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Posts Tagged ‘mentor’

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.

 

 

 

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Ken was always a talker and so at ease with people.  When we met that was the first thing I liked about him.  Had he been Irish I would have guessed he kissed the Blarney Stone, but he wasn’t and so he didn’t  Ken was just blessed with the gift of gab. During our marriage I sometimes wondered if he really liked people or if he liked them because they listened?  I doubt he ever analyzed himself, and even if he did what would that prove?  Possibly that he liked to talk and he also liked people; making the question and answer come to a full circle.

For years he volunteered his spare time serving as cub master, scout master, Little League coach, manager, League president, Sunday school teacher, and the list goes on.  During that time Ken was the middle-aged man working with youth and loving every minute.  How gratifying it was to see the boys, eagerness filling their young faces asking, “Mr. Romick, did you me catch that ball?”  And to see 8-and-9-year-old Cub Scouts saluting and grinning from ear to ear as they not only received an award, but words of praise as well. Whether they were eight or 18 Ken always had some special compliment for “his” boys.

It was years later when someone called out from across the street or the mall, “Hey, Mr. Romick, how ya doing?” that we realized how quickly time had passed. Looking into the unfamiliar face of an obvious acquaintance, these typical middle-aged men with receding hairlines and mid-sections telling they were well fed and cared for, were Ken’s “boys.”  We were always amazed to acknowledge that the “boys” had grown up while we were growing older.   Meeting them once again, and watching as they grabbed Ken’s hand shaking it vigorously, I became aware of the great affection these men still had for my husband.  “It’s me, Mr. Romick, Steve from Little League,” or it could be Mark from scouts or Aaron from his old Sunday School class; all of them genuinely happy to once again meet this “mentor” from the past.

I doubt Ken ever thought of himself as anyone’s mentor.  It wasn’t just about what he did, but more who he was and what he said.  How it touches my heart even now when one of his former “boys” tells me how much Ken had impacted their life, how he had made them feel they were “somebody,” and they could do anything, meet life’s challenges and reach their best potential because Mr. Romick had faith in them and said he knew they could do it.  To many, his words were a gift.

Alzheimer’s eventually robs its victims of just about everything they ever had or held dear.  Communication with Alzheimer’s patients varies, and even conversation with the same patient differs from day to day and from night to night.

In his recent book, “Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist – Always Looking Up,” Michael J. Fox tells about his sleeping experience.   Apparently, with his Parkinson’s the tremors stop when the brain is at rest.  When I heard him speak of this during an interview, I thought about the differences with Ken when he had been asleep for a time.  

I have no doubt that the disease saps energy.  For several years, Ken went to bed well before I did (except when he is extremely agitated or disturbed).  Once he was settled I knew it was my turn to get settled.  No matter what his mood swing might have been just before bedtime, or whether he knew me or not, when I climbed into bed he turned to me, barely opening his eyes and lovingly asked, “Is that you dear?”  I assured him it was me and he followed up with something like, “I love you.  Goodnight.”  For those moments he was Ken, and in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if his resting brain, like Michael’s resting brain, might permit the tangles to relax enough for a bit of normalcy to return allowing stored and familiar memories to emerge.   As a lay person, all I can do is observe and speculate.  For me, his asking questions during those small snippets of time, and accepting the appropriate answers were good, but brief, conversations.

However, with Alzheimer’s change is constant.  After several months, I found I was no longer able to “settle in.”  Even though he still asked, “Is that you dear?” falling back into slumber within a few minutes, I learned very quickly there was more to come.  Peace and tranquility prevailed until one night our comfortable routine developed a glitch.  Ken began talking in his sleep just about the time I was dozing off.  While it didn’t occur every night, it happened often enough to sabotage a good night’s sleep.

The interesting thing about him talking in his sleep was the articulation and sentence construction, which were clear and concise; actually better than some of what we were able to experience during the day.  I sat up in bed and listened.  At first I chuckled to myself, remembering how much he loved to talk.  So here he was deep in sleep having great conversations.  Ken would make a statement, pose a question, or wait for an answer. The timing was so on target I almost expected to hear another voice.  No doubt he was dreaming, and the person in his dream furnished the other half of the dialogue.  Because of the clarity I couldn’t help but think once again about the possibility of his resting brain allowing him to even laugh during his unlabored middle-of-the-night chats.

 Nevertheless, these outbursts of talking did nothing for my period of sleep and rest.   “Shhhh,” I would whisper.”  His talking continued.  “Be quiet,” I requested, my voice becoming louder.  “Buddy, stop talking,” I commanded in the voice of his mother.  “You stop talking,” he countered.  I tried the voice of a teacher calling him Ken, Bud, Buddy, Kenneth and Hey You, all to no avail.  He always had an answer, and the answer told me he was not going to stop talking.

As the filibuster continued, I picked up my pillow, closed the bedroom door and retired to the couch in the family room, which I didn’t mind.  The couch, a warm blanket and I had been friends for a long time dating back to hot flashes and sudden awakenings of years gone by.  The silence was golden as I adjusted the pillow, snuggled into my blanket, and smiled as I thought of the noisy convention in the bedroom.

Perhaps, I mused, Ken may have managed to play a trick on the devil disease by skirting around the pitfalls of daytime consciousness, taking refuge either in the subconscious or somewhere in his resting, relaxed brain.  I don’t have any answers, but wherever he might be during those happy hours of nocturnal conversations he’s in his best element.

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