time leading boys of all ages through the ups and downs of growing pains by helping them over some of the hurdles which would eventually lead them into manhood.  There was Scout Camp, overnighters, merit badges to earn, knots to tie, awards to receive and lessons to be learned – some learned high in the mountains of California.  After years of counseling at Scout Camp, Ken and his assistant Scoutmaster and a few volunteer dads decided to put their young men through another kind of challenge: 50 miles through the high Sierras in one week.  It was so popular it became a yearly event.  The boys, however, had to qualify by participating in several overnighters where they had to hike x miles into the camp site – with full packs. 
None was more excited than Mark, just 12 years old and a new scout, but he qualified right along with everyone else.  Typical of many pre-teen boys, Mark hadn’t had a growth spurt in a month of Sundays and was still a tad small, a bit on the thin side with knobby knees and colt-like legs; yet his enthusiasm was unmatched and an eager smile made up for any physical shortcomings. Years later Mark wrote about his first backpacking experience: a few paragraphs quoted below.

“I so looked forward to being included in the 50-mile hike the troop took each year.  Everyone prepared for it with mini trips, but there is nothing like the real thing, which took us into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area near Yosemite.

“We hiked 10 miles the first two days which was grueling as we made our way up the mountains ascending to heights which none of us were accustomed.  The switchbacks taunted us as we made our way back and forth and up.  It seemed my backpack grew heavier with each turn of the trail.  At the top of the last set, I discovered why it became more weighted every time we rested.

A few of the older scouts felt it would be amusing to see the expressions on the faces of the two 12-year olds as they discovered they had carried a few stowaway rocks up all of those switchbacks.  I laughed, but was secretly thankful for those rocks from that time forth.  After liberating them from my pack, I found I had no problem carrying the lighter load.”

Mark learned a very profound lesson early in his life, and he continued to apply the importance of eliminating excess baggage – rocks — from his journeys through life.  As caregivers we need to remember to strive on a daily basis to do the same.

After being away from home for three months following a horrific automobile accident, I returned to the familiar, yet the unfamiliar.  My life had been drastically changed. Ben was taking care of Ken, for which I was grateful.  Not being the same as I had been I wasn’t able to get back to status quo, nor was Ken the same.  His battle with Alzheimer’s now included him having to adjust to all of the new changes in his life.  Ben was new, the routine was different, his abilities had been greatly diminished, and my late entry caused him to become more confused.

Even with his AD I wanted life to be as it had been before the crash.  I knew where he was and right where the two of us had been in living and dealing with the disease.  Now I had to start my relationship with Ken all over again while still nursing my own hurts and injuries.  Consequently, my disposition was definitely wanting.  “Are you mad at me?” he asked one day during a lucid moment.  “No,” I answered, “I’m not mad at you.  Why?”  Sadly, he looked at me and said, “Your voice sounds as if you’re mad at me.”

That caught me off guard, and I thought about our conversations – minimal though they were – I realized he was right.  Whenever I spoke to him, whether he was Ken or Mr. Hyde or Buddy (his various personalities) I could hear the irritation in my voice. So I had to ask me if I was mad at him – angry with him — if so, why?   Thus, I was back to soul searching – which I have had to do every so often. Yes.  I was angry and I was taking it out on Ken, including his lucid moments.  Moments, so few and far between were being wasted with my irritation.

However, I was feeling anger because of all the time that was gone in being badly hurt and having to take more valuable time to heal and to go through physical therapy.  Angry because I couldn’t do all that I had done before.  Angry because I still wasn’t my old self, angry because I had continued discomfort and pain.  I was angry that Ken had Alzheimer’s, and angry that there was nothing I could to about it.  If he noticed the irritation in my voice, did I have the same irritation when I spoke with others?  I knew it was time for me to begin removing the rocks in my backpack, and in so doing I would also find some peace.

Nothing is instant – except maybe potatoes and coffee – and I knew it would take time for me to bring about my goals.  The first baby step was to stop taking out my anger and frustrations on other people – especially Ken.

As a caregiver, I cannot change anything with anger, neither can I undo yesterday, nor can I cure incurable diseases even with over-the-top anger. Being angry only adds a heavy rock to my already burdened life, and as Mark said, “After liberating the rocks from my pack, it was easier to carry the lighter load.”   Little by little I have managed to remove the rocks of anger.  I also lighten my load by striving every day to find something to laugh about with Ken – maybe not with him – perhaps with Ben or Criz.  We can laugh about something Ken does because at times he and other AD patients are funny and it is okay to laugh. If you haven’t laughed all day then read a funny book or rent a funny movie, but laugh. The more I laugh, the more I can let go of anger and any other negatives which are always nearby and ready to sneak into my backpack.

This past year plus has changed Ken a lot.  He seldom has lucid moments when he can manage any sort of conversation.  Whatever he jabbers it’s without logic.  His other personalities are gone.  There is no Buddy, nor does Mr. Hyde visit, but that’s all right.  They were both rather disagreeable characters.  What’s left is a small portion of Ken who makes little sense. We are where we are in this life, and I know I must strive to be continually accepting.  In doing so, I often remember the serenity prayer, which I’ve always liked.  It’s so applicable for those of us who journey together with our Alzheimer’s loved ones:   “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  So now, let’s begin by liberating the rocks, including the tiny pebbles of negativity, from those heavy backpacks.

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cloudy sky

Looking towards heaven we remember the miracle of Easter, and gain hope for other miracles.

“Then why do we have Easter bunnies?” asked Haley, a few years back when, as an extended family, we talked about the holiday and all of the traditions.  The little ones gathered with us that evening were the third and fourth generation of Ken’s and my progeny, but one doesn’t have to be very old to question rabbits, especially small bunnies, hopping around delivering Easter Baskets.

“Tradition,” they were told by one of the adults, who continued to explain how bunnies and chicks born in the spring represented new life to the ancients, many of whom converted from pagan idol worship to the teachings of Christ, but brought with them some of their pagan symbols.  Over the centuries those symbols became intermingled with the “new life” of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day following His crucifixion.  Succeeding years of symbolism and generations of adding glitter to old traditions, we as a majority Christian nation seem to be more caught up celebrating the season of new life with colored eggs, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks than we do the resurrection and “new life” of our Lord Jesus Christ, which of all miracles is the miracle of miracles.

During His ministry, Jesus performed many miracles which are recorded in the New Testament for us to read, honor and ponder.  And today — miracles continue.  There are countless miracles, recorded and testified to in these modern times.  I am one of them.  Following last year’s automobile accident and being somewhat aware of my numerous injuries and the trauma encountered, I mumbled from my hospital bed, “I should be dead.”  My grown children made no comment, but I could see worry in their eyes, nor did the medical people who constantly surrounded me confirm – or even suggest to me that my condition was grave.  It was later that my young friend, Malena, a former member of an  EMT ambulance team agreed, having been present and an observer of similar accidents where the victims were pronounced dead at the scene.  I am here because of the prompt, efficient actions of another EMT crew, amazing doctors and nurses — and the absolute, undeniable healing power of prayer, the laying on of hands and God’s grace.

There are skeptics, of course, but as a woman of faith I choose not to be one of them, instead I give credit where credit is due.  I accept miracles and wonder how the doubters explain away that which is right before their eyes.  Many in the medical field have witnessed and have been a part of other miracles and some share the experience with the world.

From two different sources on the internet comes the account of Jeff Markin, an apparently healthy man of 53 who was on his way to work when he was overcome with feeling sick.  He called his boss saying he was sweating and suddenly felt ill, and that he may not make it to work.  Encouraged to go to the hospital Markin arrived at the emergency room of Palm Beach Gardens Hospital in Florida and collapsed on the floor with full cardiac arrest.  After 40 minutes of intense effort and being shocked with a defibrillator numerous times Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall, the supervising cardiologist was summoned.

Dr. Crandall said the room was like a war zone with everyone doing all they could to save the man’s life.  However, Markin showed all the signs of death: the heart rhythm flat lined across the screen, his pupils were dilated and it was determined he had been “down” too long for any hope.  The other doctors left, and time of death was determined and recorded.  Dr. Crandall signed his name to the report and turned to leave.  At the door he heard a voice telling him to pray for this man.  Busy with his work load and feeling rushed, he continued into the hall.  Again, he was stopped short and instructed a second time to pray for this man.

Returning to the patient’s bedside where a nurse was preparing the body for the morgue, he placed his hands on the man’s chest.  Markin’s fingers, toes and lips were literally turning black from lack of oxygen when Crandall honored the Lord’s command and began to pray, crying out for the man’s soul.  At the conclusion of the prayer, Crandall asked the ER doctor, who had returned — wondering what was going on — to shock the patient one more time.  Out of respect for his colleague, he complied.  The monitor showed a perfect heartbeat.  Jeff’s fingers and toes twitched, breathing resumed and he began to mumble.  Three days later with the patient still in ICU, Dr. Crandall found Markin sitting up and alert with no brain or organ damage and a healthy heart.

As with all miracles, there is no explanation, nor is there a reason for Jeff Markin’s healed heart. Furthermore, the good doctor makes no effort to provide one.  A Christian all of his life, he made it a policy not to mix his religious beliefs with his practice.  However, he began a search with prayer and the laying on of hands as another avenue to healing when his son was stricken with leukemia.  Dr. Crandall has written “Raising The Dead” chronicling his experiences.

He also commented about faith and its importance, quoting from scripture a portion of Matthew 17:20 when Jesus said, “If ye have faith of a mustard seed…………..nothing shall be impossible to you.”  On the video I watched, Dr. Crandall concluded Markin’s account with, “Miracles are real, and they are real today.”

I pray for Ken that he may be comforted in his affliction, and I pray for me that I may continue to cope, be patient and find joy in my service to him.  This is our assignment, and while it is an assignment I could do without I also understand its importance in a very broad sense.   Every reported case of AD presents to the medical community the urgency of escalating their research.  If Ken’s illness helps to spur that research, even one little bit, it may save future generations from this miserable disease.  I pray for our ability to manage what we are dealing with, not for the Lord to give us a miracle and remove our burden.

Ken and I have had our portion of miracles, including being blessed with full, rich lives — not without our share of other adversities — which have made us stronger.  Moreover, we take delight in our wonderful, ever-growing family – all of them miracles in their own right — and I am still here to care for my husband and be with him as he continues his lone journey home.  Ahead is the assurance for the most important of miracles: new life somewhere in the distant future — all because of that magnificent miracle which happened on a bright, spring morning nearly 2,000 years ago.

As fellow Christians do we really need to be reminded that there is more to Easter than baskets and candy?   The answers might be “more than likely,” “probably,” “I suppose,” and ultimately, “yes,” because we are human, and we become distracted getting caught up in the ways of the world, the pomp and pageantry we have created – and don’t forget — the good taste of chocolate bunnies.  Yes, we do cast a fleeting shadow on the simply stated – yet — majestic message of that long-ago Sabbath morning:  Jesus lives.

Hopefully, in celebration of this Holy Day we call Easter, let us all take the time to peek through the shimmer of cellophane grass, past the colorful, hard-boiled eggs and jelly beans, and gratefully look for and remember what’s important on this and every Easter Sunday: the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and His extraordinary promise to all mankind.

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